The origins of the haka
The haka is an emotive subject, with South Africa coach Pieter de Villiers whipping up a storm in New Zealand last week when he claimed the ritual was losing its lustre. "People are becoming used to it," he said. "It's not a novelty anymore and they don't respect it."
Inevitably, the comments triggered articles in the Kiwi press featuring outraged Maori leaders, protective cultural figures and even a few disgruntled foreigners. But does De Villiers have a point?
For this week's Radio 5 live rugby programme, I spoke to a number of different people about the haka and its place in Maori culture and All Black history.
The haka can be seen as an act of intimidation before a rugby match. Photo: Getty
There are many different kinds of haka and the Maori use them for a variety of purposes. They use them to welcome people, to bid farewell to their dead, to celebrate success and to express collective pride.
The one haka recognised globally is the All Black haka: Ka Mate. This particular haka dates back over 200 years. A warrior chief named Te Raupahara composed it, having just escaped capture by a tribal rival. It was reflective of his relief and excitement at survival.
The words, "ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora" literally means "I die, I die, I live, I live." Te Raupahara became something of a heroic figure as a leader and a warrior and his haka was kept alive after his death.
The haka first became part of All Black operations in 1905 when it was adopted by "The Originals" - the first New Zealand side to tour overseas. It was performed not as a challenge in the sense we regard it now but more as pre-match entertainment.
When the All Blacks performed it in Cardiff in 1905, the Welsh responded by bursting into their anthem Land Of My Fathers.
The haka was only performed overseas until 1987. Before that it was a rather different visual experience to what we see before matches now.
Sir Wilson Whineray captained the All Blacks between 1957 and 1965. He told me it was very different then. He said: "It wasn't done very well in my day. We only had a couple of Maori boys in our side. Looking at the old footage, we just stood in the same spot and stamped our feet.
"It has evolved quite a bit and is certainly a lot more vigorous now. I look at that and think I would be exhausted at the end of it. But, wherever we went, people loved the haka. We were always asked to perform it."
The turning point in the history of the All Black haka was in the mid-1980s. Under the captaincy of Wayne 'Buck' Shelford, there was a drive to revitalise it and perform it on home soil.
Shelford said: "[All Black hooker] Hika Reid and I had a talk about it. We thought that, unless we had total buy-in from the players and management, we wouldn't do it. We did, so we thought, 'Right, let's practise it'. That was fun.
"Those pakeha [non-Maori] boys [were] stiff with no rhythm. They had to learn how to hang loose. We wondered how they were going to do the haka properly.
"With time and effort they got better. By 1987 they were pretty good at it and had learned and understood the origin of it - plus the meaning behind it. I'm proud we had the opportunity to give something back. I think it's great to advertise our culture before a game. I love to see the Kenyans doing a dance after their Sevens matches, for instance. The haka is real Kiwi, real New Zealand."
The French players (left) decided to step up and face the haka at the 2007 World Cup, just like the Irish did in 1989. Photo: Getty
Shelford was involved in one of the most memorable haka showdowns, at Lansdowne Road in 1989. The Ireland captain Willie Anderson linked arms with his team-mates and advanced on the All Blacks. He ended up nose-to-nose with Shelford.
Shelford added: "I thought it was fantastic. I spoke to Willie afterwards and he said, 'What did you think?'. I said, 'Good on you - what an awesome challenge. You responded like you meant it, some teams run away from it.'
"[Australia winger] David Campese used to run away and do his thing behind the goal-line. Some people say it's intimidating - but it's what you get out of it. The haka doesn't win us a game of rugby. Rugby wins rugby."
So what about the notion that the All Black haka is being overused, inappropriately performed, and even desecrated as an ancient ritual? Some Maori chiefs have been vocal, concerned it is losing its respect.
Recently, there have been numerous outbursts of hakas by groups of young Maori on the streets in Auckland. Some have attracted over a million viewings on the internet.
I went to see Tiki Edwards, a Maori who runs Haka World in Rotorua. It is not a theme park, merely a simple hut in a simple clearing, with two benches.
He said: "It can be intimidating, a mob of Maoris turning up unannounced. Maybe they're trying to display their culture, the ferocity of the haka?
"My view is that you should save it for when you need it most. Some of them probably need to concentrate on getting a job. But that's the way they are expressing themselves. If they are drawing on their ancestors, then fine."
"For me, it's about teaching the essence of haka. I teach lots of hakas but Ka Mate is the famous one. I teach them that I am calling on my ancestors to be with me when I need them most. I teach them where it comes from and why it's important. It's a spiritual thing and a physical thing."
Arguably rugby and the haka are the two most-recognisable faces of New Zealand. Most New Zealanders I have spoken to are content with the haka as it is - as long as there is an understanding of its origins, significance to Maoris, and a healthy respect for it.
In a rugby sense, the haka still represents a laying down of the gauntlet and challenge to the opposition. It is also great drama and entertainment and there is no doubt the theatrical side of things has been exploited in recent years.
This argument is particularly relevant when discussing the newer Kapo O Pango haka adopted by the New Zealand rugby team and performed for the first time against the Springboks in 2005.
This haka was written by a cultural expert, Derek Lardelli. The aim was to incorporate a more contemporary feel with words more specific to the New Zealand team. It was also meant to reflect the wider social and cultural elements, with an emphasis on the Pacific Island tradition.
The controversial throat-slitting gesture at the end caused a big stir. Haka experts say this motion was originally meant to signify a drawing of breath from the sky to the lungs. Perhaps it suited the All Blacks better to leave the message mixed? It is provocative at best and menacing at worst.
There's little doubt the haka will continue to stimulate debate in both a cultural and sporting context. But does it remain relevant? And is it appropriate, possibly allowing the All Blacks an unfair psychological advantage before kick-off?
Regardless of those who love it, those who hate it, and those who are indifferent, the haka is here to stay. Tiki Edwards pointed out: "The haka is a living part of a living culture. It is evolving, just like everything else around us."
For more news and discussion from the Rugby World Cup, listen to BBC Radio 5 live on Thursday, 2100-2230 BST.