All hail the Haka

Haka performed by Manaia Maori group for Lions tour to New Zealand

The Haka represents one of the most famous visual rituals in the world of sport today. As a form of expression it can be used not only to psych up players and audiences, but to also psych out opponents.

Words of the Haka - Ka Mate

Ka mate! Ka mate!
Ka ora, Ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate!
Ka ora, Ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru!
Nana nei I tiki mai whakawhiti te ra!
Hupane! Kaupane!
Hupane! Kaupane!
Whiti te ra!

I die! I die!
I live! I live!
This is the hairy person
Who fetched the sun
And caused it to shine again
One upward step! Another upward step!
An upward step, another and the sun shines!

What is the Haka?

It is a traditional form of New Zealand Maori dance originally performed by warriors before battle, but it is also performed to welcome and entertain guests and other ceremonial occasions. It is used in sport as a declaration of strength and ability, to build tension and to intimidate the opposition.

How is it performed?

It's a highly energetic performance with unusual facial expressions, showing the whites of the eyes and the poking out of the tongue.

Words are chanted and a variety of cries and grunts are used with powerful body actions, such as slapping the hands against the body and stamping of the feet.

These actions combine to express the feelings relevant to the occasion.

Karl Burrows, Director of Maori performing arts group Manaia explains the origins and the wider skills of the Haka:

Facing a challenge

When you are performing the Haka on the sports scene you are saying 'This is who we are, we are putting ourselves out before you and nothing is going to stop us from achieving what we are here to do.' It's about taking away all the layers of insecurity and opening yourself up to people to see you in this way.

A Haka facial expression. Copyright: Manaia Working as a team

It's using energy to express yourself in a way that you are not usually able to do in today's culture. How you express yourself in Haka is how you might be feeling. You can even do Haka when you are smiling and enjoying yourself and when you are feeling vibrant and alive, as opposed to when it is performed by the All Blacks who are going out there to beat the opposition and win. You can get together with your friends and enjoy it.

Mind and spirit

The main appeal of our culture is that we are still quite in touch with our 'wairua' or 'spirit'. It's about your presence in a full sense and not just in a physical sense. It's understanding your history, your ancestors and how we view the world in terms of our creation stories. You embody the world in a different way enabling you to stand proud and strong.

Did you know?

'Ha' means the 'breath of life' and 'ka' means to ignite. So 'Haka' means 'to ignite the breath of life.'

Former All Blacks star, Justin Marshall, explains how this tradition connects a player to the team:

It's all about history and where the All Blacks have come from. You talk to any New Zealander and they know the history of the Haka. That's why we do it. It's not about getting an advantage before the game, it's all about tradition.

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