Haka

New Zealand - Scott #1002 (1990)
New Zealand – Scott #1002 (1990)

New Zealand (Aotearoa) has ranked first on my list of places I would like to visit for as long as I can remember. Not only are the landscapes breathtaking but the culture never fails to fascinate me. One of the most widely-known aspect of that culture is the haka or Māori war dance. I observed my first in-person haka nearly 12 years ago during a cultural event in Singapore and have become a big fan. Surprisingly, today’s featured stamp seems to be the only one to feature the dance.

In the Māori language, haka means “dance” but it’s more of a traditional war cry or challenge in a posture-based dance performed by a group. There are vigorous movements accompanied by the stamping of the feet with rhythmically-shouted accompaniment.  War haka were originally performed by Māori warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Haka are also performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

The term kapa haka is refers to Māori performing arts, literally meaning to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). Kapa haka is an avenue for Maori people to express and showcase their heritage and cultural Polynesian identity through song and dance and dates back to pre-European times where it developed from all traditional forms of Maori pastimes; haka, mau rakau (Maori weaponry), poi (ball attached to rope or string) and moteatea (traditional Maori songs). These everyday activities were influential to the development of kapa haka.

Maori warriors preform a haka dance of welcome for United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta during a Powhiri ceremony while visiting Auckland, New Zealand September 21, 2012. The ceremony is an ancient Maori tradition used to determine if visitors came in peace or with hostile intent. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo (Released)
Maori warriors preform a haka dance of welcome for United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta during a Powhiri ceremony while visiting Auckland, New Zealand September 21, 2012. The ceremony is an ancient Maori tradition used to determine if visitors came in peace or with hostile intent. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo (Released)

A kapa haka performance involves choral singing, dance and movements associated in the hand-to-hand combat practiced by Māori in mainly precolonial times, presented in a synchronization of action, timing, posture, footwork and sound. The genre evolved out of a combination of European and Māori musical principles. Kapa haka groups are very common in New Zealand schools.

New Zealand sports teams’ practice of performing a haka before their international matches has made the haka more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888–1889 New Zealand Native football team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand rugby union team (“All Blacks”) since 1905.

A performance by the Kahurangi Maori Dance group of New Zealand performing at the Leeming Hangi in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Photo taken on October 10, 2009.
A performance by the Kahurangi Maori Dance group of New Zealand performing at the Leeming Hangi in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Photo taken on October 10, 2009.

The group of people performing a haka is referred to as a kapa haka (kapa meaning row, rank or line). The Māori word haka has cognates in other Polynesian languages, for example: Tongan haka, ‘hand action while singing’; Samoan saʻa, Tokelau haka, Rarotongan ʻaka, Hawaiian haʻa, Marquesan haka, all meaning ‘dance’; Mangarevan ʻaka, ‘to dance in traditional fashion; dance accompanied by chant, usually of a warlike nature’. In some languages, the meaning is divergent, for example in Tikopia saka means to ‘perform rites in traditional ritual system’. The form reconstructed for Proto-Polynesian is *saka, deriving ultimately from Proto-Oceanic *saŋka(g).

Most haka are performed by men; there are however some haka which are performed predominantly by women — one of the most well-known being the Ngāti Porou haka “Ka Panapana”.

Within Māori culture, “haka is the generic name for all types of dance or ceremonial performance that involve movement.” The various types of haka include whakatū waewae, tūtū ngārahu and peruperu.

Young Maori man performing in a kapa haka group during a Maori dance troupe event in Rotorua. In his left hand is a taiaha -- a traditional close-quarters weapon of the Māori, made from either wood or whalebone and used for short, sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts with efficient footwork on the part of the wielder. Photo taken on December 30, 2006.
Young Maori man performing in a kapa haka group during a Maori dance troupe event in Rotorua. In his left hand is a taiaha — a traditional close-quarters weapon of the Māori, made from either wood or whalebone and used for short, sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts with efficient footwork on the part of the wielder. Photo taken on December 30, 2006.

War haka (peruperu) were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Various actions are employed in the course of a performance, including facial contortions such as showing the whites of the eyes and poking out the tongue, and a wide variety of vigorous body actions such as slapping the hands against the body and stomping of the feet. As well as chanted words, a variety of cries and grunts are used. Haka may be understood as a kind of symphony in which the different parts of the body represent many instruments. The hands, arms, legs, feet, voice, eyes, tongue and the body as a whole combine to express courage, annoyance, joy or other feelings relevant to the purpose of the occasion. If the peruperu was not performed in total unison, this was regarded as a bad omen for the battle.

Although the dance is commonly associated with warrior origins, according to Kāretu (1993), the haka has been “erroneously defined by generations of uninformed as ‘war dances’, the true ‘war dances’ are the whakatü waewae, the tütü ngärahu and the peruperu.”

