You step onto the crease and look down the pitch. Your eyes meet with the bowler, he gives you a smile and nods his head back, he seems awfully friendly dressed in his favourite sarong. After a short run-up, he bowls one straight at you, the ball bounces and positions itself perfectly. You step out of your crease with your four-foot pate and hit it in that sweet spot, sending the ball flying past the boundary, over the road. The lape (cheerleaders) on the side are going crazy, screaming for you to run, you instantly regret wearing jandals today as you make you way clumsily down the pitch. You didn’t expect on being such a great athlete today, but everyone in town is playing, like everyone in town!
With its similarities to he British sport of cricket, Kilikiti is the ultimate cultural amalgamation of antipodean sports. It combines the British game format of cricket, with the Polynesian attitudes of community and casualness.
It is generally accepted that the sport of Kilikiti started after the British introduced cricket to Polynesia. One theory suggests that the sport originated in tiny Pukapuka in the Cook Islands, and many of Cook Island’s Kilikiti stars have been of Pukapukan ancestry.
Where the sport is most well known is in Samoa, and the game is often referred to as “Samoan Cricket”. It was introduced to the Samoan islands in 1884 where it has become the national sport. The game became so popular, it was almost banned in German Samoa (yes, the Germans once had a Polynesian colony) because kids were playing this sport and not doing their chores.
The game has spread throughout Polynesia and Oceania, as far-flung as Australia in the west and Hawaii in the east. It is popular in some of the world’s most isolated countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tokelau, with the Tokelauans referring to a game as “taua” (battle), and the batsman doesn’t get out, but becomes “mate” (dead).
New Zealand hosted the inaugural Kilikiti World Cup in 2001, where NZ edged out American Samoa in the best of three series for the championship. Other competing nations included Australia, Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the USA.
Traditionally, there are no official rules to Kilikiti, however as this was now a world cup competition the game started to see standardisation. The standardisation and several of the rules have been highly controversial, such as the separation of men and women in official competition. Many believe this has taken away from the spirit of the sport.
The flexible nature of the games means that there are no official rules, team size, or match duration (this was fixed by the game standardisation, but let’s ignore that for now, everyone else does). How games are generally played is between two teams, one bats and the other bowls/fields, similar to cricket and baseball. In cricket, a bowling team has one bowler and one wicket keeper, and balls are bowled to the batsman at one end of the pitch; in Kilikiti, it is not uncommon to see two bowlers and two wicket keepers bowling towards alternate ends of the pitch.
The bowler bowls towards the wickets, which are guarded by the batsman. The batsman then hits the ball as far as he or she can to give them more time to score runs. The fielders then need to get the ball back to the wicket keeper as soon as possible. This part of the game is very similar cricket.
The equipment includes bat, called pate, which can be over four feet in length (a baseball bat is no mare than 42 inches, cricket bat is no more than 38 inches) and has three faces, like a giant triangular club. The game uses stumps as in cricket, however these are much taller and don’t use bails. The balls made of plant material and are much softer than cricket balls, therefore there is no need for protective gear.
How to Experience Kilikiti
This is a very accessible sport to try and is a popular game to play on beaches. For the best, most authentic experience, travel to one of the Polynesian areas where the game is popular, such as Samoa, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Niue. Here you can experience the game how it was meant to be played; with the community, and without rules. The game is also popular in Australia, New Zealand and the United States where there are strong Polynesian diasporas. I have been unable to find any information on the Kilikiti World Cup, if you know if it still happens, please leave a comment.