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what’s in a game?

Good games provide rich learning systems.  Players need emotional flexibility, social complexity, critical thinking, decision-making & cognitive skills, and strategies & processes.

Our relationship with the earth – Papatuanuku – our mother, is never one-sided.  She cares for us: we care for her.

Because we brought the change on these islands, it is up to us to find a new balance with the forces of nature deep within the land.

There are no hard and fast rules about how to do this.  As in the game – for better or for worse – we make decisions, we try strategies, we co-operate, we do deals.

For we are the kaitiaki (guardians) for our birds.

In the game, the goddess Hine nui te Po, watches over the extinct birds.  In the underworld, she holds the memories of those who have passed from the world of light (Te Ao), forever going to the world of darkness (Te Po).

Many birds now remain in her realm.  This is a change we wrought.

We cannot go back in time. We are here now, and we must look to the well-being of our mother, if we are to flourish as well.

Life, too, is a rich learning system.  Just like the game!

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with us, on our boats, came our rats

For thousands of years in isolated New Zealand / Aotearoa, there were no rodents, cats, foxes, dogs, bears, marsupials, or snakes. . . our birds became long-lived, slow breeding, large, flightless, camouflaged and fearless of mammals.

Around 1280AD, everything changed.  Then started two waves of human colonization – one Polynesian and one European – that swept the birds before them.  Moa and some other birds were hunted to extinction within about 150 years of human settlement.

With us, on our boats, came our rats.  Running, swimming, climbing – they moved across the land…

Each rat found a special place here.  What birds did they eat?  Of Forest, Sea, Settlement or Extinct?

KIORE:  arrived with the Polynesian settlers about 1280AD.  Once thought largely harmless & vegetarian, in fact caused many historical extinctions.   So in the game, they eat many EXTINCT birds, plus a few others.

NORWAY RAT: arrived late 18th century.  Live mainly in cities and near rivers and the coast.  Can swim 2km in open sea – so are most likely rat species to arrive on islands.  Eat some EXTINCT, and some SEA birds.

SHIP RAT: arrived about 1830.  Prey on more forest birds than any other pest mammal, due to widespread distribution & superb climbing ability.  Eat many FOREST, EXTINCT & SETTLEMENT birds.  They can really wipe out your hand!

Still today, every year, mammalian predators kill millions of our native & introduced birds.  Our main conservation effort is to avert the damage.

Information from the book that comes with the game, complied by John Innes.

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Wildlife recognition

We are alive on a most astonishing planet.  But sometimes we just don’t see it.  How do we get to recognize what’s happening in the world around us?

It’s not easy.  In their book The Big Picture: Reflections on Science, Humanity, and a Quickly Changing Planet (2009) David Suzuki & Dave Taylor report on the following experiment.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge…asked 109 British schoolchildren (boys & girls) to identify creatures depicted on a series of 20 flashcards.  Ten cards depicted common British plants and wildlife – things like rabbits, badgers and oak trees.  The other ten cards showed Pokemon characters.

The researchers discovered that at the age of four, children could identify about 30% of wildlife and a handful of Pokemon.  But by the age of eight, children were identifying nearly 80% of Pokemon and barely half the wildlife species.

So, how good are we at recognizing what’s happening among our wildlife?  See if you can answer this one…

Below are 3 rats.  What are their names & where do they do the most damage to our ecology (pick one): to the forest birds; to the sea birds; to the settlement birds; or to the extinct birds.

If you’ve been playing our card game – you’ll already have seen them in action. Otherwise, answers in next week’s blog.



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cards – a living tradition

From Sept 21 – Nov 11, there will be an exhibition of Morgan’s illustrations for the game at Expressions Gallery in Upper Hutt.  I’ll be there in the school holidays teaching the game (Thurs 4 & 11 Oct), and after that visiting some local schools.
Here’s my statement, about the game, for the exhibition.  Let me know what you think!
Does this describe the game for you?

The card (tarot) deck was an early teaching system, coming to us from medieval times.

