Hello Girls & Boys!: A New Zealand Toy Story

Hello Girls & Boys!: A New Zealand Toy Story

by David Veart


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Toys are fun—but they are also serious business, as David Veart makes clear in this remarkable story of New Zealanders and their toys from Maori voyagers to 21st-century gamers. Deploying the tools of archaeology and oral history, Veart digs through a few centuries of pocket knives and plasticine to take us deep into the childhoods of Aotearoa. His story explores how people made their fun on the far side of the ocean—the Maori and Pakeha learned knucklebones from each other; young Aucklanders established the largest Meccano club in the world; and Fun Ho!, Torro, Lincoln International, and Luvme helped to build a successful local toy industry under the shade of import protection. Hello Girls & Boys! covers the crazes and collecting, playtimes and preoccupations of big and little New Zealand kids for generations. With its memories of knucklebones and double happys, golliwogs and tin canoes, marbles and Meccano, Tonka trucks and Buzzy Bees, this is a seriously fun New Zealand toy story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781869408213
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 02/01/2015
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

David Veart is a New Zealand Department of Conservation historian and archaeologist. He is the author of Digging Up the Past: Archaeology for the Young & Curious and First Catch Your Weka: A Story of New Zealand Cooking.

Read an Excerpt

Hello Girls & Boys!

A New Zealand Toy Story

By David Veart

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2014 David Veart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77558-763-7


Out of the Toy Box 1


Aotearoa New Zealand was the last major landmass discovered and settled by humans. East Polynesian explorers and settlers first arrived some time in the thirteenth century, bringing with them a highly developed portable culture – a culture which had evolved in the thousands of years since their departure from SouthEast Asia. These people arrived on double-hulled waka, carrying with them their crops (kumara, yams and taro) and animals (dogs and probably pigs and chickens). They brought skills and tools, songs and toys. People everywhere play – Dutch historian Johan Huizinga even described us as Homo ludens, 'man the player' and argued that play is central to the development of culture. The way Maori played, and still play, is remembered and continued through stories, songs and the toys themselves. Knowledge of these ways of play adds to our understanding of the first culture of Aotearoa.

Flying a Kite

Wiremu Kingi's huge birdman kite, made in Gisborne in the 1880s for Sir George Grey, looks down upon the visitors to the Maori galleries at Auckland War Memorial Museum – trapped in its glass case, a giant butterfly pinned to a board. But if you look behind the case, a trick of the museum lighting shows that the kite's shadow has escaped the cage, soaring across the wall, flying as it should over the assembled taonga: waka, whare and toki.

Kites, te manu tukutuku, are the perfect place to start exploring the toys of Aotearoa New Zealand. Kite makers know how to harness the wind, and in the beginning Aotearoa was a place that only people who understood the wind could reach. Kites arrived here on the first waka as part of the portable culture of Polynesian colonisation. They had travelled across the Pacific from the South East Asian homeland and were found wherever Polynesians settled. They had many uses: for fun or fishing, for divination or war, and occasionally as sails, manu whara, to drive canoes. A story from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands happily makes the connection between the voyaging waka and kites.

The chief Rata Ariki was putting together an expedition to search for his parents, who had vanished in suspicious circumstances. He started by looking for the perfect tree to build a canoe and when he found it there were many gods waiting for him.

The gods exclaimed, 'Is it you, O our child? do you desire a canoe?' Then they further asked, 'Why do you want a canoe?' Rata replied, 'I am going to search for my parents, Vaieroa and Tairiiri-tokerau.' The gods said, 'Your parents have been devoured by the sons of Puna; your mother's eye-balls are in possession of their sister, Te-vaine-uarei; that is so, our child; now return home, and we will make your canoe.'

When the canoe arrived, Rata set about recruiting a crew for this voyage of vengeance. The men he gathered around him sound like an ancient version of an America's Cup team: rope makers, shipwrights, navigators and helmsmen. Finally a man named Nganaoa turned up.

