I was once watching New Zealand play Bangladesh (or was it India? – my memory fades), when all the players would celebrate in a ritualistic manner after each wicket. It was not until today I realized if there was indeed a hidden code of celebration stemming from tribal origins.
Pictured below is a postage stamp of kilikiti or Samoan cricket. The game is played in Tuvalu, national sport of Samoa and also popular in New Zealand.
A score of 37/19 is not unheard of, as it is a multi-party game consisting of rituals and festivities. Perhaps the excerpt from the cited article would do justice to this fascinating art having undergone syncretism:
Have you heard of a score like 37/19? Well, that is kirikiti for you, the Samoan version of cricket. After one of the readers alerted us about this unique sport played in Samoa, we did some research and came up with the following:
The Samoans say that they invented the game of cricket. The Samoan version of the game, kirikiti, is one long party, with teams of twenty or more per side usually between villages, matches lasting several days, and generous catering provided by the host village.
Strangers are permitted to join in as long as they can follow the less-than-Lords’ rules. Games are played with a three-sided bat, an indeterminate number of players, umpires who use their whistle for any number of reasons (including just the sheer joy of being alive), and continue for an indefinite number of days, before the winner is decided by a mysterious process known only to Samoans. The only hard-and-fast rule is that the host team automatically forfeits the game if they can’t supply enough food to the visiting village.
Kirikiti bears only a passing resemblance to cricket played elsewhere. The similarity consists of the fact that there is a bat, with three sides which makes controlling the direction very hard, and ball. There are no limits in the number of players in a team, which are of mixed sex. The object of the game would be to hit a ball through a goal. The large number of fielders ensures that batters don’t last long and the game only stops when the ball gets lost.
It is played all year round usually between teams from different villages. If, as you wander around the islands, you come across a game in progress, ask the villagers playing, and you may be able to take part. The game is taken very seriously, with inter-village competitions culminating in a national championship each September.
Kirikiti is road hazard. Every village has a concrete strip, usually in the sand near the road, with outfielders having to keep their eyes on the traffic as well as the ball.
Kirikiti is an example of a sport where everyone in the community is involved, in a variety of roles (as players, administrators, in food preparation, or as spectators). During the unit of work, the students learn about these roles and the responsibilities attached to each. For example, the coach teaches their team the physical skills, the rules, and appropriate protocol for competitions. The fa’aluma leads the supporters in encouraging the team and mocking the opposition. The team manager, helped by the supporters, organises suitable equipment, clothing, and a traditional Samoan dish for morning or afternoon tea. On competition day, the correct procedures are followed and authentic kirikiti terms are used throughout the game.
The sennit-wrapped wooden bats, which are shaped to individual players’ likings and can be over a meter long, are three-sided, which means that the path of a hit ball is extremely hard to predict.
Trobriand cricket, on the other hand, was introduced in 1903 by the British Methodist missionary William Gillmore.
As the synopsis of the 52-minute documentary by Jerry Leach titled Trobriand Cricket: An Ingenious Response to Colonialism highlights:
The people of the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea have a rich history of rituals and war that has inspired study and intrigue for over 70 years.
The islands of Trobriand sit off the east coast of Papua New Guinea and are inhabited by mostly indigenous people. The first western explorers discovered the Island in 1793. British colonial power came to the area in the early 20th Century, seizing control of the southern portion of New Guinea. With this new settlement came many traders, missionaries and anthropologists who wanted to study this non-western culture.
Of all the new settlers, the missionaries’ influence over the islands of Trobriand became the most fascinating. They introduced the islands to cricket, which was quickly adapted to the needs of their society. Cricket became a replacement for the tribal battles.
Those participating in the game perform the same ceremonial acts (face painting, magic spells, rituals, and chants) that their ancestors performed before they went to war. Instead of fierce battles between rival tribes they play their own version of the game, throwing cricket balls at each other rather than spears and competing in teams of unlimited players. The home side always wins, every out is celebrated with a choreographed dance and a spiritual leader blesses the irregular bat and ball before every game.
This fascinating documentary gives a rare glimpse into the influence western culture had the islands of Trobriand.
In the Trobriand Islands, kayasa is a form of obligatory, competitive activity done traditionally in the form of ritual warfare. Warfare with spears was replaced by cricket, as a peaceful way of continuing kayasa.
Trobriand cricket has been altered such that the home team is always the winner. There are no restrictions as to how many players on a team; thus, a team can have as many as 40 or 50 players.
Before the match, the ball and bats are given to a local spiritual leader who blesses the equipment for good luck. Also, this leader works on ensuring good weather. Before the match, each team practices chants and dances to be performed at various times throughout the game. Each out is followed by a celebratory dance, choreographed by the opposing team. These dances often have special meaning, commenting on the prowess of the team, their superior skills, or mocking the other team. These dances may also have sexual innuendos and erotic themes.
Bowling is done underarm (as in softball), rather than overarm as in international cricket. This change came about because underhanded-bowled balls are less painful if they contact with a player.
There are ritual entrance and exit dances. One team had a mascot dressed as a tourist (dressed in bright colors, stopping in front of the performances to get a “close-up” view with his pretend binoculars). At the end of the match, there is an exchange of food, with the home team putting on the feast.
Other Trobriand changes to cricket include the following:
- The visiting teams bats first
- The bat and ball are not regular
- Teams bowl alternately from each end of the pitch
- Scoring varies considerably — for example, six runs are scored by a lost ball or by hitting the ball over a tree (compare to the standard boundary rules)
- The umpire is from the batting side, and when sides change the umpire does as well
- Rather than with the awarding of trophies, games conclude with a feast put on by the home team.
Today, cricket holds special meaning for the local population of the Trobriands. It has evolved to take on warlike aspects. For example, bowling is similar to spear throwing. Also, players’ bodies are decorated in bright colors and designs, similar to those displayed by warriors. The field entry and exit dances take on a warlike formation.
Trobriand cricket is an example of syncretism. Usually, syncretic cultures or traditions take elements from both the existing, “traditional” culture, and elements from “outsiders” such as colonists, occupiers, or missionaries.