And I don't even like rugby that much...
February 19, 2007 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Haka is a type of ritual performance native to Aotearoa. Occurring before battles or peacetime ceremonies, it is less of a "war chant" than a way of fiercely asserting group solidarity while referring to a specific ancestry or significant event. The best known haka are probably the versions practiced by the New Zealand All Blacks: Ka Mate and, more recently, Kapa O Pango. More than just a traditional dance, haka has been an important element of the Maori Renaissance- the revival of language, culture and arts that has occurred since the re-affirmation of the Treaty of Waitangi (and has recently come under attack). For the All Blacks, haka now connects both Maori and Pakeha (outsider) players through a shared history and physical discipline, although this was not always the case. Nevertheless, the haka can make a powerful impression, particularly when someone answers in kind.
posted by TheWhiteSkull (65 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Translations of the All Blacks' haka here.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:23 PM on February 19, 2007

Just watching these videos gives me shivers. Clearly there's something deep within us humans that responds to powerful, coordinated movement and chant. This is not a response I've ever had to "The Star-Spangled Banner".
posted by sy at 3:33 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you can keep yourself relaxed while being exposed to it, the intended effect is mostly nullified.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:42 PM on February 19, 2007

Good links.

It is very much similar to a martial art form. Martial arts forms are too often literally interpreted by practitioners. Many forms were spirit builders, cultural affirmations and and demonstration of strength. These tribal forms are like that - also a stylistic repetition of basic skills. Dropping the the weight down, moving in balanced positions, etc. Many tribal dances are also martially based.
posted by tkchrist at 3:43 PM on February 19, 2007

posted by Burhanistan at 3:45 PM on February 19, 2007

I dig the All-Blacks' haka. It's impressive to watch, as well as a good way to get psyched up before a game and a strong team building exercise. On top of everything else, it's an original way to connect with the fans.

Kia ora!
posted by Samizdata at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2007

Scottish Haka.
posted by homunculus at 4:09 PM on February 19, 2007

Sometimes the issue can make people antsy.
posted by Drexen at 4:11 PM on February 19, 2007

I always reckoned you could tell that it got to the other teams in the rugby, when you'd see them trying to front it out or encroach or whatever.
Expanding on what sy said, I remember the experience of being stood on a packed clapping, chanting football terrace as a lad making you feel you could take on the world, which was probably not such a good thing back in those bad old hooly days.
posted by Abiezer at 4:13 PM on February 19, 2007

I watched the NZ-Tonga match live on TV, and it was even cooler than the last link suggests -- puts all other pre-game activities to shame.
posted by Zonker at 4:18 PM on February 19, 2007

Reminds me of a recent corporate retreat...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:36 PM on February 19, 2007

There is a high school football (U.S. football) team in Texas that does a Haka before games. WSJ did a story on it not too long ago.

Sorry if you already linked this -- that's a lot of youtube to watch.
posted by Mid at 4:42 PM on February 19, 2007

Scottish Haka.

Fucking hysterical!
posted by jason's_planet at 4:46 PM on February 19, 2007

This guy just made me poop my pants :(
posted by basicchannel at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2007

The second Kapa O Pango made my knees wobble and sent a shiver up my spine. When they slam their arms together in unison like that I want to turn and run away! I guess I'd never make it as a warrior (or a rugby player).
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2007

oddly, in the 4th grade my native Hawaiian Cub Scouts den mother had us do this at one function. I still know the words, sorta:

kamate kamate
kaorda kaorda
nanae fetima
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:21 PM on February 19, 2007

Great post!
posted by supercrayon at 5:21 PM on February 19, 2007

As a pakeha, I am not 100% sure this is true or that it relates directly to the haka, but I understand that the Maori culture is the only one on earth where the correct & expected interaction between a host & visitor is one of ritualised, symbolic threat or violence.

* group of fearsome guests arrive, performs scary don't-fuck-with-us dance

* group of equally fearsome hosts responds with an equally scary don't-fuck-with-us-and-we-won't-fuck-with-you dance in response

* everybody decides not to fuck with each other, given that eating a mountain of pigs & yams & whatnot is a better option for all concerned.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:27 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know exactly why I find this so fucking cool, but I always do.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:36 PM on February 19, 2007

Up on my refrigerator is an old "get fuzzy" comic with bucky the cat performing a haka. Don't mess with him.
posted by Iron Rat at 5:45 PM on February 19, 2007

The University of Hawaii "Warriors" football team picked up the habit of performing a haka at home games. Most certainly it makes a strong impression. But the practice has raised the ire of some Maori as the university is, in fact, using essentially the same haka written for the New Zealand "All Blacks."

