What Does The Haka Actually Mean?

Rugby fan or not, everyone knows about the New Zealand All Blacks and the haka they perform before their games, but what exactly does the haka represent?

For most non-Maori New Zealanders today their knowledge of the Haka is perhaps limited to that most performed of Haka called “Ka mate, Ka mate”, which was composed by Ngati Toa Chieftain Te Rauparaha around 1820.

Many sports teams and individuals travelling from New Zealand overseas tend to have the haka “Ka mate” as part of their programme. The sports team that has given the haka the greatest exposure overseas has been the All Blacks, who perform it before their matches. It has become a distinctive feature of the All Blacks.

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New Zealand All Blacks perform the haka before a game

ORIGIN OF THE HAKA

According to Maori ethos, Tama-nui-to-ra, the Sun God, had two wives, Hine-raumati, the Summer maid, and Hine takurua, the Winter maid. The child born to him and Hine-raumati was Tane-rore, who is credited with the origin of the dance. Tane-rore is the trembling of the air as seen on the hot days of summer, and represented by the quivering of the hands in the dance.

Haka is the generic name for all Maori dance. Today, haka is defined as that part of the Maori dance repertoire where the men are to the fore with the women lending vocal support in the rear.

More than any aspect of Maori culture, this complex dance is an expression of the passion, vigour and identity of the race. Haka is not merely a past time of the Maori but was also a custom of high social importance in the welcoming and entertainment of visitors.

HAKA HISTORY

The centrality of the haka within All Black rugby tradition is not a recent development. Since an 1888 tour by the “New Zealand Natives” the haka has been closely associated with New Zealand rugby. Its mystique has evolved along with the fierce determination, commitment and high level skill which has been the hallmark of New Zealand’s National game.

KA MATE

The famous haka; Ka Mate Ka Mate, was composed by Ngati Toa Chieftain Te Rauparaha around 1820, with the story of its composition being well known within the oral histories of Ngati Toa and Ngati Tuwharetoa, the two iwi (tribes) most associated with its origins.

During a time of conflict Te Rauparaha was being pursued by warriors of a rival tribe, and was hidden by Te Wharerangi of Tuwharetoa in a native sweet potato pit, with Te Wharerangi’s wife Te Rangikoaea being directed to sit on top.

Guided by their priest the warriors searched for Te Rauparaha and as they drew near he muttered “Ka Mate Ka Mate” (It is death, it is death).

Concealed from the Tohunga by the spiritual powers of both food and the woman above, Te Rauparaha was not discovered, and as the searchers passed overhead he muttered “Ka ora Ka ora” (It is life, it is life).

When the warriors finally departed Te Rauparaha was able to climb up out of the kumara pit.

Ka Mate was performed by the New Zealand Native team on their long and arduous tour of 1888/89, and by the “Original” All Blacks in 1905.

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KAPA O PANGO – THE ALL BLACKS’ OWN HAKA

In August 2005, before the Tri Nations Test match against South Africa at Carisbrook, the All Blacks performed for the first time ‘Kapa O Pango’, a new haka for and about the All Blacks.

A year in the making, Kapa O Pango was written for the team by Derek Lardelli, an expert in tikanga Maori (Maori culture and customs) of the Ngati Porou iwi. Its words and actions celebrate the land of New Zealand, the silver fern and its warriors in black. The name might be translated simply as ‘team in black’.

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