‘Ulu maika: A Game of Skill


Text by Vincent Van Der Gouwe I Image courtesy of Kamehameha Schools

In ancient times, rainy winter months brought a cause for celebration. It’s easy to imagine young ali‘i sitting near the shoreline of Kewalo, stirred by the first sight of the faint star cluster Pleiades, which marked the beginning of the winter season known as ho‘oilo. During this time, Lono, the god of rain and fertility, was honored in a four-month-long celebration called Makahiki. A kapu was placed on activities associated with the god Kū like deep-sea fishing and warfare, and time was dedicated to ceremonies, feasts, and games. The recent unearthing of stones used for a game called ‘ulu maika as part of a test excavation in West-Kaka‘ako reminds us of times of celebration, simple outdoor fun, and the preservation of Hawaiian traditions in Our Kaka‘ako.

‘Ulu maika is a pitching game that was played as part of the festivities of the Makahiki season, used to demonstrate a boy’s strength and accuracy. Because of the frequency of the findings of these artifact game stones, it’s assumed that this game was played quite frequently. Similar to bowling, ‘ulu maika involves rolling disk-shaped stones, often made from basalt and sometimes coral, down a kahua, a course of flattened ground 90 to 120 feet long. The aim was to roll the stones between two pegs standing only several inches apart without hitting either one of them. Sometimes in tournaments, the aim was to see who could roll the stones the farthest.

Still done today as a game of past time and as a remembrance to ancient tradition, ‘ulu maika reminds us how easy it is to create simple outdoor fun for all ages to enjoy.

‘Ulu maika is easy to play and you don’t need many materials.

How to play ‘ulu maika?
Mark off a course of flat ground or lawn of about 15 feet in length.
For little children, the distance can be made shorter.
Place two wooden pegs in the ground about six inches apart.
Game stones can be made from quick-drying cement or plaster and should be about three inches in diameter and one inch thick.
Roll the stones over the course aiming for the two wooden pegs.
The winner will be the one that is able to roll the stones in between the pegs without touching them.