Whether it’s the traditional Ka mate or the recent Kapa O Pango, the New Zealand Haka was made popular by New Zealand’s rugby team. The haka dance of the All Blacks plays an important role in preparing the players both physically and mentally on the rugby battlefield.
More than a popular ritual dance, the Haka dance is a traditional dance and part of the Maori culture in preparation for a war party. It is performed by the Maori men either on the battle field, before they go the war or when the war party is leaving the village.
Haka is a posture dance wherein performers involve their entire body to create energetic rhythmic movements that includes slapping of chest and thighs, swaying, stamping of feet and stylized violence. While they perform, they also recite chants, display fierce facial expressions such as widening their eyes and sticking out of their tongue to intimidate their opponents. Although it is often seen that men execute the dance, women do also perform Haka.
Haka has been popularly known as a war dance, but it isn’t solely a war dance. It was also performed for numerous occasions like acknowledging achievements, welcoming guests or even during funerals.
Originally, war Haka also known as perperu was performed by the Maori warriors in New Zealand in preparation for battle. It is their way of showcasing their strength and power intimidating their opponents.
Origin of Haka according to legend
According to Maori legend, Haka is a dance performed by the son of sun god Tama-nui-te-ra. Tama-nui-te-ra had a son with one of his wives, Hine-raumati, who symbolizes the essence of summer whom they call Tane-rore. The Maori believed that the trembling appearance of air even during hot summer days is a sign that Tane-rore is dancing for his mother. The trembling is the foundation of all types of Haka dances.
This type of Haka dance is characterized by jumps wherein the legs are pushed under the lower body. This dance is traditionally performed before a battle ensues to call upon to the god of war and to frighten their enemies.
It is characterized by fierce facial expressions, tongue-outs, bulging of eyes, cries, grunts and waving of weapons. They also believed that when this dance will not be performed in unison, it’ll be considered as a bad omen. Warriors performing this dance are often naked with plated flax belt around their waist.
This type of Haka doesn’t involve any weapons while performing.
The movements are freely executed wherein each performer can express their feelings.
The Haka dance for the funeral doesn’t involve without weapons. Traditionally, Maoris believed that when death occurs, the spirit of the person will travel to the Pohutukawa tree located on the crest of Cape Reinga on the North Island of New Zealand. They believe that the spirit will never leave unless the body has been buried. Once buried, the spirit will slide down to one of the roots of the tree into the sea before it joins their departed ancestors.
Kapa Haka or performance art haka is a famous dance performed by the Maori youth who are set to vie both in local and international competitions. The lyrics they use often speak of the social and political issues within the Maori community.
Ka mate is the most famous haka and was composed by the Maori chief Te Rauparaha on 1820. Ka mate was created in celebration of the life over death.
Te Rauparaha was the chief of the Ngati Toarangatira tribe, a sub-tribe of the Tainui that lived in Kawhia, north of Waikato. Te Rauparaha was the son of the chief Werawera. During this regime, there were wars between the Ngati-Toa tribe and the other tribes of Waikato. There were wars over territory. As a young boy, Te Rauparaha had seen how brutal the wars were. He was also a witness to his father’s demise wherein he saw he was captured, killed and later on eaten.
With such experience, Te Rauparaha had grown to be one of the most feared and respected chief in Maori history. He spearheaded his tribe to the South became of the chief of the entire west coast from Wanganui to Wellington as well as the Kapiti Island.
Te Rauparaha was being pursued by his enemies – the Ngati Maniapoto and Waikato tribes. While fleeing for his life, he was uttering the words, “Ka mate! Ka mate!”. He came to Te Wharerangi, another tribe chief to help him on his escape.
Although he was reluctant, Te Wharerangi agreed to help him and let him hide in a kumara pit. He let his wife, Te Rangikoaea sit atop over its entrance. There were two reasons why Te Wharerangi let his wife sit on top of the entrance:
The first is that Maori male will never put himself in a position wherein he would be under the genitals of a woman. That alone would make the searching tribes discount the area where Te Rangikoaeai is seated on.
The other reason is that it was believed that the female organs have a shielding effect against chants recited by the searching Chiefs; thus shielding Te Rauparaha. The words he uttered while hiding under the pit were the words being recited while performing the current Haka dance.
As soon as the searching chiefs had gone from Te Wharerangi’s pa, Te Rauparaha then emerges from the pit. He then performed his famous haka which he had composed while he was hiding in the pit.
New Zealand Haka Dance Today
Over time, the Haka in New Zealand has become a dance not for war but for special occasions. It has also become a way of getting the communities gather together, in fact a symbol for community and strength. Unlike what it has been known; the Haka dance can be performed by both males and females.
Haka is not only exclusive to Maori. Anyone who wishes to perform it can do so. Today, Haka is used for celebrations from weddings to funerals. It is also used to welcome parties in the community.
Kapa O Pango
The Ka mate was performed by the All Blacks from 1888. On 2015, a new Haka which they call as Kapa o Pango was unveiled during the team’s match against South Africa at Carisbrook Stadium, Dunedin.
The Kapa o Pango is not at all a new Haka dance. It is actually an addition to the traditional Ka mate haka. The modified dance was composed by Derek Llardin from the Ngati Porou tribe of the east coast of North Island. He specifically created the Haka dance for the All Blacks with which the lyrics translate to All Blacks meaning with reference to the Silver Fern.
The event when it was first introduced gave the All Blacks team a win against the Springboks of South Africa. Although the dance have helped the team win their game, it drew criticisms because of the actions that were included in the dance particularly the throat slitting gesture.
The expert composer, Llardelli explained that the movement is actually a way of drawing in vital energy into the body.
The throat slitting gesture has drawn criticisms. It was even regarded as an act that encourages violence sending bad message to All Blacks fans.
In 2006, during their opening test against Ireland, the All Blacks choose not to perform the Kapa o Pango because of the controversy. They were requested to perform the traditional Ka mate while an ongoing review was being conducted because of the “throat-slitting” gesture at the end of the performance.
Upon the completion of their review, the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) concluded that gesture was not an act of violence but convey a different meaning for the Maori and haka tradition. The gesture is said to be drawing “hauora” which means breath of life towards the lungs and heart.
However, despite the conclusion of the NZRU, the controversial gesture was totally withdrawn in 2007. Instead of the “throat slitting” it was changed to pulling of the right arm from the left hip over the right shoulder.
Waiata – a – ringa
They call this an action song, the lyrics they recite are supported with symbolic hand movements. They quickly wave their hands, a movement they call wiri that symbolizes shimmering waters, breeze from the tree and heat waves. It is usually accompanied with guitar and may be performed slow, fast, serious, flirtatious, fun or whatever will be the context.
A haka that is skilfully performed by women is executed by twirling one or more poi in a very synchronized movement. Changes in direction are done by striking the ball on either a hand or any part of the body. The dance showcases, grace, elegance and beauty.
This performance is a gesture of welcoming guests for the Maoris. It conveys passion. When a guest arrives, the women usually widen the eyes and poke out their tattood chin while men will widen their eyes and stick out their tongue or show off their teeth. For anyone who ‘s new it will be intimidating but it’s actually their way of showing heartfelt emotions.
The first hakas were intended as a war dance. Different Maori tribes perform this dance to scare off their opponents with their bulging eyes and poking of tongues, grunting and crying in an intimidating way. It is also their way of calling upon their god of war to help them.
From war dance, Haka has now become an integral part of a New Zealander’s life. It’s now used for different celebrations from weddings to funerals, welcoming guests to sports.