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The Haka Dance

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2027
  • Category: Dance

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            The Haka forms a crucial cornerstone of Maori culture. (K.M. Teaiwa) Haka which literally means “fiery breath” has been New Zealand’s national identity. When someone hears Haka he would consequently think of New Zealand and when someone says New Zealand it would mean Haka. Haka is actually a generic name for all Maori dances. It has been known as a war dance because of common knowledge and belief that is performed by the natives of New Zealand as a dance before going to war. However those who seek a deeper knowledge on the origin, nature and purpose of the dance will be able to find out that Haka, in its many forms and style, means more than a dance to the Maori culture. Haka for the New Zealanders is a dance of life.


            There are several myths and legends attributed to the origin of the Haka. One of the most famous stories was the story which says that Haka originated from the birth of Tane-rore born of Hine-raumati (summer maid) from the god of the Sun Tama-nui-t-ra. During hot summer days, the light from the sun which seems to be dancing was believed by the natives to be Tane-rre, dancing in honor of his mother. It is in this legend where the “wiriwiri” or the trembling of the hands in the haka dance is attributed. In another legend the Haka dance originated from the experience of the chief Tinirau and his womenfolk. (tourism.net) In his vengeance for the death of his pet whale, the chief sent women to hunt the priest who killed his pet.

The priest was said to have an uneven teeth and that was the only clue the women have in order to recognize the priest. What the women did was to perform the Haka in order to force a smile from the Kae (priest). The women succeeded and that they were able to take the priest to the chief and was then killed. The words of the Ka Mate used as chant in the Haka Dance was said to have been composed by the chief named Te Raupahara as early as circa 1820, when he was pursued by his enemies. As he flees, he uttered “Ka Mate, Ka Mate!” which means “I die, I die!” The great warrior chief ran for his life and hid himself in a Kumara pit on which Te Wharerangi’s wife sat on the entrance. After the pursuers leave the place and Te Raupahara was safe, he said, “Ka Ora, ka ora! Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru nana nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra!” (I live, I live! For this is the hairy man who has fetched the sun and caused it to shine again!) From the pit to the courtyard, Te Wharerangi performed his composed Haka before the hairy man, Te Rangikoaea, and the people.

            In the pre-European times, “Haka is performed as a part of the formal process when two parties meet together.” (tourism.net) The dance is to be performed in honor or respect to the visitors through the challenge and the “fierce and energetic body movements are reflections of the importance of the warrior traditions” (KM Taeiwa)


            There are generally two types of Haka: the one performed without weapons called Haka Taparahi and the one with weapons called Haka Peruperu. During the early times, Haka Peruperu is performed before a war, which main purpose is to serve as a psychological and physical preparation for the upcoming war. This type of Haka is also performed after a battle victory. This is probably the reason why most non-Zealanders know Haka as merely a war dance. The performance of Haka Peruperu is so important that every performance has something to reveal relative to the fate of the warriors. “All performers had to leap in the air in unity and any error was read as negatively affecting the meaning, purpose and or outcome of the gathering.” (K.M. Taeiwa)

The Haka Taparani is a ferocious chant used by men going into battle; it is designed to intimidate the enemy. 


            It is the All Blacks rugby team of New Zealand who made the Ka Mate the most popular form of Haka. By performing Haka before every match, All Blacks have made it the distinctive feature and identity of the New Zealand. The words of this type of Haka, which serves as a chant in the dance goes this way:

Leader               KA MATE!                  KA MATE!               We’re going to die!           We’re going to die!                  We were at war                                   Chorus               KA ORA,                      KA ORA!               We’re going to live!          We’re going to live!               But now there is peace.                              Leader                KA MATE!                    KA MATE!               We’re going to die!           We’re going to die!                  We thought we were all going to dieChorus               KA ORA,                        KA ORA!               We’re going to live!          We’re going to live!               but now we are safe
All together               TENEI  TE  TANGATA        PU’RU-HURU               This is the man,                     so hairy               because our leader,            so strong and masculine,
NA’A  NEI  TIKI           MAI  WHAKA-WHITI  TE …               who fetched,                  and made shine the                has unified us and brought back the sunny days of
… RA!  UPANE!         KA  UPANE!               sun!    Together!             All together … !               peace.    We are all working in harmony, side by side,                       A UPANE!        KA UPANE!                Together!        All together …               moving in unison like the hairs on our chief’s legs                WHITI TE RA!               To sun shines!               to prolong these sunny days of peace.

