Origins of the Haka

For many the Haka is seen as synonymous with the All Black rugby team, however, the history of the ancient Māori posture dance goes back much further. The origins of the haka are deeply rooted in a rich history of folklore and legend that reflects the Māori heritage. According to legend, the haka was derived from the sun god Ra who lay with one of his wives Hine-raumati. She gave birth to a son called Tanerore and on hot summer days when you can see the light shimmering off the ground this is believed to be Tanerore performing for his mother the wiriwiri which is reflected today in the trembling of the haka performer’s hands.

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Whale Thief

While recent tradition suggests the haka is male orientated, the first use of the haka in the natural world is attributed to Chief Tinirau and some of his womenfolk. Tinirau sought revenge of an old tohunga (priest) called Kae who he believed had killed his pet whale, so Tinirau sent a hunting party of women to find him. They did not know what Kae looked like, apart from that he had uneven teeth which overlapped, so when they arrived at Kae’s village they performed the haka to force a smile from the men in order to uncover Kae’s identity. Kae was captured and taken back to Tinirau’s village where he was killed. Although the violent connotation has faded, the principles that underpin the traditional rituals are still retained in a modern form and we still the pre-battle challenge thrown down by the All Black’s before every game.

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Ka Mate

Every haka tells a story, and perhaps the most recognised is the Ka Mate which has become famous by the All Black and Kiwi rugby teams. It was composed by Te Rauparaha, from the Ngāti Toa tribe, in the early 19th Century as a celebration of life over death after he escaped from his enemies in a sweet-potato pit. The Ka Mate haka translates well in a rugby sense, as it still represents laying down a challenge to the opposition. The All Blacks enjoy when it is met with respectful defiance by the opposition. An example of this occurred in 1989 at Lansdowne Road, when Irish captain Willie Anderson linked arms with his team-mates and advanced against the haka. Speaking after the match All Black Wayne Shelford ‘thought it was fantastic’ and that the Irish showed an awesome response to the challenge (probably easier to say when you’ve just won 23 – 6).

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Te Rauparaha’s Legacy

It would be fair to say that the modern All Blacks display passion and pride and have preserved the dignity and mystique attached to the tradition as well as increasing its recognition as an icon of New Zealand. The intrigue surrounding the haka continues today and now there are opportunities to experience the real thing with our haka workshops led by decedents of Te Rauparaha’s Ngāti Toa tribe who have worked with the All Blacks. These workshops work perfectly as a conference energiser or as an opportunity to embrace some Māori tradition.