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  • Writer's pictureJason Capp

The Power of Haka

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

Among many islands on the far east, especially ones heavily influenced by Eastern Polynesian culture, there lies a special dance that has been passed down from generation to generation. Each culture calls it something different, and its legacy still lives on today even in entertainment and sports.

A Haka Performed in New Zealand

Haka is a ceremonial dance in Māori culture. It also goes by different names depending on the island and people, so you may hear it referred to as the Hoko in Easter Island, the Kailao in Tonga, the Siva Tau in Samoa, and the Cibi in Fiji among others.

A common misunderstanding about the haka is that it is simply a war dance, but actually, according to Māori mythology, the haka is a dance that celebrates life. Based on their creation story, the haka was birthed to welcome one of the wives of the sun god, and it has since become ingrained into the lives, attitudes, and souls of the Māori people.

Haka is also just the generic term for all of these dances. There are various types of haka that were and are used for things like motivating and proclaiming strength, and it is expected of the performers to be very expressive of their feelings.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, many Europeans and Christian missionaries witnessed these performances and were shocked and awed by the energy and ferocity of the people. A lot of the missionaries even tried to eliminate the haka, among other cultural practices, in order to keep a better focus on Christian beliefs and disciplines, but they were simply unsuccessful.

Traditionally, haka were only performed by men, but since the turn of the 20th century, women and children have also been composing and performing the dances as well. Haka are commonly used today for things such as welcoming distinguished guests, acknowledging accomplishments or special occasions, and funerals.

However, the most fascinating expression of the haka in the modern age is actually in the sport of rugby. Since 1905, the New Zealand national team, All Blacks, have consistently performed the same type of haka before their matches. The peruperu, known as the war haka, was traditionally performed by warriors before battles, but nowadays we find athletes using the same dances to also proclaim their strength and intimidate their competition.

As we have turned into the 21st century, the haka and its traditions continue to live on in various ways. Students can now study haka at university, and it is not uncommon for haka circles to exist for occasional practices and performances.

There is the Te Matatini, which is the national competition in New Zealand, and there are also local and regional competitions that attract thousands of viewers as they watch dozens of teams show off their skills.

And because of All Blacks' influence, many of New Zealand's other sports have adopted the practice.

As the Rugby World Cup 2019 moves towards its finals, it is truly a spectacle to witness the New Zealand national team perform their haka, and it is also important to understand why this dance means so much to the Māori people. It is truly integrated itself into mainland New Zealand culture, and the country has gained so much by embracing this practice from one of their indigenous people groups.

This is the power of the haka. That is can bridge cultures and unite so many different people through its strength, encouragement, and celebration. The dances should be marveled, and they should forever be commended for finding a unique way to heal the world.

Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!

Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!

Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru

Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā

Ā, upane! ka upane!

Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!

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