'What do you do?' asked Rata.
Nganaoa said, 'I fly kites.'
Rata said, 'You fly kites; and what then?'
Nganaoa said, 'I leap up to the heavens and extol my mother with exalting song.'
Rata said, 'You extol your mother, and what then?'
Nganaoa replied, 'O, I exalt our mother, and that is all.'
Rata said, 'I do not want you, you cannot come.' He forthwith threw Nganaoa overboard and sailed his canoe out to sea.

Rejecting the fool was a big mistake; in stories from around the world, it usually is. Although Rata had men in his crew with a multitude of practical skills, he had left Nganaoa, the holy fool, the tohunga, the kite-flying wind master, behind.

Luckily for Rata, Nganaoa was a difficult character to get rid of. He turns up again and again in the story to rescue Rata and his crew from, among other things, a giant octopus, man-eating sharks and a giant clam. With Nganaoa's assistance, Rata Ariki reaches his destination and avenges his parents' deaths. Kite flying in this story becomes a metaphor for the ability to control unseen powers, whether they be winds or taniwha.

Kites appear in many Pacific stories. Maui, half man, half god and pan-Polynesian trickster, was a kite flyer. So, too, was Tawhaki, who appears in many tales. In some versions he is the grandson of Whaitiri, the female deity who personifies thunder. Often he attempts to reach the heavens – once to search for his grandmother, once for his missing wife. First he climbs Aratiatia, the path to the sky, with his brother Karihi, but the latter falls and is killed. Then Tawhaki makes another attempt, this time riding on a kite, but because the kite is manmade he cannot finish the journey and in a subsequent attempt he falls and is killed.

Throughout the Pacific kites were usually made with aute, the bark of the paper mulberry, which is also used to produce tapa. Paper mulberry trees were such an important part of the Polynesian cultural kit that the voyagers brought seedlings to Aotearoa, together with such basic foods as taro and kumara. The generic name for Maori kites was manu aute, the name still given to Wiremu Kingi's giant at the Auckland Museum. In New Zealand, however, the paper mulberry did not grow very well – the bark cloth became so valuable that small pieces were used as earrings and Tupaia, the Tahitian priest who travelled with James Cook on the Endeavour, could calm tense confrontations with Maori by offering pieces of the very valuable bark cloth brought by Cook in large quantities from Tonga.

There were, of course, many other materials suitable for local kite making, and Maori exploited them all. Raupo leaves replaced aute in many places; cutty grass and flax were also used. Maori made the frames of kites from kareao or supplejack, manuka and toetoe. As soon as European materials became available local kite makers used them, too. Both the surviving birdman kites use European cloth or paper in their construction.

Kites were an important part of Maori work and play, but our knowledge of them is limited. This is partly because kites, by their very nature, are ephemeral things. While perishable materials like wooden carvings may occasionally survive in the right conditions, kites do not, and humans tend to look after the precious rather than the mundane. Worldwide, there are now only seven examples of Maori kites that predate the early twentieth century, kept in museums in London, Hawai'i and New Zealand. They include three manu taratahi, special triangular kites with one point, which were flown when Ruhanui was celebrated, the time when the kumara was stored and gifts were given. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has an example of a rectangular child's kite, upoko tangata.

On Top

Gods, chiefs, ariki — all these people of power used artefacts that we would call toys, but for purposes transcending play. When examining toys within the Maori world, the status and social rank of the people involved must be taken into account because their mana affects the story. When Pakeha arrived in Aotearoa they found a complete society, consisting of all social levels from the equivalent of aristocracy to peasantry (and a little later with a king as well): all these people are remembered with 'toys'.

But Pakeha commentators described what they saw from their own class and cultural perspective: toys equal children. When describing Maori society they ignored the very similar 'toy stories' within European aristocratic circles; the rich and powerful have time to play. Marie Antoinette had her play farm, wealthy eighteenth-century dinner guests were entertained by complex and hugely expensive automata and well-heeled Edwardian middle-class gents like H. G. Wells played with toy soldiers on the drawing room floor. This involvement of adults in toy play is something that would re-emerge only in the late twentieth century, when wealth and leisure in Aotearoa returned to the level enjoyed by Maori aristocracy two centuries before.

