Hawaiian Games

By Hawaii.com Team

In ancient Hawaiian culture, games were traditionally played during the makahiki season, which stretched three or four months from late fall through the winter. It was a time when attention turned from warring to farming. Taxes were paid to ruling chiefs, and as chiefs traveled from one village to another, games of skill were performed for their entertainment. Many kapu (taboos) were lifted during makahiki, allowing women to surf and participate in various competitions.


(similar to checkers & chess)

One of the culture’s more strategic games was konane, similar to a blend of chess and checkers. The game included a pitted stone checkerboard (called a papamu), with black and white pebbles made of lava and coral (known respectively as ‘ili ‘ele and ‘ili kea). The number of holes on the papamu, set in even rows, varied from 64 to 250 — depending on how long participants wanted the game to last.

To play: If you don’t have black lava and white coral pebbles, beachcomb for suitable substitutes. If you don’t live near a beach, check craft or hobby stores for polished or unpolished stones.

As far as crafting a game board, your imagination is the only limit. Chiseling an authentic papamu is time-intensive, but if you’re up to the challenge, look for a large flat rock in which to carve holes. (Note that the holes, especially the indent in the center, were traditionally inset with human teeth.)

The rules are similar to checkers. All holes on the papamu are filled with stones, alternating dark and light. The game starts by removing an ‘ili ‘ele (dark stone) from either the center of the board or one of the board’s corners. The next move is to take away an ‘ili kea (light stone) adjacent to the newly removed dark stone.

The game progresses from here much like checkers: Players take turns trying to capture their opponent’s ‘ili by jumping the stones horizontally or vertically. As in checkers, you can make more than one jump during a move if there’s an empty hole between jumps and the stones being jumped are in the same row or column. You can’t move diagonally, or switch directions within a move.

A strategy note: The winner is the last person who can make a legal move, not the person who has captured the most ‘ili or has the most remaining pieces on the board.


(similar to lawn bowling)

The Hawaiians also played ‘ulumaika, a game that resembles contemporary lawn bowling. Descriptions of the game vary, but following are the essential elements:

A round rock about the size of a softball is rolled or pitched through two short wooden stakes. A point is gained each time the rock passes through the stakes. The stakes can be as close together as five or six inches or as far apart as two feet, depending on how challenging you want the game to be.
Similarly, participants can stand as close to the posts as a yard away, or further back. It’s best to play one person at a time unless you have a large yard and can set up stakes far apart from each other (and from the rest of the party — think of it as a horseshoe pit).

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