With your massive pate on your shoulder you stare down the long concrete pitch. Your eyes meet the bowler as you tap the crease. He hurls the tiny rubber ball in your direction. It’s a bit short, but you don’t care. Stepping forward you give your bat a roundhouse swing, sending the ball flying towards the road. Is this a boundary? No, it lands snugly in the hands of a fielder. You are out, and the other team are doing a choreographed dance routine. Kilikiti, or Samoan Cricket is the ultimate cultural evolution of sports, taking the gentlemanly British game of cricket, and drenching it in Polynesian fun and casualness.
The British introduced cricket in the late 1800s. Samoa liked the sport, but they didn’t love the sport. It quickly evolved into a version of cricket that Polynesian communities absolutely love and it spread across the Pacific Islands. Over the next 100+ years it has become an integral part of many communities throughout Polynesia.
The extreme popularity threatened Samoan education. The then German government of Samoa almost banned the game to keep kids in school. In neighbouring Tokelau, the game takes a life and death status; they’ve adopted the word ‘taua’ (battle) to describe a game and ‘mate’ (dead) when the batsman is out.
Aotearoa New Zealand hosted the inaugural Kilikiti World Cup in 2001, where the hosts edged out American Samoa in the best of three series for the championship. Standardised rules were introduced for the world cup. Traditionally, rules were agreed upon before a game to fit the preferences of the teams. Many fans believe that tis standardisation has taken away from the casual spirit of the game.
As traditional cricket can take up to five days to complete, kilikiti was designed to be a fast game. The fields are usually much smaller and there are a lot more fielders so batsmen don’t stay in for very long. A boundary is worth one point, hit it farther for two points. If you don’t get a boundary, you have the opportunity to run, with each run worth one point.
Just like in traditional cricket, a batsman can be bowled out by the bowler hitting the wickets; run out by hitting the wickets while they are running; or caught out. Kilikiti also has a range of rules that make simple errors deadly for the batsmen. These include; two hands must on the bat at all times; no stepping off the pitch; and if you are the batsman on field that is not receiving a ball, you must rest the bat on your shoulder. There are lots of other rules, and different villages apply different rules.
There is no official maximum number of players, it’s usually about 20. When a team is bowling, they will have two bowlers and two wicket keepers. They bowl from alternative ends to help speed up the game. The umpire holds a bag full of balls, so th games doesn’t stop while someone looks for the ball. The batting team sits on the side of the field, sometimes singing while they wait for their turn. Two batsmen are on the field at any one time.
The bat is called a ‘pate’ and can over four feet long (baseball bats are up to 42 inches, cricket bat 38 inches). Like a giant triangular club, it has three faces; hit the ball with the widest face. The game uses stumps as in cricket, these are much taller and don’t use bails. The balls made of rubber tubing and are slightly larger than a ping pong ball.
The pitch is about 18 meters long and very skinny. It’s made of concrete and is often raised above the ground. When not in use, it often has a line of rocks on it.
How to Experience Kilikiti
The best way to try this game is in Samoa, or one of the other Pacific Islands where it is popular. When driving through villages, keep your eyes peeled for the concrete pitches. Games are on weekends, usually Saturday, starting late morning or early afternoon. If it’s a weekday, you might be able to catch a training session. Best times to see them train is in the afternoon. Children finish school at about 3pm, and adults finish work at about 5pm. Villages curfews start around 7 or 8pm, so don’t leave it too late. If you turn up to a training session and ask nicely, you might be able to have a go; Samoa is full of very friendly communities.
My Cultural Encounter
When I travelled there, I found a game while driving through a village. They were playing on a pitch next to the main road. Fielders were actually standing on the street, and play paused every time a car came passed. It was their training session so they let me have a go. They had a good laugh watching a palangi navigate and break all the rules. The coach who was a pastor in the village invited me to come back to the next village where they were playing on the weekend.
I turned up about lunchtime with a couple of other tourists. We bought some roadside BBQ from the local church fundraiser, then went to watch the game. They were amazingly hospitable, we turned up and someone led us to the three chairs they got because they saw us coming.
Because I had made friends with the team a few days earlier, I was honoured that they invited me to play an innings for them. I literally lasted 3 seconds batting. I hit the first ball and was caught out straight away. It was a lot of fun, but I am clearly not a very good kilikiti player.
- Kilikiti – We are world’s best
- Kilikiti (or kirikiti): Cricket’s nearest relative
- Samoan Kilikiti (cricket)
Header Image: Falevao batting agains Falefa, Falevao, Samoa