It's raised some interesting questions about artistic copyright and conflicts over traditional practices between two related, but different, Polynesian cultures.

I suppose a pre-game hula wouldn't exactly intimidate a visiting team, but Hawaii certainly has its own warrior mythology to tap without borrowing the haka.
posted by pzarquon at 5:54 PM on February 19, 2007

Back when I played rugby as a boy in NZ, we used to do this before every match. It certainly beat yelling "go team".

Great post, thanks for bringing back the memories.
posted by dazed_one at 6:12 PM on February 19, 2007

Interestingly, I just saw Stomp the Yard (about step teams, focusing on historically black colleges), and in several preparing-to-compete scenes I saw steppers performing moves very similar to a haka.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 6:25 PM on February 19, 2007

Great stuff. The haka and Land of My Fathers are the best starts to a game of rugby. (Link isn't the best - I was trying to find Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel's version before their football World Cup qualifier v Italy - best version I've ever heard, but couldn't find it.)
I'm not really a rugby fan, but at its best international rugby takes some beating for passion and aggression.
posted by Shinkicker at 6:45 PM on February 19, 2007

My favourite haka was at an Australia/NZ game I watched many years ago as a wee little spawnling. The All Blacks seemed like the most terrifying fighting force in the known universe, and I'd just discovered Klingons so I was in a good position to make the call.

The Aussie team puffed themselves up after the bone-melting horror of the haka, and sent for their geographically appropriate indigenous performers to set those kiwis straight on who was boss, and I got to watch an Aboriginal fire dance, which mostly involved a guy in a red loin cloth doing kangaroo impressions while another lit the fire.

Not quite the same effect.
posted by Jilder at 6:51 PM on February 19, 2007

I heard a story awhile back, not sure how accurate it is, but it concerned a NZ troop in WWII who would perform a haka prior to battles (in N Africa), and had a pretty good intimidation factor going against the Germans... a quick Google turned up nothing so not certain as to the veracity of the story, but it makes a cool image.
posted by edgeways at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2007

I've gotta say, I prefer the Ka Mate, frankly. The new one seems to take too long to develop. Also, the throat-slitting gesture at the end? I can't recall (or Google) the NBA or NFL player who got into some trouble for pulling that move a few years ago (was it one of the Sharpes?) Anyway, nice post. I remember 4 or 5 years ago scouring the web for the briefest, 160x160 video snippet of haka, but now it's everywhere. I think the Numa Numa kid does one.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:17 PM on February 19, 2007

edgeways - that rang a bell from what I've read about the Battle for Crete (where me grandad got himself taken prisoner), and a quick Google turned up this.
posted by Abiezer at 7:34 PM on February 19, 2007

Very cool.

And basically, these kind of sports are, themselves, a kind of ritualized combat, anyway.
posted by darkstar at 7:41 PM on February 19, 2007

"back in those bad old hooly days."

What, like 2006?

It's very amusing to me that Brits and their client countries around the globe think football hooliganism is firmly in the past.
posted by Sukiari at 7:48 PM on February 19, 2007

I liked the haka scenes in "Once Were Warriors", although I have mixed feelings about the movie in general. It's probably one of Lee Tamahori's better movies, before he started his alternate career as a superannuated hooker in drag.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:54 PM on February 19, 2007

Abiezer, good link.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:56 PM on February 19, 2007

Err, Sukiari, I was referring to myself as a youth and the environment I grew up in, but thanks for the misunderstanding. May you always find charitable readers for your insights.
posted by Abiezer at 7:57 PM on February 19, 2007

pzarquon, I was taught (using the word loosely) the kamate haka in the mid-1970s, so I think it is a pan-polynesian thing.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:58 PM on February 19, 2007

As long as I amuse myself who gives a damn about the rest of the Internet?
posted by Sukiari at 8:16 PM on February 19, 2007

why is the original poster's "attack" link about Maori progress?
posted by dydecker at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2007

My favorite haka video. Tiny and short, but good.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:37 PM on February 19, 2007

Yeah, I prefer Ka Mate too. The trouble it's too laden with bad memories of Te Rauparaha for a lot of Maori to stomach. No doubt in time the new All Black haka will seem natural and even traditional.

tkchrist, there is a Maori martial art, or a least a martial training discipline, with well-defined styles for each traditional weapon (mau rakau). The classic posture is side-on (minimises area exposed), mobile and light on the feet, almost skipping or hopping, so that you can move in any direction. Watch the guy with the Come to New Zealand and we'll hook you up with an instructor :)

Taiaha in use. Wero (formal challenge greeting visitors), demonstrating mau rakau steps - watch the guy with the topknot do the skippy hoppy thing.

