Hawaiian Guessing Stones Game

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81. Pu-he-ne-he-ne

[Page 239] A game in which a stone called a no-a was concealed in one of five places (puu) under a kapa, the object being to guess under which it was hidden.

elastic rod

Ellis1 describes it as one of the most popular games of the Hawaiian islands, the favorite amusement of the king and higher order of chiefs, and frequently occupied them whole days together. Those who play sit cross-legged on mats spread on the ground, each holding in his right hand a small elastic rod, ma-i-le about three feet long and highly polished (Plate XII, h). At the small end of this stick is a narrow slit or hole, through which a piece of dog skin, with a tuft of shaggy hair on it, or a piece of ti leaf, is usually drawn. Five pieces of kapa of different colors, each loosely folded up like a bundle, are then placed between the two parties, which generally consist of five persons each. One person is then selected on each side to hide the stone. He who is first to hide it, takes it in his right hand, lifts up the cloth at one end, puts his arm under as far as his elbow, and passing it along several times underneath the five pieces of cloth, which lie in a line contiguous to each other, he finally leaves it under one [Page 240] of them. The other party sit opposite, watching closely the action in the muscles of the upper part of his arm; and it is said that adepts can discover the place where the stone is deposited, by observing the change that takes place in those muscles, when the hand ceases to grasp it. Having deposited the stone, the hider withdraws his arm, and with many gestures, separates the contiguous pieces of cloth into five distinct heaps, leaving a narrow space between each. The opposite party, having keenly observed this process, now point with their wands or sticks to the different heaps under which they suppose the stone lies, looking significantly at the same time, full in the face of the man who hid it. He sits all the while, holding his fingers before his eyes to prevent their noticing any change in his countenance, should one of them point to the heap under which it is hidden. Having previously agreed who shall strike first, that individual, looking earnestly at the hider, lifts his rod and strikes a sharp blow across the heap he has selected. The cloth is instantly lifted, and should the stone appear under it, his party have won that hiding with one stroke; if it is not there, the others strike till the stone is found. The same party hide the stone successively, according to their agreement at the commencement of the play; and whichever party discovers it the given number of times, with fewest strokes, wins the game. Sometimes they reverse it; and those win who, in a given number of times, strike the most heaps without uncovering the stone. Occasionally they play for amusement only, but more frequently for money or other articles of value which they stake on the game.

The five puu receive the following names: (1) ki-hi or ki-hi-mo-e, (2) pi-li or pi-li-mo-e, (3) kau, (4) pi-li-pu-ka, (5) ki-hi -pu-ka. These are regarded as corresponding to the following divisions of the night: (1) sunset (?), (2) 9 o'clock in the evening, (3) midnight, (4) 3 o'clock in the morning, (5) sunrise (?). Andrews gives pu-pu-he-ne, a row of men in a certain game, presumably pu-he-ne-he-ne. He also defines pe-le, not only as the name [Page 241] of a volcano and of the fabled goddess of volcanoes, but also "4, a stone from a volcano used in the play called pu-he-ne-he-ne. See no-a."

In Captain King's journal of Cook's voyage to the Pacific ocean2, he says: "They have another game which consists in hiding a stone under a piece of cloth, which one of the party spreads out, and rumples in such a manner that the place where the stone lies is difficult to be distinguished. The antagonist, with a stick, then strikes the part of the cloth where he imagines the stone to be; and, as the chances are, upon the whole, considerably against his hitting it, odds of all degrees, varying with the opinion of the skill of the parties, are laid on the side of him who hides." Elsewhere he says: "We observed great numbers of small polished rods, about four or five feet long, somewhat thicker than the rammer of a musket, with a tuft of white dog's hair. fixed on the small end. These are, probably, used in their diversions."

Corne3 says: "They play another game by hiding a stone under three pieces of cloth. Six people play at this game, each party having his stone and cloths and a small wand with which they strike the cloth under which they think the stone is deposited. If they do not guess right the first time, the stone is shifted and so on alternately. I have seen the chiefs sit for a whole day before they decide the game."

A no-a in the Bishop Museum (Cat. Number 881) is described as the stone of Kalanikupele, the last king of Oahu, who had a large house at Waimanalo where he played this and other games.

My informants stated that this game is not played now in Honolulu, but that they had seen it played by men from Kauai.

J. Stanley Gardiner4 says that in Rotuma "another favorite amusement on the beach is to make a bank of sand, and out of this to scrape a number of holes in the sand. A piece of coral is then taken in the hand and, while these are filled up, hid in one. When they are tired with the rougher games above, the whole beach may be seen strewn with young people, five or six together, playing this game. The unsuccessful in guessing, in which hole the coral has been placed, will be set on by the others, and covered in sand."

1. Volume iv, p. 81.
2. Vol. III, p. 145.
3. Page 106.
4. Journal Anthropological Institute, Vol. XXVII, p. 488.

Last update February 2, 2010