Haka runs deeper than just the All Blacks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Ethienne Reynecke explains to us what the haka is really about in New Zealand.
Travelling the world is a wonderful gift that rugby bestowed to those who put their body on the line for the greatest sport in the world.
It brings different cultures together and literally broadens people's perspective as they mix with people from other countries and cultures. It enlightens the soul.
Nothing makes you realize more that you live in your own bubble than when you go live in another country or even just travel there.
When you do travel, you quickly realize that something which is exotic in one country, is just the norm in another.
Kiwi players love coming to South Africa. We are extremely hospitable towards them and South Africans find them 'exotic'. Especially the players from Maori and Island heritage.
Similar for South Africans believe it or not. Travelling to New Zealand, Europe or The United States, my thick Afrikaans accent is something different and 'exotic'.
Where as here in South Africa, If I approach an English speaking woman on a night out I get the rolling eyes and a very impolite 'excuse me'.
Point being made, the Haka is probably something 'exotic'. Everybody loves it, but very few understands the deeper meaning and heritage.
Nothing gets the rugby watching public as excited as a Haka. I still get the same excited feeling when a team lines up to do a haka just as when I was young.
With the British and Irish Lions being on tour in New Zealand and the New Zealand Maori's game this past weekend I thought it would be a good idea to get in some expert advice so as to enlighten all of us on Haka's and Maori heritage.
Whiria Fidz Meltzer
I'm lucky enough to be part of the World renown team called the Jamboys. This team participate in social tournaments around the globe.
One of the composers of the haka the Blues did is a teammate at the Jamboys.
Whiria Meltzer is an exceptionally gifted rugby player and for the life of me I can't understand how he isn't a professional. It's probably just testament to the depth of the roster for backline players at the Blues.
True to form the British media blew certain aspects of the haka completely out of proportion.
Specifically the journalist James Corrigan. His rich Colonial heritage where the whole world must bow to what the British Empire find suitable or "tasteless" just couldn't resist the temptation to bring an agenda into something special and deeply rooted in Maori culture.
I asked Fidzie some questions on that blues haka and Maori tradition.
Question: Fidzie, give us a bit of your Maori background and connection
Answer: I was raised up with Maori culture. Went to a Maori school where we learnt everything in Te reo maori and learnt history and story of my iwi/tribe. Which gave me the knowledge to be a proud leader for my whanau/Family. Passionate about kapa haka which is a way to express different emotions with waiata/songs and haka, such as happiness, sad, aggressive, proud, honour, and all the values I live in everyday life.
Q: Fidzie, As I understand it you are a co-author of the Haka the blues did against the B&I Lions. You are part of the wider Blues training squad. There must be a lot of respect for your maori heritage to be bestowed the honour of composing the blues haka?
A: Definitely an honour to be able to compose a haka for my favourite super rugby team the blues. They are leaders and role models for the community and I wanted the haka to represent that and everything they stand for. We wanted to send a positive message to their whanau and friends that they appreciate all the support and all the mana, wairua they give to the Blues.
Q: Without going into the interpretation of the haka, Do you think the media has blown this out of proportion? Given a chance, what will your message be to the people distorting the beautiful tradition behind.
A: Haka to me is really tapu/sacred and the haka is never away to disrespect anyone, it's a sign of laying the challenge letting the opponent know that we are here to stand our ground and never going to back down until the 80th minute.
Q: Personally, with the B&I Lions tour I think it's awesome that every franchise does a haka as it's a "foreign enemy" coming for battle and each area has their own heritage to display. Lots of people think the AB's should be the only team to do a haka. Your view?
A: No I think it's beautiful seeing all the teams do the haka, it's a way of expressing our culture and being proud of our culture.
Q: You see different ways in which teams challenge and react to the Haka. Is it correct that once finished if you turn and get ready for the kick-off you accept the challenge instead of facing it off after it's been done?
A: To me there are different ways of challenging the haka. What the french do is quite powerful, they accept the challenge then they lay the challenge by standing tall and looking eye to eye with their opponents. There is a balance though between respect and disrespect.
Robbie 'kiwi' McIntyre
Wherever Robbie goes he makes friends. Extremely spontaneous and fun, Robbie can make a hobo feel like a king when he meets them.
Although humble, he is a senior first officer on the biggest commercial aeroplane in the world. The A380.
Captain McIntyre as his colleagues would call him has rich maori heritage and is like the encyclopedia britannica when it comes to anything about Maori history and culture. He played a bit of underage rugby as well for the Crusaders.
I asked Kiwi to share some of his wisdom with us.
Q: Kiwi, Give us a deeper explanation into the haka and what it symbolizes
A: This can be extremely subjective but for me it conveys respect!!!! For the dead warriors often on both sides, the living and also for the future. It proclaims strength. It is a traditional war cry, war dance challenge performed by a group. Originally performed by warriors before a battle. Also for welcoming distinguished guests, acknowledging great achievements, occasions and also Tangi (funerals). This Haka for soldiers Corporal Luke Tamatea (31), Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker (26) Private Richard Harris (21) were killed in an IED incident in Bamyan province Afghanistan. All three were from 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (2/1 RNew ZealandIR) based in Burnham, near Christchurch. This always brings tears to my eyes due to the emotion involved.
Q: My understanding is that each area has its own warcry or haka. Is that correct?
