Maori ball game from pre-colonisation being revived

01:00, Sep 05 2012


Nelson is well known for hosting the first rugby match in New Zealand way back in 1870, but a much older sport played in this country is now taking hold in the sunshine city.

Ki-o-Rahi is a pre-European Maori ball game, and even in the years after colonisation and with the introduction of many other sports, Ki-o-Rahi has a rich history. That history is now being continued in Nelson as preparations are being made for the second annual Ki-o-Rahi college tournament.

Perhaps the best example of the unique appeal of the sport played with a small round ball called a "ki" is that it is also played in areas of Europe.

During World War II, Maori soldiers, including those of the 28th Maori Battalion, played the game on European soil. French and Italian soldiers and citizens shared in the knowledge of the game and some French soldiers from the Seine-Maritime region took the game home with them. Their descendants continue to play the game to this day.

In 2010, members of a New Zealand representative Ki-o-rahi team, including All Black legend Wayne "Buck" Shelford, completed a 14-match tour of Europe. Naturally, as with the similar sport of rugby, New Zealand routed their French opponents from the Ki-o-Rahi Dieppe Organisation, in the first test matches between the two countries.


Information on the official Ki-o-Rahi website said that in Italy, local historians in the Tagliata and Ravenna areas say Maori soldiers are remembered playing "Palla Maori" (Ki-o-Rahi) on the beaches of Ravenna on sand-marked circular pitches during the later stages of WWII. In 2008, a team from this country played locals as part of the International Cervia Kite Festival on those very same beaches.

The chance to create school traditions in Ki-o-Rahi are here with registrations open for college and intermediate teams wanting to take part in the 2012 Tasman Secondary Schools Ki-o-Rahi tournament. Anyone interested in learning more about the game can contact the Whakatu Marae.

One of the marae's experts is captain of the Tasman Titans rugby league team Jamein Bristowe who, along with other members of Nelson's sporting community, helped to introduce the sport into schools last year.

Ki-o-Rahi is described as a fast-running contact sport, played on a circular field, involving imaginative handling and swift inter-passing of the ki. For beginners and juniors a non-contact version with ripper tags has been developed. And although it may be a little confusing when described, Bristowe said it becomes quite natural when you begin to play.

He said it was like a mix of rugby, handball and American football, but the origins were steeped in Maori culture.

"Back in the day before Europeans, Maori used the game to find the best warriors in their tribes. It has been adapted into a less fierce game physically, but when you are playing tackle it is quite a scary game as you can get hit from anywhere.

"Part of the game represents Matariki, the Maori New Year. There are seven posts around the outside and they represent the seven stars of Matariki."

After Bristowe and a team of others spent time teaching the sport in schools last year, he said the game had caught on and hoped it would continue to develop.

"In Nelson and the whole of the South Island it is now being revived.

"In the schools the children are just taking it up and running with it. They just love it because it is just a really dynamic game.

"One day we would like to have a high school team represent Nelson at the national tournament."

The official website of the sport explains:

Two teams play against each other on a circular field consisting of three highly visible concentric circles. Each circle constitutes a zone. The outer zone, "Te Ao", is 12 metres wide; the middle zone, "Te Roto", is six metres wide; and the central zone is "Te Motu" - this zone includes the "Tupu" and "Pawero".

The opposing teams are named "Kioma" and "Taniwha".

The aim of the Kioma team is to score tries, "tupu manawa", while the opposing Taniwha team attempts to score hits "tupu wairua" on the large centre target called a "tupu".

The team that scores the most points or the team that scores 10 times in a row wins the game.


If you have a secondary school sports story that you'd like to see in The Nelson Mail, contact sports reporter Jonathan McKeown or phone 03 546 2873.

The Nelson Mail