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by Greta Yeoman

Aoraki schools are set to face-off on the field during an interschool Kī-o-Rahi tournament today.

The traditional Māori sport is scheduled to be played at Caroline Bay today, starting at 10am, as schools compete in the Aoraki interschool tournament.

More than 30 teams are expected to participate.

Canterbury District Health Board community and public health Wave facilitator Greg Newton said that unlike most other sports, there was a cultural element to the game, which is based on the Māori legend of Rahi and the rescue of his wife, Ti Ara.

“Don’t just think of it as a sport.”

He has been organising the tournament, which will begin at 9.30am with a mihi whakatau (formal Māori welcome) before games start at 10am.

Kī-o-Rahi is played on a circular field between two teams, which alternate between the roles of kīoma and taniwha.

The field is marked out by wooden posts (pou) or cones, with a tupu (target) of stone or a metal drum in the middle.

To play, the Kīoma team members run to the outside of the field, touch the outer posts with a kī (ball) and then attempt to run back into the centre to touch the tupu with the kī to score points.

Meanwhile, the Taniwha team – located around the perimeter of the field – tries to score points by throwing the pou at the tupu, which is guarded by Kīoma players.

The Taniwha players also try to stop the Kīoma players from scoring by either touching, tackling or ripping a tag off the opposing player.

Mr Newton said the South Canterbury schools all played the tag-ripping style of the game.

He first brought the sport to South Canterbury schools in 2014 and it had been well-received by many teachers.

It tied into the increasing focus on Māori history, language and traditions in the school curriculum, as players could learn about the legend and history of the game, as well as phrases involved in play.

Today’s tournament would demonstrate the growing interest in kī-o-rahi, with schools entering boys, girls and mixed teams in the year 5-6, year 7-8 and year 9-10 sections, he said.

Despite the small number of players across New Zealand, the game was introduced to Europe by the Māori Battalion during World War 2, and more than 65,000 school pupils also played it in the United States, Mr Newton said.

All schools competing in the tournament were from South Canterbury, except for a contingent from Waitaki Boys’ High School in Oamaru.