Konane is a traditional Hawaiian board game similar to draughts and requiring the strategic skills of chess or go. It was played by men and women of all stations in life, and especially enjoyed by older men. Huge bets might be laid on a Konane game, with the stakes ranging from goods, such as kapa blankets and clothing, lau hala mats, jewelry, land, sexual favors, or even one’s own life.

Papakonane, or papamu, (game boards) vary quite a bit in size. The more spaces on a board, the longer the game will last. The ancient boards I personally have seen carved into the pahoehoe of Moku Hawai`i’s Kona shoreline range from 4×5 boards to 17×22. All of the older stone papamu I have seen are a prime number by an even number. Capt. James Cook described a 14×17 papamu:

One of their games resembles our game of draughts [checkers]; but, from the number of squares, it seems to be much more intricate. The board is of the length of about two feet, and is divided into two hundred and thirty-eight squares, fourteen in a row. In this game they use black and white pebbles, which they move from one square to another.

A long game might last one or more days, with heavy betting on the side. Tournaments and playoffs also seem to have been common.

Konane figures in the saga of Lonoikamakahiki, a great chief credited with creating the first kahili and instituting the Makahiki games. In a fit of jealous rage over rumors that she had been unfaithful, he killed his wife during a game of Konane by beating her over the head with the heavy board. Later learning of her steadfastness, he was crazed with grief, but eventually nursed back to health by a faithful retainer.

Boards are made on many available surfaces. A gently sloping pahoehoe head in a comfortable or convenient location might become a permanent board. Portable papamu were made by selecting stone or wood slabs and marking out a grid of the desired size and drilling or grinding depressions at the intercises. The lua (pits, depressions), especially the piko, the center lua of wooden boards were sometimes decorated with human molars or bits of bone. The boards were finished out by polishing to varying degrees of fineness. `Ili`ili, Black lava and white coral markers, completed the set.

But formal papamu were not needed. Impromptu games were played on the weave of lauhala mats, or any smooth surface which could be marked. Many of the traditional homes had a papamu in the stonework of the lanai, where one could play and relax after the day’s work was done.

After Christianization, konane and may other traditional pastimes were discouraged due to their association with gambling and the perception that they were a waste of time. By 1924, only one elderly Hawaiian woman was documented as knowing konane, though I suspect there were many who simply did not tell anyone they knew how to play.

Today, konane, and other Hawaiian games, are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Konane tournaments are again being held, and konane sets may be bought in local Hawaiian arts and craft stores and off the internet.


The object of the game is to block the opponent from further moves.

Play – “Lawe `ili keokeo, pa`ani ka `ele`ele” Removing the whites is playing with the blacks

There are several variants of play. This is the one I use.

The board is set long-ways between the players. The lua are loaded alternately with black and white stones, forming a checkerboard pattern.

One player picks up an `ili`ili of each color and holds one in each hand behind his or her back. The other player chooses a hand – hema (left) or `akau (right). The `ili`ili are replaced. Black goes first.

Black removes an `ili`ili either from one of the centermost lua, one to its left or right, or from a corner. White must now select an adjacent `ili`ili to remove.

Black will now holo (travel), or konene (move by jumping) and ai (eat) a white piece – removing it from the board. White will do the same. Play alternates.

When jumping to ai (eat/remove/capture) an opposing piece, the move is made forward, backward, left, or right. No turns or diagonals are allowed. Kaholo (consecutive jumps) are allowed, as long as they are in the one direction, but there must be a place to land after each ai – between each opposing piece. Once they have been eaten, the pieces are removed from the board.

The opposing player, if the previous move allows, may ku`i (strike back) by responding along the same row or column by jumping and eating the piece which just made the capture(s)

The first player to be unable to move is make (dead) and loses. The player who still can move is the ai honua (land eater).

Konane Terms

ai – eat, capture
`ele`ele – black
holo – travel, move
`ili`ili – pebbles, markers
kaka`i – edge rows
kea – white
konene – move by jumping
lua – pit for `ili`ili
make – dead
papamu – konane board
piko – navel, center of the board

Konane Links

Anthropological Details of Konane: http://web.mit.edu/ieee/6.370/2001/web/konane-anthrop.html

School Project: http://www.k12.hi.us/~gkaapuni/konane.htm

Coffee Times Article: http://www.coffeetimes.com/konane.htm

About Hawai`i: http://gohawaii.about.com/library/weekly/blkonane.htm

Mathamatical Analysis of Konane: http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/ernst95playing.html