Mu Torere

Mu Torere
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Text by R. C. Bell from the Appendix in his book BOARD and TABLE GAMES from Many Civilizations.

Although the Maori culture is rich in action games and other amusements, Mu Torere appears to be the only ‘board game’ played by them. The Maori board was made in three ways: The first was to mark it with charcoal on hewn slab; the second was to mark it on the ground with a pointed stick; the third was to mark it on the inner bark of totara while green so that the design remained when the bark dried — two straight sticks being tied at each end to prevent curling. It appears to have been played mainly on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, by the Ngati Porou tribe.

There has been some doubt as to whether it is a pre-European game, or not. ‘Mu’ is the word given by the Maoris to European Draughts, and is a transliteration of the English word ‘move’. It is probably, however, that the game was originally called Torere, and Mu has been added as a prefix. Early colonists seem to have regarded it merely as a variation of Draughts, but this could be due to their tendency to explain the unfamiliar in the light of the familiar. There seams to be no basic similarity in the games: the objects are different — there is no capture in Mu Torere — movement is different, and of course the board and number of men are different. Mu Torere would seam to have more in common with Mill [Nine Men’s Morris] than Draughts. Further, it is unlikely that this game was derived from European Draughts when the latter was so eagerly accepted by the Maori.

There is only one trap to causes any difficulty. Once a player recognises the situation and knows the correct move to escape it, he should never be beaten. Between two players who both know the trap, the game should (in the absence of error) result in a draw.

  1. Playing equipment: The board consists of an 8-pointed star, with a circular area in the centre, called the Putahi. Each player has four pieces of a distinct colour. At the beginning of the game, one player’s pieces are place on four adjacent points, and the remaining points are the other player’s.Mu Torere Layout
  2. Object: To block the opponent’s pieces so that they can’t move.
  3. The play: Black begins [darkest colour goes first] and players move alternately. Only one piece is allowed in each area. Jumping is not allowed. There are three varieties of moves:

(a) a piece (perepere) may be moved from one of the arms (kawai) direct to an adjacent arm, (b) or from the putahi to an arm, (c) or from one of the arms to the putahi, providing that one or both of the adjacent  arms are occupied by an enemy piece or pieces. Variant: the restriction on the movement of a piece from the arm to the putahi is sometimes observed only for the first two moves of each player.