Anthropological details of Konane

Prof. Michael Ernst

    Konane was played in preliterate Hawaii [Sizer 1991]. Konane was popular among all classes, and men and women often played together, unlike some other Hawaiian games that were tapu (taboo) among the common people or were played by only one sex [Emory 1924]. Konane was a particular favorite of old men [Buck 1957, 317]. A game sometimes lasted an entire day; in a match, often a large number of games were played before determining the winner [Emory 1924]. Captain James Cook, who in 1778 during his third voyage was the first European to visit Hawaii, described a native game that is clearly Konane:

One of their games resembles our game of draughts [checkers]; but, from the number of squares, it seems to be much more intricate. The board is of the length of about two feet, and is divided into two hundred and thirty-eight squares, fourteen in a row [hence a 14­by­17 board]. In this game they use black and white pebbles, which they move from one square to another. [Cook and King 1784, 312].

     Like other indigenous Hawaiian games and sports, Konane declined in popularity after the arrival of Westerners; by 1924, only one ninety­year­old Hawaiian native woman was known to be acquainted with the game [Emory 1924]. In the last few decades, however, native pastimes have begun a resurgence. Today, students in schools emphasizing Hawaiian culture learn to play Konane as early as first or second grade [Kawai`ae`a 1995]. The loss of popularity resulted in part from Hawaiians' enthusiastic acceptance of novel foreign games, but was primarily due to the efforts of Christian missionaries [Mitchell 1982, 180]. The missionaries taught that Hawaiian culture and customs were inferior, eliminated religious practices that permeated games and sports, and criticized adults who engaged in play during daytime ``working'' hours. Missionaries also strove to stamp out games associated with gambling. Hawaiians were ``greatly addicted to gambling'' [Cook and King 1784], and the betting in Konane was sometimes very heavy [Emory 1924], a practice Brigham [1892, 54] says began in the second half of the 18th century. Alexander [1871, 88] calls gambling the chief purpose of Hawaiian games.

     Konane was played on a rectangular grid of indentations or holes. (Corney [1896] describes Hawaiian ``draughts''---probably Konane---boards as painted in squares; Andrews [1865] says Konane was played on squares of black and white.) Pitted slabs with rows of holes for playing Konane were found on the front of the platform of many houses [Emory 1924], and portable game boards were common [Buck 1957]; the game was also frequently played on the plaits of the lauhala mat [Emory 1924]. The twenty Konane slabs and boards reported by Emory [1924] and Buck [1957] average 134 holes each, with a geometric mean of 125 holes. The number of rows ranged from 8 to 13, and the number of columns from 8 to 20; five of the boards were square and the remainder rectangular. The board (papa konane) is set end on between the players, with the longer dimension between them.

     The center of the board was called piko (navel) and frequently marked with an inset human molar; sometimes every position had an inset tooth (or a chicken or human bone [Brigham 1892, 60]). The row along the borders of the board was termed kaka`i . Before starting play, the board positions were filled with alternating black and white stones. Local beaches provided basalt and coral pebbles for game pieces, whose preferred size was under an inch in diameter and slightly flattened rather than spherical. The names for the black and white stones are variously reported as `ili `ele`ele (black­skinned) and `ili kea (white­skinned) [Buck 1957], as `ili`ili `ele`ele and `ili`ili ke`oke`o [Mitchell 1975], as ka eleele (or ele) and ke keokeo (or kea) [Emory 1924], and as hiu [Andrews 1865].

     To begin the game, the players decide who picks up the first stone, which must be the center stone, one laterally next to it, or one at a corner. The second player picks up an adjacent stone of the other color; if the first player selected a stone adjacent to the center, then the second player must take the center stone. Thereafter, the players take turns jumping with the color that each initially picked up, removing jumped­over stones of the other color (lawe ili keokeo, paani, ka eleele: ``removing the whites is playing with the blacks''). The first player unable to move loses (make); the other player wins (ai).

     A move consists of jumping (holo or konene) one's own piece over an adjacent enemy piece into an empty location just beyond; the enemy piece is removed. Jumping occurs along a row or file, never diagonally and never in two directions on a single move. Multiple enemy pieces may be removed providing they are all on the same row or file, they are separated by one empty location, and there is a vacant position at the end of the line; such a move is called kaholo. Ku`i (strike back) means to jump over the piece just moved by the opponent, along the same row or file but in the opposite direction.

     An alternative name for Konane was mu, and for the board, papamu. Brigham [1906] notes that mu was the name of the official who captured men for sacrifice or for judicial punishment and suggests this name was adopted for the game. Buck [1957] thinks it more likely that this mu, and papamu, come from the English word ``move,'' which Europeans frequently said as they played board games. (The New Zealand Maoris used the name mu for checkers for just this reason.) Andrews [1865] says pahiuhiu was the name of a game like Konane, which is a species of punipeke. A more authoritative Hawaiian dictionary [Pukui and Elbert 1957] states that punipeki is a game similar to Fox and Geese whose game pieces are moved on the board by pushing them with sharp sticks; pahiuhiu (or pahuihui) is a game of throwing darts at a target, or, as a verb, to push a stone with sharp sticks toward a goal. The spelling ``pahuuhiu'' in Murray [1952] appears to be a typographical error.

The ancient Javanese/Malayan game of main chuki or tjuki is similar to Konane in that it is  a kind of checkers played with 60 white beans and 60 black beans on the 120 points formed by intersections of lines [Wilken 1893, 162; Wilkinson 1925, 60]. The English game of Leap Frog is also similar, except that during a move a piece may make any number of jumps, even in orthogonal directions, and the winner is the player who captures the greatest number of playing pieces rather than the one whose opponent is blocked from further moves [McConville 1974].

extract from: ``Playing Konane Mathematically: A Combinatorial Game-Theoretic Analysis,'' by Michael D. Ernst, 1995.