New Zealand is a country that has kept many of its traditions alive. One of these is the haka, a cry, challenge or dance that was performed by the Māori people. It is a type of posture dance characterized by shouted words, vigorous foot stamping and arm movements while standing in formation. This is a tradition that is performed by the country’s rugby teams. The haka became internationally known by the performances done by the national rugby teams, the All Blacks (rugby union) and the Kiwis (rugby league) before the games they play overseas, including the World Cup, Four Nations and the Rugby Championship.
The traditional haka is not only a dance for war. It is also a traditional form of greeting that is not performed exclusively by men. The haka that the world knows, as performed by the rugby teams from New Zealand is just one form. Children, women and mixed groups are allowed to do the haka. It’s the traditional way to greet important guests; as another form of amusement; and for acknowledging outstanding achievements and important occasions.
The haka for war or challenge is called by Māoris as peruperu, and it is meant to be intimidating, with fearsome facial expressions including showing the tongue and whites of the eyes as well as strong arm movements and gestures and equally strong foot stamping. It is a way to show the warriors’ strength, bravery and courage. The movements and the chants used in hakas are always pertinent to the purpose and occasion.
The haka called Ka Panapana is performed by women, most prominently by the Ngāti Porou peoples from the Gisborne and East Cape regions of New Zealand’s North Island.
Revival of The Haka
The traditional haka was very effective in rallying tribe members about to engage in intertribal wars but the war dance, although frightening was no match for the firepower of the conquering Europeans. Soon the Māori tribes lost their lands and most of its people. It took the massive efforts of Apirana Ngata to preserve Māori language, traditions and customs, in his capacity as Minister of Native Affairs in 1928. Today the haka is considered a symbol of the unity of New Zealand and the country’s icon promoted internationally by the Kiwis and the All Blacks.
The Haka Outside of New Zealand
New Zealand’s “haka” is being adopted by other people and communities. University of Hawaii’s American football team has its own version of haka. The Highland Rugby team of Euless, Texas also has their own, as well as the British-American football teams, the Coventry Jets and the London Olympians from the United Kingdom. These teams have several players of Polynesian ancestry.
Schools in the U.S. and other parts of the world also have their own version of the haka. The Taeao family created a special haka for Liberty High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. Coach Sean Callahan created an English haka for Hawks team of Armwood High School in Seffner, Florida. Other football teams from different schools perform a haka for home games or before every game their team plays, such as Mesa High School (Arizona), University of Arizona, Bingham, Hunter and American Fork high schools, as well as Brigham Young University and Kuala Lumpur’s Victoria Institution.
Video: Ka Mate haka performance by the All Blacks in 2012