Now go practice your pukana!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:37 PM on February 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Heywood, the person complaining about the Hawaiians is complaining about Kapa o Pango, which is a new one composed for the All Blacks in the last couple of years, not Ka Mate.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:46 PM on February 19, 2007

the throat-slitting gesture caused a lot of controversy in New Zealand when it was adopted. There was a big debate where it seemed most people preferred the original, but I guess it's nice to change things up now and then. It raised issues over the implied violence of the haka itself, but to be honest I think removing it would have been disloyal to the history of the haka and Maori culture in general, by the imposition of modern values on an important vestige of tradition.

Regardless, it always makes me swell up with pride when I see it performed by our sports teams.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 8:46 PM on February 19, 2007

why is the original poster's "attack" link about Maori progress?

The article is framed as a response to National Party criticism of programs supporting Maori cultural and social revival.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:34 PM on February 19, 2007

aotearoa? with just a little massaging, that could be palindromic like the grateful dead album "aoxomoxoa".

now, with my limited knowledge of rugby, i will attempt to tell a funny rugby joke:

a rugby referee died and went to heaven. he appeared before the desk of st. peter and the saint told him "in order to get in here, we need documented evidence of at least one act of extreme courage in your lifetime."

the ref said "well, on one occasion i was officiating a game between australia and new zealand, in new zealand. australia was moving the ball downfield when something happened to interrupt their possession (this is the limited knowledge point) and i was called upon to make a ruling. even though it looked to me like new zealand had gotten possession, i reflected upon the fact that the australian lads had striven so valiantly throughout the game, done so many bold but unfruitful plays, so i ultimately awarded the ball to them."

st. peter said "that was certainly courageous." he looked down at his desk, twiddled his computer for a moment, looked up again and addressed the coach "i'm sorry, we don't seem to have any record of that in our system. could you give us some kind of clue to narrow it down, like, when this happened?"

the referee looked at his watch and said "about 45 seconds ago."
posted by bruce at 10:01 PM on February 19, 2007

the throat-slitting gesture caused a lot of controversy in New Zealand when it was adopted.

Yeah, and wasn't there some lame response about how they're not slitting their throat but doing something else symbolic? It was so obviously a cop out excuse (i.e. a lie) that I can't even remember what they were supposed to be doing instead. Everyone here certainly assumed it's a throat slitting gesture.
posted by shelleycat at 11:31 PM on February 19, 2007

UbuRoivas: there's surely a bit more to it than that - the karanga, the mihi, the waiata.

Heywood Mogroot: your memory's pretty good - check the link in the second post for the words.

I have to say, I'm not wild about non-Polynesians adopting haka without an understanding of what's behind them. That Texan school that Mid mentioned don't even seem to realise that they're doing a Maori haka, not a Tongan one (judging by the first lines, anyway, they're doing Ka Mate).
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:01 AM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Excellent post — psychological warfare at its best. Reminiscent of the Zulu war chants in the 1965 film Zulu, and the British reply, Men of Harlech [movie sound clips here].

In Ursula K. LeGuin's 1976 science fiction novel, The Word for World is Forest, the native Athsheans settle disputes by singing over their opponents.
posted by cenoxo at 1:26 AM on February 20, 2007

I suppose a pre-game hula wouldn't exactly intimidate a visiting team, but Hawaii certainly has its own warrior mythology to tap without borrowing the haka.