This is a living tradition.  Before everyone could read, stories were laid out in the cards.  Known images, laid out in a set pattern, showed how the world folds and unfolds & yet returns to its starting place.

Using the rotating pattern of four – from which the world was called into being – this world view reached from the divine infinite to us, the mortals.  In this way, knowledge was transformed into understanding.

In this game from New Zealand / Aotearoa, the images are birds across the four realms.  The pattern is a cloak.  And your quest is to take responsibility for all the beings in your care / across your land.

On one level you are asked to make a simple cloak.  On another level, you are asked to hold these islands safe under your protective wing.

As part of your guardianship, as part of your cloak of protection, please consider sharing the game with others.  Give it as a gift, play it with friends, share it with family. . .

. .  for this is our story, laid out in a pattern that reaches both backwards & forwards in time.  For here we are now: always at the beginning.

Kia kaha / be strong

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kakapo – still here (just)

Kakapo ate & ate, grew & grew.  Their soft feathers ripened into a sweet smell, until they became the largest parrot on earth.  Flying was over!  Wings were now to break their fall as they leapt, or for balance as they landed and ran.  So now, walking on stout legs, they made tracks to feeding grounds and bowls.

They were parrots of the night.  Sitting inside a bowl of earth, inflated into a feather balloon, the male sent out a love-call.  Booming down and across the valleys.  Oooom! Oooom! Oooom!

If a female arrived, he began to dance.  Spreading out his wings like a moth, he waved them slowly. Clicking his beak, he swayed from one foot to another.  Approaching her forwards, approaching her backwards.

Playing, delighting, inviting.   A more fun pet than a cat or a dog (so it was said!)

It’s a big job raising kakapo chicks (100+ days).  So as get enough food, she only lays her eggs when the podocarp trees or the tussocks are heavy with fruit.  She has to do it all on her own – he isn’t any help.  He’s too worn out – from that all-night booming!

Because kakapo lived long lives (maybe 100+ years) there were always plenty around. Once when you shook a tree in the daytime, sleepy kakapo rained down on the ground!  That was when their only hunter was hokioi, the giant eagle.

But by 1995 they were called the living dead.  Only 51 birds were left.  And by 1999, they were all gone from the mainland.  Now they only survive, where humans have put them, on 2 predator free islands: Codfish & Anchor.

Our scientists have fought for every last one. Every nest, every egg, every nestling.   Guarding them day and night.

All because now they are hunted by cat, stoat and ferret.  Their eggs are even small enough to be easily opened by kiore.

It’s strange, but big kakapo (male 2.5kg, female 2kg) don’t know how to fight back – unless (of course) it is the males fighting each other! Their camouflage colours don’t hide them, and their sound and strong scent gave them away.

Kakapo lived here for millions of years.  One day – we dream – they will return to the mainland.  That they will be safe here, once more, to eat & eat, grow & grow.

In the game, Cloak of Protection, kakapo is one of the birds you need to make a cloak of forest feathers. But – watch out – hokioi, kiore, ferret, cat and stoat stalk them.

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the once-fabulous huia

Once the huia lived in our North Island forests.  Last seen in the mid 1920s.  With their two different sized beaks – they were a wonder of the world!  Hers (seen here) was curved, & useful for digging larvae out of logs. His – short and stout – made a great drill.

Humans hunted them for the hat trade and collections, plus they were predated (eaten) by kiore, ship rats, stoats and cats.

Huia skins are held in museums in Adelaide, Akaroa, Amsterdam, Ann Arbor (USA), Ashburton, Auckland, Basel (Switzerland), Baton Rouge (USA), Berlin, Birmingham, Bremen, Brussels, Cambridge (UK), Cambridge (USA), Cardiff, Chicago, Christchurch, Dannevirke, Dresden, Dunedin, Edinburgh, Exeter, Florence (Italy), Foxton, Frankfurt, Geneva (Switzerland), Gisborne, Glasgow, Gore, Honolulu, Leicestershire, Leiden, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Melbourne, Michigan, Milan, Munich, Napier, Nelson, Newcastle, New Plymouth, New York, Norwich, Oslo, Oxford (UK), Palmerston North, Paris, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Porirua, Princeton, Rotorua, Stockholm, Sydney, Taihape, Te Awamutu, Timaru, Tring (UK), Vancouver, Vienna, Wanganui, Washington, Wellington, Whakatane and Whangarei.