New Zealander Brian Sutton-Smith, who became a world authority on children's play, started his research into New Zealand children's games during the 1940s, when it was still easy to find people with memories stretching back into the nineteenth century. He attempted to assess what changes had occurred in Maori toys and play and which ones had survived this Pakeha winnowing of tradition.

To do this, he concentrated on toys and games that he described as having survived the 'cultural disintegration' of the nineteenth century when, especially after the passing of the Native Schools Act in 1867, Maori children fell increasingly under Pakeha influence. He noted that there were many surviving games and toys but also some that appeared to be later introductions – non-traditional activities seen as beneficial and educational that had been encouraged by the Young Maori Party in the 1890s and 'phys. ed.' section of the Education Department in the 1930s. The Maori toys that had survived, he believed, were those which had a Pakeha equivalent and which missionaries and later teachers could not view as 'uncivilised' and discourage or ban.

Similarly, the ethnographers chose not to record games that were either too difficult to describe or, in their eyes, had sexual connotations. Surfing, whakahekeheke, was done using kopapa, small boards about the size of modern boogie boards, or kelp bags or occasionally small waka. But the pastime became a victim of missionary prudery and fell from favour because the participants surfed naked. Maori comedian Billy T. James once did a sketch in which, as a child, he was presented by a practical relative with a pair of shorts with one pocket cut out, so he had 'something to wear and something to play with'. This story has a rich traditional origin: one of the games avoided by missionary and ethnographer alike was rito ure, in which the erect penis (or stiffened finger) was skilfully looped with string to the accompaniment of music. There were other prohibitions on play: early ethnologist Elsdon Best recorded one kaumatua telling him that 'We were not to spin our humming tops on Sunday'.

Among the survivors of this culling, puritanical or otherwise, Sutton-Smith listed knucklebones (see p. 60), stilts, tops and string games, as well as other adventurous pastimes that required little in the way of equipment: hunting, sliding, 'pipi shell skipping' (more like flying pipi shells, which I remember from my own childhood, requiring a dexterous flick of the fingers) and a number of games played with the hands – the Maori equivalents of paper, stone, scissors. On occasion traditional games survived even without Pakeha equivalents: he cites hand games played by older workers in East Coast shearing gangs. He does not mention kites. They may have fallen from use, but modern Maori commentaries on play and toys suggest that many more survived, under the radar of both Smith and the missionaries.

Koruru (sometimes ruru), the Maori form of knucklebones, arrived from Polynesia with the first waka. You can imagine bored, becalmed tamariki amusing themselves with the game during the voyage. The names for the various stages of play differed throughout the country. This is the Ngai Tahu version as collected by F. R. Chapman in the nineteenth century.

1. Paka (North Island dialect, panga) or ruke. Place four stones on the ground in twos; throw one up; pick up two; catch; repeat.

2. Takitoru. Place four on the ground; throw one up; pick up three; catch; repeat; pick up one.

3. Tuawha, or takiwha. Throw one up; pick up four; catch.

4. Koriwha. Hold four in hand; throw up one and catch it; repeat; then put four on ground, and do the ruke again.

5. Raraki (rarangi)-te-whawha. Place four in a square; throw up one four times in succession, touching a corner stone each time, and so heaping them. Then throw up one; sweep up four; and catch fifth. (This they have learned to call 'stockyard.')

6. Piu. Throw up one, and put four down.

7. Huri. Throw up all five, and catch on back of hand.

8. Koruru. Throw four up; pick up one, and catch four. This is the last one, and is also the name of the game.

Using small pebbles, berries or whatever was to hand, koruru was played by both children and adults.

Among the great survivors were potaka, spinning or whipping tops, which came in many forms and sizes. They were usually made from wood but Maori also made special potaka hue from stone or hue, the gourd. These had a central stake going through them and holes cut in the body of the gourd to create a humming or moaning sound when spun. This was said to be the moaning of the dead and these tops were used at times in mourning rituals.