They do, and a pre-game hula could actually be more intimidating than you might expect. There are two basic styles of hula, hula 'auana and hula kahiko. Hula 'auana is the newer post-contact style, dating back to the 19th century. It's the sort of pretty, non-threatening "Lovely Hula Hands" thing you see the most in films and tourist shows: a graceful swaying dance performed to westernized songs. Hula kahiko is the older style, performed to traditional chant and percussion, and the men's hula kahiko has a vigorous, aggressive style (sometimes even peforming with weapons, as in that last Youtube link). Some of the movements and group vocalizations are rather similar to the haka: it may not be a similarly formalized aggression-and-pumping-up ritual, but a good kane halau performing in the kahiko style will definitely make an impression on the viewer. (Wish I could find something better than fuzzy YouTube clips of fuzzier TV broadcasts...these dances really should be seen live for the full effect.)
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 1:29 AM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

England hooker, Richard Cockerill, dealt with it best I think. Standing right in the face of his opposite number.

Incidentally, it always amuses me when folk like Sukiari attempt to talk authoritatively on topics they clearly know nothing about. And then follow it up with further asshat comments.
posted by MrMustard at 1:47 AM on February 20, 2007

Looks like I touched a nerve or two in serf country...
posted by Sukiari at 1:49 AM on February 20, 2007

It is very much similar to a martial art form...These tribal forms are like that - also a stylistic repetition of basic skills. Dropping the the weight down, moving in balanced positions, etc. Many tribal dances are also martially based.

tkchrist: have you seen any traditional men's hula, and if not, do you perchance have a few minutes free to check the hula kahiko links I posted earlier and comment on any martial similarities you might or might not see there? I'm rather curious because I've often thought a lot of the men's dance moves reminded me a bit of watching forms, but that's just an interested observer's impressions: I'd love to hear what an actual practitioner thinks.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 2:07 AM on February 20, 2007

SSoS, you might get a kick out of searching Youtube for kapa haka. Your hula kahiko is not a million miles away from what you might see at a kapa haka competition. I'm really intrigued by what that guy in the second link is singing. Similar basic intonation and rhythm as old waiata here.

A couple of years ago I was at WOMAD in New Plymouth. There was a troupe from Easter Island there. They gave a pretty good performance. When they were done, a few Maori from the crowd gave them a haka back (one of the roles of haka is to support, thank, or show respect to others, and it can erupt spontaneously). It was very touching. Feel the aroha.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:48 AM on February 20, 2007

Oooh, thank you, i am joe's spleen, I can tell I'll be falling down the YouTube rabbit hole again but good! I've seen a few live haka from visiting Maori students, but not nearly as much as all the hula I watched growing up in Hawai'i. (And with the hindsight of age I am KICKING myself for being too shy as a child to accept a family friend's offer to study in her halau...stupid, stupid, stupid! I loved watching but it would have been nice to learn to DO instead of just look...)

Unfortunately, I don't understand enough of the language, especially when rapidly chanted like that, to catch more than the odd word here and there, especially without a dictionary on my lap. But just on a quick listen through, I hear repeated mentions of the ocean and of Kanaloa, the god of the sea, which isn't too surprising given the introduction describing the mele as being about a famous navigator. Also the bit in the very middle when they break, silent and motionless with fists raised? That's right after references to Hokule'a -- the "happy star" Arcturus, which was a major navigational point for voyages to Hawai'i. (It also gave its name to the famous voyaging canoe of the 1970s.) And some of the arm movements earlier on look EXACTLY like paddling an outrigger.

I'm always fascinated by the similarities between these two Polynesian cultures. Reading Keri Hulme's The Bone People a few years back, it was downright startling to realize how many of the Maori words I could understand just by their similarity to what little I know of Hawaiian...
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 3:38 AM on February 20, 2007

Fantastic. I've not seen a haka in the flesh, but can testify that the Western Samoan Siva Tau is just as bloody scary. (Though not when performed by an Aussie rules football team, it seems.)

Looks like I touched a nerve or two in serf country...

Serf country? Er, right-oh. Whatever, if you think current football violence in the UK is in any way comparable to football violence in the 70s and 80s, you're woefully misinformed.

posted by jack_mo at 3:46 AM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

D'oh, self-followup, it's too late/early and my brain's getting slow...

The chant also has a lot of references to Kaha'i, the legendary navigator mentioned in the introduction. And in the second half after the break there's mention of Wehewehe, which I know is another star name but I don't remember which one, perhaps another navigational marker? I can't find anything more specific on that one without digging up some print references that are currently packed away, sorry. And in the bit before the break, right before the mention of Hokule'a, there's mention of Hawai'i and also I think maybe there's a bit about work being finished...? Which could make sense, as on a voyage to Hawai'i Arcturus would indicate that the voyage was almost over...