                             The All Blacks perform the haka before a rugby union game


            The movements of the Haka are very important, that is, they are to be performed in a manner in which the meaning of the words in the chant has to be correctly interpreted. Prior to every haka performance, the haka leader has to perform the refrains as follows:

            Ringa pakia (slap the hands against the thighs)

            Uma tiraha (put ff the chest)

            Turi whatia (bend the knees)

            Hope whai ake (the hip follow)

            Waewae takahia kia kin (stamp the feet as hard as you can)

The important parts of the haka are always stressed by those who are very strict and conservative as to the culture of the Maori: The pukana (bulging of the eyes) the wheteru (protruding of the tongue) which is performed by men only and the ngangahu (that is similar to the wheteru but performed by both sexes) and the potete (closing of the eyes at different point of the dance performed by women only). The Maori writers have highly noted that the hakas are best performed when there is involvement of spontaneity and creativity used. The performers’ interpretation of the words of the haka through enacting with power and force makes it truly a dance of life. “This complex dance is an expression of passion vigor and identity of the race; a message of the sun expressed by words and posture” (Mahuika, 172)

 Before actually going into battle, the warriors would generally assemble together. The warrior leading the “taua“, or war party, would move into the centre of the men.


“Tika tonu mai  (Come forth this way, towards me)
Tika tonu mai (Come forth this way, towards me)
Ki ahau e noho nei (To this place where I now stand “Come forth this way, towards me)
Tika tonu mai I a hei ha! (To this place where I now stand Come straight this way I a hei ha )

The figure above is an illustration of the dance steps of the haka.


            Haka Poi is performed with balls on chords called “poi”. Originally pois are made of fax blades, raupo, corn husks and core pith. For men, rocks are used as balls which they used in building their muscles. Today, pois are made of paper, foam, plastic and wool strings. The balls are not required tub be strictly rind; egg shaped balls are even accepted. The chords to which the balls are attached have to be 82cm for the long poi and 30cm for the three-quarter poi, and 25cm for the short poi. However, the weight of the balls is of importance tub the performance. A lighter ball is for the short chord and the heavier bas are for the longer chords. This is designed for the proper Centro of gravity when the poi is swung upwards.  Today, Haka poi has developed to Fire Poi, Tailed or Ribbon Poi and the Lighted Poi.

The Haka Poi involves the swinging of the Pois performed by women. Training with poi during the pre-colonial times of New Zealand is practiced for the purpose of improving agility in battle. As performed by women today, poi is used to “showcase the beauty and gracefulness of the women.” Performers swing the balls in synchrony in a variety of figures and rhythms while simultaneously singing a song (a waiata poi) accompanied by guitar. Dexterity and coordination are shown especially with the long poi, where four pois at once may be manipulated by each performer. The sound of poi striking the hands is an important part of the musical accompaniment.

In the Haka Poi, dancers demonstrate their expertise with the whirling white poi, a ball on a string which derives from a traditional weapon. The “short poi” was traditionally used by men to develop dexterity in club-fighting or spear-throwing, while the hypnotic swinging motion of the “long poi” sometimes served to lull the tamariki (children) or mokopuna (grandchildren) to sleep.          


Ti-Rakau or Tītī tōrea are pairs of carved thin sticks about shoulder width manipulated with dexterous wrist and arm work, often simultaneously passed between performers. (tourism.net) These sticks are played in unison. It is required in this type of Haka that the sounds of the sticks be well coordinated, especially that of the ends hitting the floor together, because it serves as a form a percussive accompaniment.

Dancers performing the Ti Rakau use sticks—long or short—in their dance. Practicing this skill helps develop hand-eye coordination


            If someone has to look into the culture and tradition of the Maori people, he would have learned a lot by just watching how they perform the Haka Dances. Design and performed for different occasions, the Haka seemed to have carried along with it the warrior spirit of the old Maori culture. By looking intently at how the performers hold their pois and their Ti-Rakau, one will have to notice that such dances are not ordinary dances that anyone could just perform. It requires skills that are just acquired and enhance through practice and that love and dedication of the culture.

            With the combination and coordination of the hands, feet, legs, body, voice, tongue and eyes, Haka dance is truly amusing and entertaining for any visitor. Alan Armstrong has defined haka in his book as: “It is disciplined yet emotional.” The art of Haka is not learned through learning the steps, but as the master of Haka puts it, “Kia korero te katoa o te tinana.” (The whole body should speak.)  Although as time went on, the traditional Haka has already undergone some slight development and changes, the vital parts of the old Haka remains. Today, Haka is usually performed only during special occasions although the rugby team All Black performs them prior to their every game.


Michael, Jennifer.Traditional Arts Program. Maori Music and Dance. Retrieved on March 06, 2007 from http://www.calacademy.org/RESEARCH/anthropology/tap/archive/2000/2000-01–maori.html

Teaiwa, Katerina Martina. Dances of Life: New Zealand. Retrieved on March 06, 2007 from http://www.piccom.org/dancesoflife/newzealand.html

Tourism New Zealand. The People Behind the Dance. Retrieved on March 06, 2007 from http://goaustralia.about.com/od/maoriculture/haka.htm

Haka: Maori Dance. Retrieved on March 06, 2007 from http://www.geocites.com/wanderingminstreli/haka.htm

Haka! Retrieved on March 06, 2007 from http://www.haka.co.nz/haka.php

The Haka. Retrieved on March 06, 2007 from http://www.tourism.net.nz/new-zealand/abou-new-zealand/haka.tml

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