The New Zealand All Black’s rain-soaked Haka dance after winning the 2014 Hong Kong Sevens has been making the rounds in Facebook feeds nationwide. The photo alone is incredible, but with video of the dance now going viral via Bleacher Report, I wonder for how many clickers is this their first introduction to the All Blacks’ tradition of performing the Haka before matches. This particular Haka was a celebratory rendition after the match.
The Haka is an ancestral war cry and dance of the indigenous Māori people in New Zealand. The All Blacks have performed the Haka for over a century. The dance is meant to both motivate and intimidate; and is usually performed before matches. It was originally performed for international tests played away from home, first introduced by New Zealand natives in 1889 during test matches in England, and it has since become a tradition like no other in international sports.
No country is more obsessed with rugby than New Zealand. It is the national sport and they are the best in the world. Rugby is synonymous with being a kiwi, and for over a century now, they have begun their international games with a tribute to indigenous culture.
It has long been a point of pride that European New Zealanders or “Pākehā” have had a mostly positive relationship with the native Māori. The Treaty of Waitangi, which established a British Governor of New Zealand, but recognized Māori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects, was called the “fairest treaty ever made by Europeans with a native race,” as described in the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, which provides a nice, concise history of Māori-Pākehā relations. This was by no means perfect. This kind of power dynamic will never be without its share of issues, but the tradition of the Haka in New Zealand’s national pastime is telling.
Particularly when you consider the ongoing controversy here in the U.S. over NFL owner Daniel Snyder’s insistence on using a racial slur toward American natives as the mascot for his Washington DC football team. The All Blacks tradition comes in stark contrast to Snyder’s parading of Native Americans on the field during half-time on Monday Night Football.
The All Blacks’ Haka is not your synchronized “Indian” chant and hand-chop of the Atlanta Braves or Florida State Seminoles. It is not the act of European colonists co-opting native traditions. The active participation of the Māori, both in the sport of rugby, and in defining the Haka tradition, has kept it from turning into its more farcical American counterparts.
According to the Encyclopedia of New Zealand linked above, in 1985, All Black team members Hika Reid and Buck Shelford made sure that, for the first time, the whole team knew the words and the correct actions of the Haka. The All Blacks have performed as such ever since.
Today, the Haka is mostly ceremonial, providing no real edge to the New Zealand side other than perhaps motivation. It has become an expected tradition for kiwis, their unique national anthem. I do wonder what it must have been like in the early years, for international sides to see this performed for the first time. The All Blacks’ Haka has evolved over a century to become a proper homage to the Māori people, the only tribute of its kind in the realm of international sports.
Seeing the Haka now, and knowing the tradition it has become for all New Zealanders, I wonder if it might be possible for Americans to ever have this kind of connection to and respect for our native peoples. It doesn’t seem likely. A good start, though, would be to change the mascot of that team from DC.
Photo source: http://bit.ly/Oeja34