The games and pastimes of Māori were just as diverse as those of
colonial Pākehā. Children and youth enjoyed all manner of games
that required skill, wit and dexterity. Tītī tōrea (sticks thrown
in time to song), teka (dart throwing), mū tōrere (similar to
draughts), mahi whai (string games) as well as races on poutūturu
(stilts) were some of the most popular Māori games.1 Most were accompanied with song and
chant, which was an important element of the contests. The
interactive and often competitive nature of games were popular with
both children and adults. One game, pōtaka (spinning tops), was
played exclusively by kaumātua, highlighting how such pastimes were
truly shared activities and interactions in mastering strength,
strategy and endurance.
Lindauer's Maori Children Playing Knucklebones captures
another popular game, knucklebones, or ruru. In the mahau of the
wharepuni, four tamariki are engaged in a game of ruru. It is
usually played with five stones: the player throws them into the
air and attempts to catch them on the back of the hand, as
demonstrated by the young girl at the centre of the painting.
Lindauer captures the playful innocence of youth and perhaps the
competitive nature of pastime games. We notice that the girls are
smiling while the boys are not. Read into that what you will.
The painting is highlighted in golden hues and rich tans that
bounce off the skin and light up the mahau. A hue (gourd) is
perched oddly on the corner of the window frame and a rain cape and
kete hang on the side wall of the porch. All these elements help to
frame the picture and the activity in the foreground. Upon
comparison, we can identify that the wharepuni is based on the same
reference image as found in The Tohunga-ta-moko at
Work and Tohunga under Tapu.
(originally published in Gottfried Lindauer's New Zealand:
The Māori Portraits, edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara
Stanhope, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and AUP, 2016.)
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