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Image Whai (Māori string game) pattern

TLF ID R8537

This is a black-and-white photographic image of a pair of hands holding string in a pattern that was known to Māori in New Zealand as the moko (skin design for female chin and lips) or frog. The photograph was taken by James McDonald in the early part of the twentieth century, at Gisborne, on the East Coast of the North Island. The image measures 11.5 centimetres high by 16.5 centimetres long.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The asset illustrates a pastime that was popular with Māori in pre-European times. Other games included kites, tops, and hoops. The game is known as cat’s cradle in Western Europe, and has been recorded as being played since early times in Korea, Japan, China, Borneo, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia.
  • It illustrates a game that had a number of names, including te whai wareware a Mäui (Mäui’s clever string game), he whai, maui and whai. In Māori mythology, Mäui made a snare to slow the sun down.
  • It illustrates a game played primarily by children, but also by men and women. Some designs had waiata (songs) and pūrākau (stories) to accompany them. The pastime was especially popular with girls and women and may have helped with the finger dexterity needed for fine weaving.
  • It shows a game that was developed by Māori – some patterns required two, three and even four players to create and hold, other patterns resolved into new scenes that told a story. Some patterns were made with strings as long as 2.7 metres.
  • It indicates a game that had a competitive element. Contests were said to be frequent. In the evening people would gather in the wharenui (community house), and two players would stand or sit back-to-back and make the same design – the results would then be compared.
  • It shows a pattern that was associated with moko, or Māori skin marking. Originally, female chin and lip designs, such as this one, were called kauae, and moko referred to the practice generally. As the art form declined, the term moko came to mean the female chin and lip designs that were still worn well into the twentieth century.
  • It is a black and white original negative (on glass) taken by James McDonald, a photographer and artist who worked for the Dominion Museum (now Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) from 1905 to 1925. He made trips to the East Coast between 1912 and 1926.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: Wellington, NEW ZEALAND
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: James McDonald
  • Description: Author
  • Publisher
  • Name: Curriculum Corporation\; The Le@rning Federation
  • Organization: Curriculum Corporation\; The Le@rning Federation
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • Text
  • © Ministry of Education New Zealand, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements