Hei tama tū tama | A Maori energizer

hei tama tu tama.jpg

Some of you may think energizers are a waste of time but I doubt you lead eight hour five day intense teacher training courses in 1970s style brutalist government buildings in the heat and/or humidity of the Indian interior with just a couple of creaky ceiling fans for relief. Participants, particularly after lunch breaks or in the arvo, need an opportunity to be let loose and do something zany to paradoxically keep their wits about them.

I learnt of this energizer from a New Zealand travel cooking show called Kitchen Diplomacy where two sisters, Karena and Kasey travel the world using Kiwi ingredients in local recipes. A recurring trope on the show involves the sisters deciding who goes where using Hei tama tū tama, the Maori version of rock, paper, scissors.


  • Energrize sleepy students/participants.


  • None


  • Ask participants if they’ve heard of the Maori of New Zealand. Tell them that they’re going to play a traditional Maori game called “Hei tama tū tama”.
  • Get participants to pair up.
  • Ask for a volunteer to pair up with you so you can demonstrate.
  • Introduce the four positions:
    • Position 1: Clench your fists and place them on your hips
    • Position 2: Clench your fists, bend your elbows and raise your arms
    • Position 3: Clench your fists, raise your right arm and place your left fist on your hip
    • Position 4: Clench your fists, raise your left arm and place your right fist on your hip.
  • Face your opponent and begin by saying “Hei tama tū tama” and placing your hands in one of the four positions.
  • Your opponent needs to quickly follow suit by saying “tū tama” and placing his or hands in a different position from the set of four.
  • You then keep challenging your opponent repeatedly while saying “tū tama” until he or she repeats your position. For example you say “tū tama” and do position 2 and your opponent responds with position 2, you call him or her out by saying “Hei tama tū tama rā” which means you are the winner.

Confused? I thought you might be so here’s a site with helpful visual instructions as well as a video that might simplify things.

It seems a bit insane but it’s super quick and it works like a charm. I’ve had participants rolling around on the floor laughing. I think it’s because the Hei tama tū tama sounds oddly familiar and simultaneously meaningless to the Indian ear. I have tried this with both children and adults (teachers and business professionals) and funnily enough, it’s the adults who really enjoy this game.

When I’ve done this energizer in the past, participants have debated over what repeating the same position actually means if you are facing each other i.e., is it the mirror image or whether for instance both left hands are clenched at the hip so the inverse image? I’m honestly not very sure and also don’t really care so long as participants get quickly energized and are back in the chairs within three minutes. But, if you’re a stickler for rules, I suppose mirror image would be the easiest way to go about it.

Hope this helps you energize your learners!

Image attribution: Maori Dans by jvdgoot | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

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