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What Is the Haka?

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The All Blacks perform the haka

The All Blacks perform the haka before a rugby union game

Copyright Tourism New Zealand
Question: What Is the Haka?
Answer: If you've seen a rugby union match with the New Zealand team, the All Blacks, you could have witnessed the haka.

    The All Blacks comprise the New Zealand rugby union team and the inaugural winners of the quadrennial Rugby World Cup held in 1987 with 16 nations in the competition.

Strictly speaking, the term haka refers generically to all Maori dance but has now come to mean the Maori dance repertoire where the men are in front and women lending vocal support at the back.

War chant and challenge

But with the All Blacks promoting one version of the haka which starts with the chant "Ka mate, ka mate (It is death, it is death"), it is this haka, called Te Rauparaha's haka (so named after its perceived traditional origins) that most people, particularly rugby union football fans, know as the haka.

This version of the haka is both war chant and challenge and is customarily performed by the All Blacks before major games against non-New Zealand teams.

It is characterised by loud chanting, much aggressive flailing of arms and stomping of feet, fierce looks and, in the end, an angry sticking out tongues.

Te Rauparaha

The All Blacks version of the haka is said to have come from Te Rauparaha (1768-1849), chief of the Ngati Toa tribe and one of New Zealand's last great warrior chiefs. Te Rauparaha cut a swathe from the Waikato to the South Island where his followers killed both European settlers and southern Maori.

His haka is said to have actually originated during a time Te Rauparaha was fleeing from his enemies, hid in a sweet potato field one night and by morning awoke to be told by a hairy chief that his enemies had gone. He then performed his victorious haka.

Ka mate, ka mate

The words of Te Rauparaha's haka (1810) used by the All Blacks:

    Ka mate, ka mate
    Ka ora, ka ora
    Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru
    Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra
    Upane, upane
    Upane kaupane
    Whiti te ra.

These words are translated as:

    It is death, it is death
    It is life, it is life
    This is the hairy man
    Who caused the sun to shine again for me
    Up the ladder, up the ladder
    Up to the top
    The sun shines.

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