The Haka is iconic throughout the world. If you are interested in rugby, then you probably know that the All Blacks perform a haka at the start of each of the rugby games. But, did you know why they do it? There are multiple reasons; and it comes back to the fact that the haka is important to the indigenous people of New Zealand; the Māori. It is an important, iconic part of their history and traditions. Today we are going to continue our blog series on Māori culture by looking at the meaning and significance of the haka.
The haka started as a war dance
The first hakas were created and performed by different Māori tribes as a war dance. It is an ancestral war cry. It was performed on the battlefields for two reasons. Firstly, it was done to scare their opponents; the warriors would use aggressive facial expressions such as bulging eyes and poking of their tounges. They would grunt and cry in an intimidating way, while beating and waving their weapons. The second reason they did this was for their own morale; they believed that they were calling upon the god of war to help them win the battle. They were heavily choreographed and performed in time. It gave them courage and strength. This type of haka is called a peruperu haka.
Over time, it took on new meanings
Overtime, the haka evolved and it came to be used for more than just battles. It became a way for communities to come together and it was a symbol for community and strength. This type of haka is called a ngeri haka. Unlike the peruperu, the ngeri does not use weapons. Their purpose is different; they are performed to simply move the performs and viewers physcologically, rather than to cause fear. This different goal is reflected in the way that they are performed. Their movements are more free, giving each participant the freedom to express themselves in their own movements. Both males and females can perform a haka; there are special ones that have been created just for women.
In New Zealand, you will find that the haka is performed for a lot of different reasons. Nationally, it is used at important events; an example of this is rugby games where it is performed at the start of each match. It is also performed for personal reasons too. It is performed at weddings, funerals, local events and more. It is also performed for special guests as a sign of respect. It is not exclusive to Māori; anyone is welcome to perform a haka, giving that it is performed with all the seriousness and respect that is deserves and that the performers are aware of what they are doing and what it means.
History of the Ka Mate haka
“Ka Mate” is a haka that has been the haka most performed by the All Blacks when they play against international teams. It is a ceremonial haka, and it was written by Te Rauparaha. It is a celebration of life triumphing over death. Te Rauparaha created the haka after he narrowly escaped death at the hands of enemy tribes from Ngāti Maniapoto and Waikato by hiding in a dark food storage pit. When he came out of it, he was greeted by light and a friendly tribe chief. The famous first line, “Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!” Translates into “I might die! I might die! I may live! I may live!” And the last line, “Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra! Hi!” Translates into “A step upward, another… the Sun shines! Rise!”
And of course, the Haka is synonymous with New Zealand, and it just made sense that when our adventure tour company started it was called Haka Tours. All our tours – whether they are ski, adventure, or mountain bike tours of New Zealand – include aspects of Maori culture.