I can dig out my Pukui-Elbert dictionary to try to suss out a bit more if you're that curious, IAJS...tho' I can't guarantee how much more I'll be able to pick out, especially from the bits where the dancers are all calling in unison.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 4:00 AM on February 20, 2007

Whoops. Before I flagged Sukiari's troll, I accidentally favorited it.
posted by Drexen at 5:47 AM on February 20, 2007

Drexen - You know you can remove favo[u]rites, right?
posted by MrMustard at 5:56 AM on February 20, 2007

You know you can remove favo[u]rites, right?

I do now! And like an impulsive Versaillean monarch, I shall henceforth confer and withdraw my favour with wild, capricious whimsy!
posted by Drexen at 6:05 AM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh geeze...I have to learn not to type on so little sleep. pzarquon, I know you're kama'aina and that stuff was all old hat to you; I just wanted to expand on your post for folks outside the islands who might have had the impression that all hula is super-wussified compared to haka. The Hawaiithreads discussion might be a bit oblique to folks unfamiliar with all the references in it, and I thought a few video links and such might be of interest and help folks compare things to all the other dance vids from other cultures posted here. I just quoted that line of yours as a leadin, but wasn't meaning to look like I was lecturing another local, honest!!

Great delurk post...make A or wot? *facepalm*

And you're the same zarquon that knows meri, right? Small world...

posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:13 AM on February 20, 2007

It's not posted on YouTube but at the completion of filming of the Lord of the Rings movies, a haka was performed. You can see it in the bonus material on the expanded Return of the King DVD package.
posted by Ber at 7:30 AM on February 20, 2007

there is a Maori martial art, or a least a martial training discipline, with well-defined styles for each traditional weapon (mau rakau).

Oh. That is so cool. I am a huge fan of Pacific Island, Filipino and Indonesian Martial Arts.

Joe'e_spleen I have been trying to carve out a trip to NZ for the last 12 years. But I want to do it right and stay for a few months.
posted by tkchrist at 9:58 AM on February 20, 2007

joe's spleen, jack_mo, Infinite Jest: thanks for all the additional detail on Haka, Siva Tau and Sipi Tau. I'd never seen a pohiri start with an entrance by speedboat before. Awesome.

Smilla's Sense of Snark: I was not as aware of the men's styles of hula kahiko. Fantastic links.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:07 AM on February 20, 2007

SSoS, I wasn't thinking of the words so much as the vocal style - two note scale, extended notes at the end of a phrase, that kind of thing. There's a technical, ethnomusicological name which escapes me right now - monodic? Monotonic?

Glad you liked the youtube stuff. There was a big fuss here a few months ago at a recent kapa haka competition because some of the most successful groups want to forbid people videoing them, lest others learn to copy their moves.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2007

I'd never seen a pohiri start with an entrance by speedboat before. Cheesy, eh? I just wanted to find some footage of the wero and it was the first thing I came across. But why not? Maori are renowned for their rapid adoption of foreign technology ;)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:26 AM on February 20, 2007
I’m sorry....I seem unable to parse that sentence for some reason.
Oh, wait, you’re some sort of machine or vegetable or something and thus cannot play/understand the game? Is that it?
I live and breathe rugby.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:39 PM on February 20, 2007

theWhiteSkull: glad to be of service! Video searches on "hula kahiko" or "Merrie Monarch" will turn up quite a bit more in that same vein, although the women's hula seems to be slightly better represented. (You might be interested in those too for comparison, of course: the women's kahiko is also a lot more athletic-looking than the modern hulas, although some of the movement vocabulary is different from the men's style.)

i_am_joe's_spleen: oh yes, thanks for ALL the links, it's such fascinating stuff. Re: the video controversy, is there a kapa haka equivalent of the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawai'i? That's pretty much THE big event of the year as far as hula competition, in both styles, and even bringing in dance troupes from outside the islands. It's been a hugely popular local television event for years, and the videos are big sellers too. (I first went looking for this stuff on YouTube in a desperate hope that I could get my fix now that I'm so far out of state...)
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 2:44 PM on February 20, 2007

SSoS: you could check out the Wikipedia page for kapa haka which has pointers to a couple of national competitions. There are lots of regional ones too.

You might be interested in the Auckland Pasifika festival as well.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:21 PM on February 20, 2007

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