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The Haka: What it Means & Why it is Performed

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.

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24 Comments in The Haka: What it Means & Why it is Performed
Ryan Marley says:

Very cool, thank you!

January 21, 2016 at 9:08 pm
Eulalia Del Rio says:

thank you for sharing ,I did’nt know a thing about it..!

January 22, 2016 at 11:08 pm
Michaela El Gendi says:

Nice

January 22, 2016 at 11:23 pm
 
jhai ngaheu says:

how come its nice

August 8, 2017 at 11:15 pm
Lilliam Spiller says:

Wow, never heard of it and it’s interesting

January 23, 2016 at 2:08 am
Syamala Chenulu says:

Thank you for enlightening me. I had no clue except that it was a war dance

January 23, 2016 at 2:53 am
Wendy Irizarry says:

Thanks for the information. I love this!

January 31, 2016 at 1:54 am
Mimi Bochung says:

The first time I saw the Haka was when it was performed by a rugby team on TV, it was decades ago. From over eleven thousand miles away I was moved to tears; I was proud of them for being proud of their heritage.

February 1, 2016 at 7:38 am
MieMar Lopez Frayna says:

thanks for the enlightenment! i watched the movie dead lands and watch the haka “moves” and try to search for the meaning, so curious ang i really like it.

February 3, 2016 at 2:24 am
stu says:

sure but what, really, is point
its merely self promoting theatre and it means zero to those they oppose?
if opposition teams did their own version it would simply “melt way”=please!!!

June 13, 2017 at 2:11 pm
 
Haka Tours says:

Hi! Great question! The first hakas were created and performed by different Māori tribes as a war dance. They were performed on the battlefields for two reasons: firstly, to scare their opponents, and the second reason they did this was for their own morale. Later, the haka was used as a part of the formal process when two parties came together. The haka that is performed today, for examples at sports games, is a way for communities to come together and a symbol for community and strength. So, the reasons have evolved over time, but the haka is still very powerful and intimidating way to strengthen the team spirit before a game! And by the way, other rugby nations like Fiji, Samoa or Tonga also perform war dances before games. Hope that answers your question 🙂

June 18, 2017 at 10:33 pm
99253659 says:

What dose haka dance mean

June 15, 2017 at 6:27 pm
 
Haka Tours says:

Hey! To most people, the haka is a war dance. In pre-European and early contact times, the haka was used as a part of the formal welcoming process when two parties came together. But the word “haka” simply means a dance, or a song accompanied by dance. While they are the correct terms to associate with the haka, they do not do justice to the life force, the actions, words, rhythm, themes, meaning, style or history that are the haka, it’s so much more than just a dance. We hope that answers your question 🙂

June 18, 2017 at 10:04 pm
toby crosthwaite says:

great thanks

June 26, 2017 at 7:22 am
borvest inkral says:

Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog!

June 28, 2017 at 11:34 pm
Ricardo Perez says:

How interesting

July 1, 2017 at 1:17 am
Maddy says:

I have never seen this kinda of dance but something about it moved me. It made me feel a mix of emotions. It’s crazy to me that I should feel like this over something I never know existed. I did some research on it and I began to understand it a little more. The one I saw was one at a Wedding. I wanted to cry but of joy and happiness for the couple. I didn’t know them but it sure moved my soul. All I know is that this is the best pre war cry ever. I would like to know more about it. It’s amazing to see how people feel in the inside by showing there own expressions.

July 15, 2017 at 3:38 am
Dani says:

Greetings! Very helpful advice within this post! It is the little changes which will make the greatest changes. Thanks for sharing!

July 17, 2017 at 8:26 am
Anonymous says:

Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article. Thanks for supplying this information.

July 19, 2017 at 3:55 pm
van cleef says:

F*ckin awesome things here! Thank you so much and I am taking a look forward for more.

July 21, 2017 at 6:06 am
hine ma says:

thanks for this information, this will help me with my maori studies

July 26, 2017 at 6:16 am
Stephanie says:

you wrote that “It is not exclusive to Māori; anyone is welcome to perform a haka.” but I’ve heard people say it’s often performed by Maoris but under special occasions or with permission the haka can be performed by others such as students in schools or the non-Maori All Blacks members. Is that true?

August 21, 2017 at 9:14 am
 
Haka Tours says:

Hi Stephanie,

First of all, thank you for reading our post, and thanks for the question! You’re right, a haka is mostly performed by Maori, but in certain occasions also by non-Maori. And that’s generally okay with most Maori, giving that the haka 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. So, to clarify we should add this to our article. Asking for permission before borrowing from another culture is always the best way to go, though. Hope that answered your question 🙂 Cheers, the Haka Tours Team

August 24, 2017 at 8:21 pm

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