The Rugby World Cup is upon us and you can't help but hear talk of the Haka. I like the Haka, it entertains me, in much the same way that limbo dancing does. Both can be quite impressive but you do wonder what the point is sometimes.
I had a friend, still have but maybe not after this article, who learnt how to do the Haka. At house parties for years it'd be rolled out at roughly 2am when everyone was drunk enough to request it, he did it very well but that's probably what made it more hilarious. A grown man grunting and slapping himself whilst making strange facial expressions, akin to scenes outside many kebab houses each weekend. The reason I share this is that it was fun, fun and a bit impressive. Of course, it's different for actual Kiwis but their protection of it seems to have gone a little too far.
We're told that the Haka is a tradition, I like tradition too. We're going well here, what sort of tradition? Well, the form used by the New Zealand rugby team is a war dance. Not sure if war and dance should ever be linked in such a way but hey-ho, it's tradition. Maori warriors would use the dance to intimidate their enemy before battle, then they'd all get their weapons and hack each-other to pieces.
Pulling tongues and facial contortions is what we usually remember from a Haka but there are words involved too. The version of the Haka used by the rugby team is said to come from tribal chief Te Rauparaha, a warrior who killed many Europeans and Maori's he considered to be enemies, the words are:
Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora, ka ora
Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru
Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra
Whiti te ra.
It is death, it is death
It is life, it is life
This is the hairy man
Who caused the sun to shine again for me
Up the ladder, up the ladder
Up to the top
The sun shines.
It's said to come from a battle the chief had been losing, so he hid in a field and when he awoke his enemies had gone, though this doesn't quite fit in with the fearless warrior tradition.
To be honest, it's not the actual dance which grates with me, nor the reasons the players want to perform it. What irritates the life out of me is the reactions of some to the reactions of opposing teams whilst it is happening, there seems to be a certain etiquette required to receive the Haka.
In 2008, when New Zealand were touring Britain, the Welsh team decided to stand and stare back whilst the Haka was taking place, remaining in place after the Haka had finished to make it clear they were not afriad and the challenge was being accepted, fine behaviour you'd have thought? No, not in the slightest. Graham Henry, New Zealand's coach, commented "What the Welsh did wound us up. They were probably told by Warren Gatland to stand there and wait until we leave,", how dare they.
"But it was really hard. The haka is a war dance. If you're going to stand there like that then in the past people would have charged, but it's a rugby match and you can't do that. People back home will have been hurt by what they decided to do. Standing in the way like they did is asking for a fight.
My blood pressure was pretty high but then I regained my composure. I was a bit upset about it."
That same year, New Zealand were upset again as England "disrespected" the Haka by going into a team huddle whilst it was being performed. Indeed, so outraged were the Kiwis that they performed the Haka on the move and travelled into England's half to get closer to the huddle.
The dance has official protection too, just last year the IRB fined Australian Rugby Union £1000 after the brilliantly named Wallaroos (Ladies team) broke rules regarding how to behave when a Haka is taking place. Those rules state 'The team facing the haka must stay at least 10 metres on its own side of the halfway line'.
The Australian ladies advanced towards the Kiwis as the Haka was ending, therefore breaking the rules. Whilst the Haka is taking place, the opposition is meant to stand motionless and show no reaction.
Why are these modern day warriors who sing songs from times of tribal war so touchy and sensitive? Is it the metro-sexual approach to war tradition? Did the enemy of Maori warriors always behave the correct way when a Haka was being carried out and were they told off if not? The word 'tradition' seems to be an all protecting blanket which can be thrown over the situation to dismiss any questions as ignorance with undertones of Imperial arrogance.
You don't agree with New Zealand about the Haka and the reaction to it? Well then, you're clearly disrespecting tradition. You're an opposition player who wants to challenge it or look away? Well then, you're clearly disrespecting tradition.
If the New Zealand rugby team want the Haka to be respected then they need to respect the reactions of opponents. Otherwise it just seems like a protected dance a rugby side does before kick off, their own hyper-sensitivity making links to war tradition weaker by the year.
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Respect your opponents not the silly ritualistic dance they do before hand...
I remember Martin Johnson almost staring the whole of the NewZealand team down by standing right in their faces....
Monster of a man...
I like the Haka too, but think they are a bit precious about it.
England should respond by doing a Morris Dance. That would put the fear of God into the Kiwis.
It would be nice if players could take a leaf out of Mel Gibson's book and drop their shorts to collectively moon the Kiwis whilst slapping their buttocks to the beat of "Critical Beatdown" by the Ultramagnetic MCs...
"Pay close attention, I'll take your brain to another dimension..."
This is brilliant, Wales negate the Haka, watch it until the end...
tcir, there's a Kiwi guy at my office who thought the Kiwis were annoyed with the Welsh over a different issue when they were forced to do the Haka in the dressing room rather than on the pitch or something...he didn't sound sure though - is he getting confused with something else? I don't really follow rugby so I'm not familiar with either incident. His view is that opponents can (and should) do whatever they want during the Haka...
If the coach's remarks were really to do with that clip then he should be pink carded for being a precious softie! Unreal.
PS one of the other links shows the English players in a line and the Haka is completely drowned out by the England fans singing 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot'...that's quite amusing too.