When Europeans arrived in New Zealand they brought their sports with them. For Europeans civilisation and sport went hand in hand, and they attempted to involve Māori in European sports. Māori did take up these new sports but often gave each game a unique cultural flavour. Some sports, such as rugby, proved more popular than others, such as cricket.
Sports and colonisation
In 1888 London newspaper the Times regarded as: ‘a tribute to our colonizing faculty [that] [t]he colonizing race … can imbue the aboriginal inhabitants of the colonized countries with a love for its national games … Wherever the Englishman goes he carries the bat and the goal posts.‘1
There are scattered examples of Māori playing cricket from the early 19th century. In 1832, missionary Henry Williams noted a game of cricket in Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, in which Māori and Pākehā boys played together. In 1835 English naturalist Charles Darwin observed Māori playing cricket in Waimate, also in Northland. In 1848 Lady Ann Martin, commenting on the preparation of St John’s College native schools, noted, ‘There were playing fields for cricket (at which the Maori boys were quite equal to their English companions and partners).’2
Māori teams are recorded as playing Pākeha teams. For example, a report from 1882 has a junior Māori cricket club playing against the woollen factory boy’s club at Kaiapoi. The Māori team got 94 runs against the Pākehā boys’ 35. One player, J. Uru (probably John Hopere Wharewiti Uru), with 39 runs, scored more than the entire woollen factory team.
Māori teams also played each other. In 1898, in a match between Raetihi Māori and Pipiriki Māori, Pipiriki batted first and scored 46 runs, followed by Raetihi who scored 85. In Pipiriki’s second innings they scored 55 runs for 3 wickets before play was called off due to a thunderstorm. The game was awarded to Pipiriki by agreement, because the team had only been together for a couple of weeks.
A few Māori players represented provincial cricket sides. They included John Grey (Jack) Taiaroa, who represented Hawke’s Bay as a batsman through the 1890s and John Hopere Wharewiti Uru (Ngāi Tahu), who played for Canterbury as a fast bowler in the 1890s.
However, historically cricket has not been a game that has attracted high numbers of Māori players. While Te Aute College attempted to foster the game, a key difficulty was that boarding schools had summer holidays in the middle of the cricket season.
Boxing (mekemeke in Māori) has long had Māori participants. In 1883 Ngāpuhi boxer Herbert Slade fought the American heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan at Madison Square Garden in New York, in front of 130,000 people. He lost in the third round.
The first recorded Māori rugby player was named Wirihana, and was probably Wirihana Puna, lieutenant under Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp) in the New Zealand wars. He took part in a game at Aramoho, Whanganui, in 1872.
1888–89 Native team
Joe Warbrick was responsible for the creation of the 1888 Native team. The squad was initially intended to comprise only Māori players but, with a lack of depth in certain positions, management invited five non-Māori to join. Included in the team were five Warbrick brothers (Ngāti Rangitihi) and a player who would become one of New Zealand’s most famous: Thomas (Tamati) Rangiwāhia Ellison. Ellison is credited with being the first to put the silver fern on the black background of their team jersey, which later became a national emblem. He also captained the first official New Zealand team and wrote a coaching manual, The art of rugby football (1902).
The 1888 Natives toured New Zealand, Australia and the British Isles for 15 months, playing 108 rugby games. It was the first time a New Zealand-based team had sailed further than Australia, and remains the longest rugby tour ever.
In 1889 a Native Baseball Club was formed, with headquarters at Waiwhetū (Lower Hutt). A list of the members and office-holders shows that many well-known Te Ātiawa families were involved with the club: the president was Ēnoka Te Taitea, vice president was Pero Teone, the captain was T. M. Tāniora Love and the secretary and treasurer was Utiku Love.
In the 1890s two Māori pole vaulters, Jimmy Te Paa and Hori Eruera, were world-class athletes whose heights were in line with those of the best northern hemisphere athletes. Eruera won the Australasian title in 1897 and Te Paa did the same in 1899.