Games People Played
by Betty Fullard-Leo
In old Hawai'i, there was a time for work and a time
for play. During the fall Makahiki season, war was suspended
for three-to-four months, taxes were paid to the chiefs
according to the abundance of the year's harvest, and
festivities, feasting and games filled the days. Religious
kapu (taboos) that were in effect during the rest of
the year were suspended while Hawaiians on all islands
heeded the command: "Stand up! Gird yourselves
for play! Hail to Lono!" (Lono is one of four major
Hawaiian gods.) The command was the Hawaiian equivalent
of the Olympic cry, "Let the games begin!"
Men donned their malo to take part in sporting tournaments.
Pa'ani were team sports intended primarily for fun and
might include no'a, a game where groups of people faced
each other on either side of five bundles of overlapping
kapa. A member of one team hid the no'a, a small polished
rod of wood, by plunging his arm under the kapa and
moving the concealed game piece back and forth until
he dropped it under one of the bundles. The other team
then tried to guess which kapa pile concealed it. Teams
took turns, and when one side scored ten points, it
was declared the winner.
Mokomoko (hand-to-hand sports, such as wrestling and
boxing) and contests were designed to train young men
as warriors and athletes. Barefisted boxing called kuikui,
hand wrestling or uma, and foot racing, kukini, were
hotly competitive sports enjoyed by spectators as much
as by the combatants. In 1826, Reverend William Ellis
wrote about another sport warriors practiced: "(Hawaiian
men) also practiced throwing the javelin (pahe'e), and
catching and returning those thrown at them, or warding
them off so as to avoid receiving any injury...We know
some men who have stood and allowed six men to throw
their javelins at them, which they would either catch,
and return on their assailants, or so dexterously turn
aside, that they fell harmless to the ground."
During any season of the year, holua sledding down
a steep, rock-lined slope was a favorite pastime. Youngsters
might fly down the slopes on clusters of ti leaves,
but adults perfected a wooden papa (sled) with two narrow
runners measuring seven-to-twelve feet long spaced only
five or six inches apart. The sledder held his vehicle
by an attached grip, ran to the starting point and threw
himself chest down on the sled, fighting to maintain
his balance as he raced perhaps 150 to 200 yards down
a grass-lined slope. Holua tracks were too narrow for
racing side by side, so the winner was determined by
the distance he managed to traverse. One of the best
preserved holua slides, can still be seen on a slope
called Pu'u Hinahina backing the Kona Country Club,
and an antique holua sled is on display at Hulihe'e
Palace in Kailua-Kona.
Kids playing 'ulumaika.
But games did not consist solely of physical competition.
Some games were played for pure amusement, others made
opponents match wits and helped develop strategic thinking
skills. Captain Cook's journals left the first detailed
descriptions of games and the ingenious equipment he
saw on his early voyages to Hawai'i. One journal entry
described konane as a game resembling draughts (checker),
but played on a papamu (board) three feet long with
238 squares arranged in rows of 14. Since then, larger
and smaller boards with varying numbers of rows and
squares have been found, which affected the length of
time the game was played but not the way in which it
was played. In the 1800s, Reverend William Ellis described
Haloa Beach near Ninole as a renowned source for the
black basalt and white coral pebbles used as checkers
Kids playing konane.
game similar to checkers.
Interestingly, papamu were not always wooden boards,
but were sometimes carved in lava flows in areas that
also might contain other petroglyphs. At Kapalaoa on
the Big Island, a number of petroglyph boards line the
shoreline terminating in an arena-like depression where
a single large papamu is etched into the lava. Ski Kwiatskowski,
who researched a book on petroglyphs called "Na
Ki'i Pohaku," surmises, "The large lonecheckerboard
in the arena was for the championship game. This way
an entire village was able to view the match along with
much cheering, kibitzing and betting."
A number of old Hawaiian games have survived and are
played at Makahiki festivals or other cultural events
today. Courses for 'ulumaika, played with circular stone
disks that are pitched through two stakes spaced about
six inches apart, are at Waimea Falls Park on O'ahu,
and at Pu'uhonua O Honuaunau on the Big Island. 'Ulumaika
is also played every year by fourth and fifth grade
school children during a Big Island Sports Day, or La
Pa'ani, sponsored for six schools by Keauhou Beach Hotel
every November. In addition, the kids do battle in uma
(wrestling), pahe'e (javelin), konane (checkers), kimo
(similar to jacks) and hu (spinning tops). In today's
world, the games are played not only to develop skills
and quick thinking, they are played to instill pride
in the Hawaiian culture and to keep that culture alive
for generations to come.
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