A: Yes, there are roughly 100 Iwi (tribes) throughout Aotearoa (New Zealand) some like Patukirikiri have 60 people and Ngapuhi have over 100,000. Each Iwi will have it's own haka's for a variety of occasions and just like the new haka for the Blues rugby franchise "Te Toa Takitini" the haka's are constantly evolving. Also most High Schools have their own haka's for a variety of occasions. As do the All Blacks with two, Ka Mate and Kapa o Pango. The All Blacks also had "Tena Koe Kangaroo" 1903 and "Ko Niu Tireni" 1924. Newspaper reports of 1924 Invincibles Tour spoke of the "weird war cry of the visitors" in response to the crowds' singing. Thus the fifth game at Swansea began with 40,000 waiting Welshmen singing Cwm Rhondda, Sospan Fach, Land of My Fathers and then God Save the Queen, to which the All Blacks responded with a "weird chant led by Nepia". But as fame of their unbeaten status spread, so did the status of their haka.
Q: Do you think the uproar over the Blues haka can be justified?
A: Big question this one. For start let's consider this, the Haka was performed after both teams had a minute silence out of respect for the horrific attacks in Manchester and London. Hardly a typical way to then insult your guests, let's remember many of these players have British and Irish heritage and many Whanau (family and friends) living in Ireland and the United Kingdom
The haka name speaks for itself. He Toa Takitini "The Strength of many". It starts with "Ehara taku toa I te toa takitahi. He toa takitini ke". "My strength is not my own. But the strength of many." Which could easily be translated as reaching out to our Whanau and guests to stay strong together as one against terror. "Hauora" what is described as a throat slitting gesture is, an action that is across the chest/neck" representing health and the first breath of life. So, before you lay a challenge/go to war, you're putting your mind, wairua, body into a tapu/sacred arena. So, acknowledging the first breath of life because that could be the last heading into war. Also means we are here to challenge you and won't back down." Unfortunately, non-Maori people experience all the emotions that arise from a lack of knowledge of a situation and gestures that have significance to another group. Negative emotional responses arise, just as they do in every situation that is not well understood. Whoever the people, there is a fear of the unknown. Whoever the people, this fear expresses itself through responses that belittle, decry, reject or avoid that which is not understood.
Q: Is a haka more prominent on the north island than the south island? I ask this as neither the hurricanes nor the highlanders has accepted the invite to do a haka before facing off to the B&I Lions
A: The Crusaders performed Takina Te Kawa. The Highlanders for their own reasons didn't perform one. My thoughts are that Dunedin "little Edinburgh" wasn't as a traditional Maori stronghold say compared to Hamilton in the Waikato. Although many Iwi in Otago would be ready to disagree with me very quickly!!! So we'll keep all respect to Otago Maori and their Iwi.
Q: How do you qualify to represent the New Zealand Maori's team?
A: Quoting the All Blacks website. Originally the team was loosely governed in terms of heritage, if you looked Maori you were in. But now all players must have Maori whakapapa [genealogy] confirmed that can be tracked back many generations in order to represent the side. This confirmation can come in the form of Birth Certificates and also aural history past on by Kaumatua (Tribal Elders) specialising typically in Whakapapa. The Maori didn't have a written language as such till the arrival of Missionaries. So keeping oral traditions alive is paramount in Maoritanga or culture
Q: What is your heritage?
A: My paternal Tipuna Tane [Great Grandfather] was full blooded Ngai Tahu from Akaroa [Canterbury].
Q: What is the appropriate way of facing and accepting the haka?
A: Once again another subjective question, open to many interpretations. My thoughts once again revolves around respect and protocol. Personally have a good look at the intensity of school boy Haka's in Aotearoa. From these different responses my idea is as a team decide what is best. I like a good challenge like what the French did 2011 RWC Final. It was well thought out and appropriate to the occasion. However be respectful and understand that if you decide to challenge the Haka beware of the cages you've rattled as no team ever wants to lose if you have inappropriately challenged their Haka. These guys don't need much provocation to be even more passionate about the game.
Q: You always wear a necklace of sorts? Meaning?
A: My Manaia is made of Paikea [Whale bone] is an ancestor of my Iwi Ngai Tahu of the South Island and Ngati Porou of the east coast of the North Island. Manaia are depicted with a head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish. It is widely accepted as a tribal guardian and a supernatural being, with some carved as grotesque figures, and others carved as almost human with a fierce facial expression.
Q: And your Maori Tattoos?
A: My first Ta Moko was on the back of my left shoulder and around my left arm. It tells my whakapapa Ngai Tahu (genealogy) and is contained within the shape of a Waka [travelling canoe] with three paddles. The driving forces in my life my Father, Maternal Grandmother and education. Inside this waka are a few stories one particular of an extremely close friend that had died in a tragic aircraft accident way. On my right rib cage is the State outline of New Jersey [United States], where my wife is from. Typically worn by the New Jersey surfing community. Coming out of this tattoo is a Kea, a highly intelligent South Island mountain parrot. With the State outline as her wings. This represents my wife having left living in New Jersey to live in the United Kingdom She has the intelligence like the Kea put the State of New Jersey her original home powers her wings. Inside her wings are two representations of my sons in the shape of a Killer Whale for Kahana and a Great White Shark for Kalani. This Ta Moko was done by Broughton Johnson Jnr the son of my original Tohunga. Once gain binding the family cycle of Ta Moko.
By Ethienne Reynecke