BACKGROUNDER : Aotearoa National Maori Bowls Tournament

- Trevor Mills

Aotearoa National Maori Bowls was formed to promote the sport of bowls within the maori bowls fraternity,  as well as conduct the annual national tournament held on or near Waitangi weekend.

Both men's and women's fours teams can play in the tournament, the only restriction being that each team can only have one non-Maori player (who is not allowed to skip).

Dave Uerata, Kaumatua and Life Member of the Aotearoa Bowls Board, addressing the crowd at the prizegiving

The first tournament was held in 1975 at Hamilton, and was a men-only event. The women's event was introduced in 1984 at Huntly.

In 2010, the Aotearoa Bowls Board was formed  to provide administrative support to Maori Bowls. Current members are now Barry Aspin (President), Simon Barakat (Vice President), Doreen Jensen (Secretary), Hone Niwa (Treasurer), Dave Uerata (Kaumatua) and ten Councillors representing the ten rohe (regions) covering all of Aotearoa.

This year's 44th Aotearoa National Maori Bowls Tournament held at Rotorua in early February saw 78 teams enter - made up of 42 men's teams and 36 women's teams.

Like all years, the Rotorua Tournament is the responsibility of a local organising committee. All players and supporters are catered for from Friday evening - with the traditional powhiri and dinner at the host marae - right through to Sunday evening. Breakfasts are provided by the host marae, while the host clubs supply lunch and dinner.  Volunteers ferry the players in hired vans to and from the various playing venues over the two days.

A feature this year was the continued (and growing) support of Te Maunga Maori Bowls Taranaki - formed in 2015 by bowlers from and around Taranaki to assist players and supporters to attend the annual Aotearoa National Maori Bowls Tournament.  As a result, seven men's teams and four women's teams came from Taranaki this year - providing this year's men's runner-up.  Te Maunga Maori Bowls had provided both the men's winner and runner-up at Papakura in 2017.  Te Maunga Taranaki is a bowls force to be reckoned with - and will host the 2020 national tournament.

Inaugural Winners, sisters Hoki-Tawhai and Eileen-Mary Cassidy from Tai Tokerau, with the Taonga Hau donated by the Downes Whanau in memory of Mercia Downes

This year,  an impressive trophy was added to the collection of taongas/treasures associated with the tournament.  The Taonga Hou was presented by the Downes whanau in memory of their late mother Mercia, who was a past President of the Aotearoa National Bowls Board and a promoter of youth bowls.

The Taonga is to be played for by 'U20 Rangitahi' to encourage the participation of youth - and will be named 'Pakiri Rangatahi' - meaning the bringing out of emerging players.

It will be contested for annually - next year in Hawkes Bay at the 2019 tournament headquarters - National Service Bowling Club in Hastings.