The haka (//; plural haka, in both Māori and English) is a traditional war cry, war dance, or challenge in Māori culture. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. War haka were originally performed by Māori warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Haka are also performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals. Kapa haka (performing arts, lit. line dance) groups are very common in schools.
New Zealand sports teams' practice of performing a haka before their international matches has made the haka more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand rugby union team ("All Blacks") since 1905.
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The group of people performing a haka is referred to as a kapa haka (kapa meaning row or rank). The Māori word haka has cognates in other Polynesian languages, for example: Tongan haka, 'hand action while singing'; Samoan saʻa, Tokelau haka, Rarotongan ʻaka, Hawaiian haʻa, Marquesan haka, all meaning 'dance'; Mangarevan ʻaka, 'to dance in traditional fashion; dance accompanied by chant, usually of a warlike nature'. In some languages, the meaning is divergent, for example in Tikopia saka means to 'perform rites in traditional ritual system'. The form reconstructed for Proto-Polynesian is *saka, deriving ultimately from Proto-Oceanic *saŋka(g).
History and practice
Within Māori culture, "haka is the generic name for all types of dance or ceremonial performance that involve movement." The various types of haka include whakatū waewae, tūtū ngārahu and peruperu.
War haka (peruperu) were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Various actions are employed in the course of a performance, including facial contortions such as showing the whites of the eyes and poking out the tongue, and a wide variety of vigorous body actions such as slapping the hands against the body and stomping of the feet. As well as chanted words, a variety of cries and grunts are used. Haka may be understood as a kind of symphony in which the different parts of the body represent many instruments. The hands, arms, legs, feet, voice, eyes, tongue and the body as a whole combine to express courage, annoyance, joy or other feelings relevant to the purpose of the occasion. If the peruperu was not performed in total unison, this was regarded as a bad omen for the battle.
Although the dance is commonly associated with warrior origins, according to Kāretu (1993), the haka has been "erroneously defined by generations of uninformed as ‘war dances’, the true ‘war dances’ are the whakatü waewae, the tütü ngärahu [sic?] and the peruperu."
The tūtū ngārahu also involves jumping, but from side to side, while in the whakatū waewae no jumping occurs. Another kind of haka performed without weapons is the ngeri, the purpose of which was to motivate the warriors psychologically. The movements are very free, and each performer is expected to be expressive of their feelings. Manawa wera haka were generally associated with funerals or other occasions involving death. Like the ngeri they were performed without weapons, and there was little or no choreographed movement.
18th and 19th centuries
The earliest Europeans to witness the haka were invariably struck by its vigour and ferocity. Joseph Banks, who accompanied James Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769, later recorded, "The War Song and dance consists of Various contortions of the limbs during which the tongue is frequently thrust out incredibly far and the orbits of the eyes enlargd so much that a circle of white is distinctly seen round the Iris: in short nothing is omittd which can render a human shape frightful and deformd, which I suppose they think terrible."
From their arrival in the early 19th century, Christian missionaries strove unsuccessfully to eradicate the haka, along with other forms of Māori culture that they saw as conflicting with Christian beliefs and practice. Henry Williams, the leader of the Church Missionary Society mission in New Zealand, aimed to replace the haka and traditional Māori chants (waiata) with hymns. Missionaries also encouraged European harmonic singing as part of the process of conversion.
The use of the haka in welcoming ceremonies for members of British royal family helped to improve its standing among Europeans. Prince Alfred Ernest Albert, the Duke of Edinburgh, was the first royal to visit New Zealand, in 1869. Upon the Duke's arrival at the wharf in Wellington, he was greeted by a vigorous haka. The Wellington Independent reported, "The excitement of the Maoris becomes uncontrollable. They gesticulate, they dance, they throw their weapons wildly in the air, while they yell like fiends let loose. But all this fierce yelling is of the most friendly character. They are bidding the Duke welcome."
In modern times, various haka have been composed to be performed by women and even children. Haka are performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals. The 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team began a tradition by performing the haka during an international tour. The common use of haka by the All Blacks rugby union team (since 1905) and the New Zealand national rugby league team has made one type of haka familiar.
The most well-known haka is "Ka Mate", attributed to Te Rauparaha, war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe. The "Ka Mate" haka is classified as a haka taparahi – a ceremonial haka. "Ka Mate" is about the cunning ruse Te Rauparaha used to outwit his enemies, and may be interpreted as "a celebration of the triumph of life over death".
According to Māori mythology, the sun god, Tama-nui-te-rā, had two wives, the Summer Maid, Hine-raumati, and the Winter Maid, Hine-takurua. Haka originated in the coming of Hine-raumati, whose presence on still, hot days was revealed in a quivering appearance in the air. This was the haka of Tāne-rore, the son of Hine-raumati and Tama-nui-te-rā.
In the lead up to the Rugby World Cup in 2011, flashmob haka became a popular way of expressing support for the All Blacks. Some Māori leaders thought it was "inappropriate" and a "bastardisation" of the traditional war cry, despite its popularity. Sizeable flashmob haka were performed in Wellington and Auckland, as well as London, which has a large New Zealander immigrant community.
On 28 August 2012, the New Zealand Herald posted a story of video footage which went viral worldwide of soldiers from the 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment performing a haka for fallen comrades who were recently killed in action in Afghanistan.
In November 2012, a Māori kapa haka group from Rotorua performed a version of the "Gangnam Style" dance mixed with a traditional haka in Seoul, celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between South Korea and New Zealand.
On 7 December 2014, at the 2014 Roller Derby World Cup in Dallas, Texas, Team New Zealand performed a haka on roller skates to the Australian Roller Derby team before their bout in the quarter finals. Team New Zealand performed a haka before their debut game against Team USA at the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup, on 1 December 2011; however, it was unexpected and the arena music was still playing. It has since become an expected tradition.
On 20 July 2015, Dawson Tamatea, a teacher at Palmerston North Boys' High in Palmerston North died. Hundreds of his students performed a haka at his funeral. In the first month, the posted video had over 6,000,000 views.
The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team adopted the haka as a pregame ritual during the 2006 season. Originally, Tala Esera, who played high school football at Kahuku High School, introduced the haka to the team, and during the 2006 season, star quarterback Colt Brennan led the team in performing the haka. The team's 2007 campaign, which saw Brennan emerge as a Heisman Trophy finalist and lead the team to an undefeated regular season, as well as a berth in the Bowl Championship Series despite the Warriors not playing in a BCS conference, drew American attention to the haka. The Warriors are just one of numerous American football teams to perform the haka as a pregame ritual.
- Similar dances
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Media related to Haka at Wikimedia Commons