Māori sport and games
|Kite Traditions embedded in Matariki
Ancient Māori kite flying traditions
have a highly symbolic connection to Matariki – the two
were historically inseparable. Kites were seen as connectors between
the heavens and earth.
Matariki is a small cluster of stars, also known as Pleiades.
To Māori, the appearance of Matariki and Puanga (Rigel) signal
the end of one year, and the beginning of the next. Traditionally
Māori have recognised the rise of Matariki as a time to celebrate
the New Year.
Towards the end of May each year, Matariki rises in the lightening
dawn, at the same place on the horizon as the rising sun. The
Māori New Year celebrations are then held, on the sighting
of the next new moon. In olden times Matariki celebrations
were held after the crops had been harvested and stored, whereupon
huge feasts (hakari) and merry-making (Nga-Mahi-a-te-Rehia)
ensued for several weeks during "down time" (from
Here are the next nine Māori New Year dates, which herald
in Matariki celebrations :
hold that Nga-Mahi-a-te-Rehia, the "arts of pleasure",
originated with Raukatauri, Raukatamea,
Marere-o-tonga, Takatakaputea, and other such persons who are
associated in Māori mythology with singing, dancing and other
such performing arts. The arts of pleasure, which include – weaving,
carving, akotanga, oration, problem solving (tupea), singing,
dancing, story telling, feasting and game playing - would be
practiced prolifically during Matariki festivals.
Matariki celebrations were a dynamic, vibrant process that linked
Māori to their rich storehouses of pleasurable activities;
to creative processing and inexhaustible artefact production. Matariki
was also an inter-tribal period for forging relationships and for
sharing ideas and technologies.
Games, as arts of pleasure, were an integral part of Māori
life. Games were not restricted to a time or a place. This
was particularly evident during Matariki festivities. Throughout
pre-European New Zealand, the great Matariki Festivals were the
annual catalyst for a broad spectrum of games development, invention
However, during this period
of joyful abundance tribes throughout New Zealand, without
exception, historically placed their greatest emphasis
on kite flying.
Kite (or Manu) mythology is prolific in Māori folklore. Legends
tell of Tawhaki trying vainly to follow Tangotango to heaven on
a kite; of Rahi using a kite in pursuit of Te Ara and of Maui
using kites to fly over landforms. Stories also focus on Matariki –
one tells of Ranginui (The Sky God) lifting up out of the eastern
horizon at the start of the Māori New Year, marked out with
Matariki, Puanga, Takura (Sirius) and Tautoru (Orion’s
|Gathering "raupo" (swamp plant) to fabricate
a traditional kite.
were expert kite makers and flight controllers. Their kites were
usually "tail-less", were gaily decorated, of varied
sizes, shapes, names and purposes – from those used for
light-hearted entertainment to kites used for highly significant
spiritual rituals. Children and adults made kites - to practice
whanaungatanga (social relationships), to reinforce tikanga/kawa
(tribal lore); to commune with spiritual deities, to produce
artwork, to perfection aerial movements, to test skills
in competitions (as in Manu Namu and Manu Kopua) and for fun,
to add their "touch" of vibrancy to the sky.
The most common kites were constructed from toe toe (New Zealand
pampas grass), manuka (one of New Zealand's most common shrubs),
harakeke (flax), raupo (swamp plant) and aute (mulberry) bark -
Manu Aute and Manu Raupo, whilst the largest and most complex were
called Manu Atua, Manu Whara and Manu Tangata.
Kites were also
believed to be messengers. Like birds, they were considered as
having spiritual connections with the Gods, hence the ambitious
cloud piercing kites (Manu Atua), requiring several people to
operate, and using kilometre long ropes.
Tohunga (priest, or man of knowledge) saw kites as a metaphysical
means to communicate with the Gods; as a means for divination and
to see beyond the real world. Their sacred kites, Manu Whara, were
constructed according to strictly guarded protocols, with flights
that required chanting of sacred karakia (chants) in tandem with
Manu Tangata were used to physically pickup people – in
addition to Matariki displays they are recalled as having been
used by attackers to gain entry to pa fortifications and also as
a means of escape from besiegement.
Matariki can be appreciated
therefore as a popular kite flying time and as an important period
for kite development and proto-type testing.
Waylon, a young local Māori, showing
his kite. This kite is made of toetoe and raupo, hence the kite
However, because the design is triangular, it is traditionally
known as "Manu Taratahi".
The kite is decorated with huruhuru
(feathers) and with mata ("eyes" made with paua - abalone
type shellfish - shells).
The modern term for eyes is "kanohi".
|Kite Arts - Demise and Comeback
Of the several thousand
kites flown during early colonial times, decorated with shells,
feathers, foliage, Matariki, tukutuku, artefacts and carvings,
none exist today. Nearly all old-time Māori practices
and games were abandoned soon after the arrival of the early missionaries,
and at the time both Māori and European accused
the missionaries of "repressing harmless recreations among
Governor Brown mentions with evident satisfaction the abandonment
of singing, dancing, contact poi (ball) games, festivals and amusements,
“among the missionary natives.” Similarly Wilkes, the
American voyager, recorded in1839, “Social amusements are
prohibited by severe penalties, although the people are evidently
fond of them”.
By 1840, when The Treaty of Waitangi was signed, the grand Matariki
celebrations were an obsolete practice. With the abandonment of
this tradition, magnificent tribal kite collections disappeared,
as did the most important period of the year dedicated to traditional
kite making technology.
Despite these enforced prohibitions and a continued colonialist-like
aversion by mainstream physical educators to indigenous games,
increased Māori efficacy since the 1980s, has seen traditional
kite flying re-emerge as a singular cultural interest. Kite making
knowledges have been disseminated from tribal enclaves, oral and
written records and traditional texts.
As Māori society was not homogenous, different tribes recall
their kite histories as "Manu", "Kahu" or "Pakau". However, the
most popular collective term for kite arts today is Manu Tukutuku.
The return of "Manu Tukutuku"
has been given extra impetus as Māori New Year / Matariki celebrations
have also become more widespread. New Zealand skies have once again
host to the colour and pageantry that is traditional Māori kite
- Connecting in New Zealand
Recovery - Rehab Treatment Resource
Connections - Online Recovery Resource
Center - Enhancing Emotional and Social Well-being
Kite Flying - Symbolic Treatment & Art
|My thanks to Harko Brown for Kite information, also
for the photographs. And many thanks to Waylon for posing with his
Please be aware that this website is a personal
. It would therefore be wise to cross check information
which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand
history sites may be found within my Links