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This week, the Te Matatini Paka Haka festival is in Auckland, New Zealand. It is a Māori performing arts competition held every two years. Iwis (tribes) from all over the country compete for the best performances, including the Haka.
The Haka is a traditional ceremonial battle dance of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. The Haka dance is an expression of inner strength, and the intention is to impress the other with respect. It is a way to connect with one’s own culture.
There are different types of Hakas. Some are performed only by men—others only by women. There are also Hakas done by women, men, and children. There are ancient Hakas, but new ones are also composed and choreographed. They are about contemporary themes that concern the Māori.
In this article, I briefly overview the most important Hakas, their meaning, and when they are performed.
A Waiata is a song sung together and often accompanied by instruments. It has few action movements. One of my favorite Waiatas is this one.
The Waiata is often sung before a Haka.
The Haka is a dance where the participants demonstrate powerful and uniform movements. Haka means breath of fire. The intention is that you let your inner strength be heard and seen. You use your whole body, and especially the expression of the face is important. That is the Pūkana, where you widen your eyes and keep your lips tight. Men also stick out their tongues to intimidate and impress their opponents. This is called Whetero.
You can see the power of the Haka very well during a Haka Peruperu. This war Haka was done before a fight. The Haka must intimidate and frighten the enemy. Also, the movements had to be performed uniformly by the warriors. Weapons such as a Taiaha (a spear) or a Patu (club) are often used in a Peruperu Haka. Also, before going to the battlefield, the warriors had to perform their Peruperu Haka in front of their own tribe. The warriors weren’t allowed to fight if the Tohunga (the priest or shaman) didn’t think the Haka was good enough. Sometimes a Haka was also performed by the women to motivate and energize the men for the battle.
These are the Hakas you see most on YouTube. The Haka Taparahi is to support people, to enthuse or inspire them.
The Hakas are performed at an airport when people return from a long journey, to acknowledge achievements, at a farewell (for example, when someone retires), or during weddings and funerals. Kowai Tatou is a Haka Taparahi.
The Haka Taparahi performed at funerals is to let the deceased’s family know they are not alone and to give them strength.
The meaning of the Haka Taparahi at a wedding is to challenge the groom to show that he is a worthy husband. If the bride also participates in the Haka, it is a sign that all is well and a request to her family to let her go.
It is uncertain whether the famous Ka Mate Haka of the Ngāti Toa iwi a Haka Peruperu or a Haka Taparahi is. The Ka Mate Haka was composed by the Rangatira (chief) Te Rauparaha to terrify attacking tribes. Therefore, it could be a Peruperu Haka. Still, nowadays, you often see the All Blacks performing the Haka without weapons before a rugby match, but also by women and children. That suggests that it is rather a Haka Taparahi.
The Pōwhiri is a Māori welcoming ceremony. A Pōwhiri is done when tribes visit each other and when heads of state from abroad visit New Zealand.
The Pōwhiri consists of various parts such as a calling, speeches, singing (Waiata), a Haka, and a Hongi. This is a traditional Māori greeting in which the forehead and nose of two people touch briefly. Then, the breath of life is shared.
Your own dance of strength
The Haka belongs to the Māori, and there is much more to discuss. I can let you experience different Hakas, especially for Pākehās (non-Māoris), that I have learned from a grumpy Māori elder. I am not supposed to create a dance myself with a group that we call a Haka.
That doesn’t mean you can’t develop a dance that expresses your strength. The Haka can be an inspiration, but your dance should connect with the group’s culture. It should reflect the group’s own identity and land.
Experience the Haka
Would you like to experience a Haka? I am organizing a workshop based on the Haka open for all. This workshop will be in English and Dutch. Are you interested in participating? Contact me for more information.
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Have you seen an error in this article? Let me know, and my apologies. It is not my intention to offend the Haka and the Māori.