Information from the booklet that goes with the game

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5 Glorious Gods and Goddesses

Tangaroa God of the sea.
His waves crash onto the sand.
His sons and daughters dive and swim in the deep.
Tangaroa gives no mercy to the creatures that harm his children.

Pandora with long black hair
and a purple dress,
her red scarf goes around her like a ribbon.
She opens the box.
Danger is ahead.

Minerva, Goddess of human settlement.
Makes peace from wars.
Her power is great.
Her fire swelters with flames.
Her spear is pointy.
Her helmet looks like a soaring hawk.

Tane Mahuta, the God of the forests.
Nature is his soul.
His friends are like his brothers.
The forest is his family.  The forest covers him whole.

Hine nui te Po,
The Goddess of darkness and death.
Great lady of the night and queen of the underworld
Wife and daughter of Tane Mahuta, god of the forests.

The five glorious gods

by Maha Frier, Waikanae Primary school, age 9
printed with her permission, from Native Habitats, Waikanae Children’s Creations: Mahara Gallery,  June 2012

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our extinct eagle

Hokioi, our extinct Haast’s eagle, is the world’s largest known eagle.  Weighing up to 10kg (male) and 15kg (female), they took prey up to 200 kg ie the BIG moa.

Living only in the South Island, they survived to 1300AD.  Although – there was one possible sighting in the 19th century.

They became extinct through loss of prey (people ate the moa), and human hunting.

Information from the booklet that goes with the game.

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how the world is made

The classical & pagan world-view was that the world was made of 4 elements: air, fire, water and earth.

These elements are reflected in the seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.  In the four magical creatures: eagle, dragon, salmon, stag.  In the card-deck: spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds.

In Aotearoa / New Zealand we did not have mammals – we had birds across all the realms.

So, in our Cloak of Protection deck we have: settlement, forest, sea, extinct.  With gods: Minerva, Tane Mahuta, Tangaroa, Hine nui te Po.  With four magical birds: kahu (the harrier), karearea (the falcon), torea (the royal albatross), hokioi (the giant eagle).

With these we make (or break) our world.

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Why Minerva?

Several people have asked me what Minerva – goddess of Western / European city-states – is doing in a New Zealand bird card deck. World views, and mythologies, should be separate.

Should they?  Or have mythologies always changed as we need to re-imagine our world?

Change came to our islands in two ways.  With mammals; with people.

With mammals, the impacts are obvious in the game.  They eat the birds!

And then there’s the people.  Two kinds.

First there were the Polynesian Maori.  While they made huge changes – their gods were in harmony with the landscape.  Their mythology explained how we came to be here, and the respect we need to show for the landscape in order to thrive.  It contained a very sophisticated view of the world that shares both the Celtic world-view, and that of modern physics.

Then there were the European settlers.  They wanted to make this ‘empty landscape’ a Britain of the South Seas.  So with picks and shovels they set about clearing forests.  Up grew farms, towns, and cities.

How could our pakeha ancestors do this?  Because our mythology was different.  Minerva was our inspiration. (Also known as Athena, Britannia, and Zealandia: on our coat of arms).

In the Greek story, Zeus swallowed Metis, the goddess of wisdom, who was pregnant with Athene (Minerva).  Just so the wisdom of the land can be swallowed up.

But his daughter burst fully formed, from his head.  She is Metis, her Mother, in another form.  Now the goddess of human community ‘cities are the gift of Athene (Minerva)’.

The birds in this set were part of this dynamic.  They were introduced to live in our settlements.  All except for kahu, the harrier that introduced itself from Australia – and thrived in the new landscape of open spaces…

This set – like their goddess – is not bad, if we (like the Celts)  recognize wisdom in her.  It was just new.  And difficult to assimilate.   As it is. . .