More usually, however, tops were for fun, races and games. Young girls and boys whipped the tops along using flax strips mounted on a handle. There were three main sorts of games played with potaka: hurdles, where the tops were whipped over obstacles; a race where the top-whipping participants were directed down increasingly narrower paths, dodging and obstructing one another's tops until they reached the finish line; and a third version where two players entered a circle and attempted to drive their opponent's potaka outside the enclosure.

The last game was the most elaborate and the top used for it the most complex. This potaka was about 150 millimetres long by 80 millimetres wide, often carved and decorated with paua. The top had a spindle extending above the upper point, with a hole bored in it. Through this was passed a line that was then tied to a tree so the top was held about chest height. Then – this is a marvellously clever toy – another cord was wrapped around the base and then pulled while the top was held against a small piece of wood that acted as a fulcrum. Pull, and the top took off, spinning wildly and winding the cord on the top around the spindle and pulling the potaka up the line and up the tree. The highest top was the winner.

One story involving potaka illustrates a pattern in both Maori and Pakeha toy play: when powerful people play with toys, the consequences are no longer playful.

Kahu, who once lived near to the modern town of Gisborne, had twin sons named Takakiuta and Tarakitai. Loved and admired, the boys were experts at many arts: spears, taiaha and even the humble potaka. Their success was such that their uncle, Rakai, became jealous and planned to get rid of the twins to make life easier for his son, whom the twins beat in any competition. One day, as the twins played with their spinning top, Rakai stole it and told them it had fallen into a nearby kumara pit. When Takakiuta and Tarakitai climbed into the pit to look for it their uncle stoned them to death and hid the bodies. Later that evening, when the boys did not return home, their father started to look for them. Finally, in desperation, he made two huge kites and named them after his sons. They flew well and came together above the head of Rakai, nodding to show who the guilty party was. Kahu and his men attacked Rakai's village, killing Rakai's son and many others. A death brought on by a toy; vengeance facilitated by a toy. Spinning tops can still stir the emotions. At the beginning of the film Once Were Warriors, the soundtrack contains the soft, eerie humming made by a purerehua or bullroarer, which imitates the sound of a spinning top.

People are fascinated by simulacra of themselves, especially those that can re-create some form of human behaviour – puppets, automata, karetao. The last named were small carved figures with separately made arms that were activated by cords, allowing the karetao to perform haka. Sometimes a kapa haka group would each have one of these animated figures which, when the performers knelt, took over the action.

Objects that can make people appear larger also have universal appeal. Poutoti, stilts, were popular, as was stilt racing, poututeko. Sometimes the stilt walker used the toy for other purposes. In the Pacific, the fruit of the poroporo tree was a favourite food but you needed to be careful as they were poisonous unless fully ripe. Uenuku, a tohunga and high chief in Hawaiki, the Maori homeland, grew poroporo in a special garden, a place where he also rested. This made the grove tapu and entry was forbidden. But Tamatekapua, who became the captain of the Arawa waka, was determined to get the poroporo and to do this without leaving signs of entry he used stilts. As the poroporo gradually disappeared, people became suspicious and Tamatekapua was found out. He escaped on his stilts and avoided punishment for his behaviour.


Excerpted from Hello Girls & Boys! by David Veart. Copyright © 2014 David Veart. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Out of the Toy Box 1 Toys from the Waka,
Out of the Toy Box 2 New Arrivals, 1840–1900,
Out of the Toy Box 3 Toys in Depression & War, 1900–1945,
Out of the Toy Box 4 A Golden Age? 1946–1960,
Out of the Toy Box 5 Toys to the World, 1960s–1970s,
Out of the Toy Box 6 The Elves & the Rogernomes, 1980s,
Out of the Toy Box 7 End Games, 1990s–2000s,
Conclusion Toys in the Joined-up World,
Sources & Further Reading,
Image Credits,

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