New Zealand–Ki O’rahi


The most beloved sport in New Zealand is rugby, and why shouldn’t it be? Rugby has everything a great sport should have. Tackling, for example. And the kicking of a ball. And a bunch of people pushing each other really hard. Rugby originated in England in the mid-1800s and introduced it to New Zealand in 1870; by the turn of the century New Zealand’s national rugby team was able to give teams in the UK a run for the money. A far back as 1895 two distinct forms of rugby developed–“rugby league” and “rugby union.” Essentially “rugby league” is a faster, more physical game with fewer stoppages, though there are several differences. And yes, Kiwis do actually call rugby “footy.” (Learn the basic rules of “rugby league.” | Learn the basic rules of “rugby union.” | Learn all about the rugby scrum | Learn the science of the scrum: “historically the most dangerous moment in sports” | New Zealand LOVES their national rugby team, the All Blacks)

Before the British colonized New Zealand he Maori were already playing games with a ball, two opposing teams and tackling. One ball and tackle sport in particular, called “Ki o’rahi,” may or may not have been present in Maori communities for centuries, but by most accounts it at least existed long before rugby. Perhaps rugby resonates so viscerally with people in New Zealand because the Maori were essentially playing it before they every played it.

To play ki o’rahi, gather two teams of seven players and find yourself a “ki,” a small, round ball made traditionally out of flax. The ki o’rahi field is circular, with the playing area essentially divided into three round zones. Players from one team stand in the furthest inside and furthest outside zones while players on the other team stand in the middle zone. Around the outside of the biggest circle are “pou” (boundary markers), which players on the team that has its members stationed in the outside circle must touch with the ball to gain points. There is a “tabu,” a large cylindrical target, in the center. The team with players in the middle circle must throw the ball and hit the tabu while players allowed in the innermost circle try to stop the ball. Finding it hard to picture? Watch this example of tackle ki o’rahi and you should get an idea.

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