E Papa Waiari (Uncle Waiari)


“Again!” Said Mrs. Biesen.

We all groaned, raised our sticks to ready position and the record player began again.

Maku e kaute Ō hīkoitanga
Māku e kaute Ō hīkoitanga

Our butts were sore from the gym floor and we should have known our stick routine by now. She expected perfection and I couldn’t even begin to coordinate those sticks.

Look at the girls in the video above. That could have been me. Except, I was a skinny fumblehanded third grade boy with the all manual grace of a newborn moose.

My partner was Mark. He wasn’t making this easier. He was a little kid, maybe in second grade, to my immensely powerful third grade. He had long, blonde eyelashes, and gawked at everything around him. He could never remember that Thursday landed between Wednesday and Friday.  “What was that day again?” Mrs. Biesen would drill him, and he’d pound his head “Thurthday! Thurthday! Thurthday!”

He had lost both his front teeth. I bet he could catch a french fry in his mouth if I threw it across the gym, but he couldn’t catch a stick from a scrawny boy sitting crosslegged, 2 feet away.

In his defense, neither could I.

That was the Maori stick game. And we were so. dang. bad. at it.

It started out simple, clacking the ends of the sticks to the floor and then alternating by smacking them together.

We would slowly add other moves.  Slap the partner’s stick with your stick. Throwing the stick in your left hand to your partner’s left hand, while your partner did the same. Our sticks would inevitably collide midair, like two missiles that just happened to occupy the same space at the same time. The other kids did great. Doing feats of stickrobatics like twirling them in the air, tapping both twice to the left of your body, and tapping both to the right of your body.

I’d like to say that this was for GIRLS. Girls were good at this, and knew how to make things fly in the air. All the girls I knew had great handwriting, while my penmanship looked like the giant bulbous tangles of seaweed puked out by the pacific ocean. Girls could play the piano, and do those fantastic clapping games.  Some girls did the cat’s cradle thing, with a long knotted piece of string, making jacob’s ladder and other impressive string shapes. Also, I never knew that it was a game Girl Scouts were told to learn in their Girly, Scouty literature.

I’d like to say it was a girl’s thing, but I would be wrong. I found out decades later that he Maori tribes taught their BOYS to do the stick thing (they called it tītī touretua), so they could practice working with dual spears. Passing, capturing, stamping spears. To instill fear in the hearts of other tribes. Their sticks were 3-feet long, and they played the game standing up. As the tempo of the chant increased, those who dropped their sticks dropped out of the game. Good lord, the Maori sped the game up! I’d also like to point out that in “to-ure-tua” the Maori morpheme “ure” means “penis”. O, yeah, boys game.

I liked the song.Check out the video above. It reminds me of a 1970s evangelical church service almost.

What’s funny is I never GOT that it was in a waltzy, six-eight time. Maybe that’s why I had so much trouble tossing those dreaded sticks. My mind, and apparently the cadence, FORCED me to think the thing was in 4/4 time, and I (and probably Mark) were doing the stick patterns on the wrong BEAT.

Mrs. Biesen wanted us to perform our stick in front of the parents. Yeah, Right.

My partner Mark and I would never be in the Stick-o-lympics. We would never even leave the gym, if Mrs. Biesen had her druthers. I could feel her angry, red breath on my neck every time she walked by me. I could almost feel her wiry hair dripping disdain onto our performance.

I explored all the options. Was it because we were boys? Because he was 8 and I was 9? Maybe because the sticks were too skinny? My hands were too wide? Whatever the reason, I grew more and more frustrated, until I threw sticks at Mark.

Maybe I threw them a little too hard. Mark started crying. Huge tears ran his vacant cheeks.

It wasn’t his fault, you know.

Mrs. Biesen kicked us both out of the gym. We spent the rest of Music period running laps around the field.

Much preferable to the silly stick game.

I never learned to manipulate the dumb sticks correctly. It gives me hives just thinking about it. I’m a lover, not a fighter, man! And definitely not a dancer.

One final thing.

This is a *really* cool version of this song. Makes me love all things Polynesian. Listen to it. I urge you.

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