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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I loved this one, they thought it might happen again at the opening ceremony this year so they let Tonga go first.
From what I gather though, the kiwi's themselves aren't particularly precious about it, they're a pretty friendly and relaxed bunch.
What might be of interest to most of you is what the English team have been getting up to this week. They are based in Queenstown, which is where I live, and it's small. All I know so far is what friends have told me, but I wouldn't put it past your average rugby players. Don't expect any improved performances in the next game anyway.
I read yesterday that decades ago when the Haka was used in rugby it was more of a ceremonial dance rather than the aggressive and threatening one we see now. I can only assume it changed to help the New Zealand team either fire themselves up or intimidate the opposition, making the tradition argument even more flimsy.
The sad thing is that the more the team, coaches and association are precious about it, the more people will get irritated by it. I was never bothered myself, enjoyed it but then you get all the pretentious comments and it does grate a little.
Even the fuss about England's away kit was way over the top.
Again, not sure the fuss was an accurate representation of opinion here, I've not met anyone who's even brought up the black kit, and when mentioned nobody seems to care, including many Argentina-supporting-Kiwi's at the England game at the weekend.
I agree with you regarding the official statements though, particularly the quotes in the main article, the other team shouldn't be forced to do anything in particular. It's a great spectacle though, even better when there's a good stare down afterwards...
I cant say that I agree. I played a year of rugby in New Zealand and what we overlook/fail to understand here is the cultural implications of the haka. Its a ritual that has been part of competitive rugby for well over 100 years and dates back from before they dominated World rugby, but were an underdog side that lost to county teams. It is synonymous with the idea of modern rugby and if we managed to respect that culture a century ago is it arrogance or cowardice that stops us now? However, we get some amazing spectacles, such as the grand opening this WC.
I think because it is not our culture it is easy to marginalise the haka. If the goal is to show the world that your not scared, but you feel the need to have to take effort to try to counter the effects of the haka, you've failed miserably! I always automatically want the All Blacks to dish out a world of pain to those teams- I think Wales lost that game by 20 points. The best response is on the pitch. Why would you want to rile up the best players in the world before playing them at rugby!?
As far as I know cityisred it's always been pretty aggressive. I know they beefed it up for the 99 world cup- but tbh its all pretty intimidating to a kid so I don't really remember before!
I don't anyone has overlooked the cultural significance, indeed the origin is covered in the article. I think the cowardice is on the part of New Zealand, if you perform a war dance - and if we're keeping to tradition and cultural significance then that's what it is - you cannot be upset by the reaction of the enemy or try to dictate how they behave before hand.
It hasn't always been pretty aggressive. This is an extract from a Telegraph article: But the haka has an artificial element as well. The All Black haka has its origins in the Maori haka yet there were only two Maoris in the New Zealand team on Saturday night: Leon MacDonald and Carl Hayman. It has been adopted and adapted by the New Zealand rugby team for their own purposes. If you look at the old black-and-white footage of the early Fifties, it was more of a playground dance - pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake - than a declaration of war. At that stage in its evolution it was cultural rather than bellicose.
So it does seem that New Zealand adapt the perception of cultural tradition to suit as far as the Haka and rugby are concerned. This doesn't concern me, I like seeing the Haka, however it's their reaction when the opposition don't do just what they want that is irritating to many worldwide.
It's not an anti-New Zealand thing, don't think anyone is. It's not even an anti-Haka thing. It's anti the preciousness and arrogance where they want to dictate behaviour so far that it's even been written into the rules of rugby.
Do you war dance, stand and threaten and pull faces, it's all part of your tradition but not for one minute can you dictate how others receive it. What kind of battle tradition would that be?