Hawaiian Games

By Stewart Culin
Published in the American Anthropologist,
New Series, April 1899, Vol. I, No. 2, Pages 201-247.

Hula Dancer

Culin wrote [Pages 201-202]:

The new materials of this paper were collected from four Hawaiian sailors, from Honolulu, named Aka (Kamehameha), Daviese Kahimoku, Welakahao, and Hale Paka (Harry Park), and verified by means of Andrews' Hawaiian Dictionary1. These have been supplemented by information from other sources2 and by a few notes on similar games in other islands3, the object being to furnish a concise account of the games of Hawaii for comparative purposes.

Editorial Comment
What follows are Culin's general comments about the games played in a ritual context and in a recreational context. He offers a survey of the games with descriptions and illustrations. Ninety-one games are described - some with very detailed descriptions - some with minimal descriptions. At times he compares and contrasts these games with similar games played on other Pacific Islands and in other countries. Some games are "sports", some are "children's games", and some are "gambling games". He reminds us that he "...has included in this survey all amusements except the dance." In some instances, when a description did not include a graphic, we have added a color graphic which was not part of the original text (such as the one on the left). All of Culin's original graphics are line drawings.

Hawaiian GameBecause of the length of Culin's paper, using his list, game descriptions (with illustrations if provided such as the one on the right) have been made into a number of  "clickable" pages. Culin listed games and their descriptions in a numerical order (pages 246 and 247) - not in alphabetical order by name - and without  reference to categories under which the games might be considered. Some game descriptions are elaborate and are offered with copious notes on related games, including references and graphics for other areas of Oceana. Some descriptions are minimal and without graphics or references. Consequently, these latter games at times have been combined into one WebPage of that category, such as casting games or children's games for example.  In this presentation, game descriptions (pages 205 through 246) have been reorganized and are listed by categories in alphabetical order, followed by Culin's identification number, then by the Hawaiian name he assigned to a game, and finally by the English name he assigned to a game. Nevertheless, Culin's text is preserved as originally presented. The "clickable list" includes the complete text and graphics for the 91 games - (pages 205-246).

Thus, for this Web presentation Culin's paper has been divided into the three sections he specified. Use the menu in the left panel, to read Culin's dicussion of Hawaiian games since the Islands were "discovered" (page 202); to view a description of "ritual games" played during the Hawaiian New Year Festival (pages 203-205); and to view a clickable list of 91 "recreational games" played in Hawaii in 1899 (pages 205-246).


  1. Honolulu, 1865.
  2. Peter Corney, Voyages in the Northern Pacific (1813-1818) Honolulu, 1896. William Ellis, Polynesian Researches, London, 1853. Charles Wilkes, U.S.N., Narative of the U.S. Exploring Expedition during the Years 1833-1842, Philadelphia, 1845. H. Carrington Bolton, Some Hawaiian Pastimes (Journal of American Folk-lore, vol. iv, No. 21). W.D. Alexander, A Brief History of the Hawaiian People, N.Y., 1871. Wm. T. Brigham, Preliminary Catalogue of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, 1892.
  3. Rev. John B. Stair, Old Samoa, or Floatsam and Jetsam for the Pacific Ocean, London, 1897. Thomas Williams and James Calvert, Fiji and the Fijians, N.Y., 1859. R. Taylor, Te ika a manui, or New Zealand and its Inhabitants, London, 1855. Ernest Dieffenbach, Travels in New Zealand, London, 1843. R.H. Codington, The Melanesians, Studies in their Anthropolgy and Folk-lore, Oxford, 1891. In addition the writer desires to acknowledge his indebtedness to that most suggestive paper by Dr. E.B. Tylor: "Remarks on the Geograpical Distribution of Games", in the Journal of the Anthropolical Institute, vol. ix, 1879, and to the chapters on "Toys and Games" in Prof. A.C. Haddon's valuable work, The Study of Man, 1898.

Last update January 31, 2010