The tūtū ngārahu also involves jumping, but from side to side, while in the whakatū waewae no jumping occurs. Another kind of haka performed without weapons is the ngeri, the purpose of which was to motivate the warriors psychologically. The movements are very free, and each performer is expected to be expressive of their feelings. Manawa wera haka were generally associated with funerals or other occasions involving death. Like the ngeri they were performed without weapons, and there was little or no choreographed movement.

War dance, New Zealand by Joseph Jenner Merrett, circa 1845. From the collections of the Australian National Library.
War dance, New Zealand by Joseph Jenner Merrett, circa 1845. From the collections of the Australian National Library.

The earliest Europeans to witness the haka were invariably struck by its vigor and ferocity. Joseph Banks, who accompanied James Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769, later recorded,

The War Song and dance consists of Various contortions of the limbs during which the tongue is frequently thrust out incredibly far and the orbits of the eyes enlargd so much that a circle of white is distinctly seen round the Iris: in short nothing is omittd which can render a human shape frightful and deformd, which I suppose they think terrible.

From their arrival in the early 19th century, Christian missionaries strove unsuccessfully to eradicate the haka, along with other forms of Māori culture that they saw as conflicting with Christian beliefs and practice. Henry Williams, the leader of the Church Missionary Society mission in New Zealand, aimed to replace the haka and traditional Māori chants (waiata) with hymns. Missionaries also encouraged European harmonic singing as part of the process of conversion.

The use of the haka in welcoming ceremonies for members of British royal family helped to improve its standing among Europeans. Prince Alfred Ernest Albert, the Duke of Edinburgh, was the first royal to visit New Zealand, in 1869. Upon the Duke’s arrival at the wharf in Wellington, he was greeted by a vigorous haka. The Wellington Independent reported, “The excitement of the Maoris becomes uncontrollable. They gesticulate, they dance, they throw their weapons wildly in the air, while they yell like fiends let loose. But all this fierce yelling is of the most friendly character. They are bidding the Duke welcome.”

Young Maori girl in traditional dress dancing a poi. Photo taken on December 1, 2007.
Young Maori girl in traditional dress dancing a poi. Photo taken on December 1, 2007.

In modern times, various haka have been composed to be performed by women and even children. Haka are performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals. The 1888–1889 New Zealand Native football team began a tradition by performing the haka during an international tour. The common use of haka by the All Blacks rugby union team (since 1905) and the New Zealand national rugby league team has made one type of haka familiar.

The most well-known haka is “Ka Mate”, attributed to Te Rauparaha, war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe. The “Ka Mate” haka is classified as a haka taparahi — a ceremonial haka. “Ka Mate” is about the cunning ruse Te Rauparaha used to outwit his enemies, and may be interpreted as “a celebration of the triumph of life over death”.

According to Māori mythology, the sun god, Tama-nui-te-rā, had two wives, the Summer Maid, Hine-raumati, and the Winter Maid, Hine-takurua. Haka originated in the coming of Hine-raumati, whose presence on still, hot days was revealed in a quivering appearance in the air. This was the haka of Tāne-rore, the son of Hine-raumati and Tama-nui-te-rā.

A profile head and shoulders portrait of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, wearing a cloak, a pohoi ear ornament (made from albatross feathers), and a feather in his hair. He has full moko (facial tattoo), circa 1840s. From the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library in custody of the National Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
A profile head and shoulders portrait of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, wearing a cloak, a pohoi ear ornament (made from albatross feathers), and a feather in his hair. He has full moko (facial tattoo), circa 1840s. From the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library in custody of the National Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
The All Blacks at the climax of their haka before the 1932 test against Australia at the exhibition ground, Brisbane.
The All Blacks at the climax of their haka before the 1932 test against Australia at the exhibition ground, Brisbane.
All Black perform the haka
All Black perform the haka “Ka Mate” led by Richie McCaw before a match against France on November 18, 2006. The All Blacks won the match 23-11.

The All Blacks are believed to have first performed the “Ka Mate” haka in 1906. It is said that this haka was composed by Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa to commemorate his escape from death during an incident in 1810. Chased by his enemies, he hid in a food-storage pit under the skirt of a woman. He climbed out to find someone standing over him, who, instead of killing Te Rauparaha, turned out to be another chief friendly to him. In relief, Te Rauparaha performed this ancient haka, which had been performed all through Aotearoa for centuries. The story of Te Rauparaha was merely woven into several older stories about this haka.

The “Ka Mate” haka generally opens with a set of five preparatory instructions shouted by the leader, before the whole team joins in:

Leader:  Taringa whakarongo! /Ears open!
Kia rite! Kia rite! Kia mau! Get ready…! Line up…! Stand fast!
Team:  Hī! / Yeah!
Leader:  Ringa ringa pakia! / Slap the hands against the thighs!
Waewae takahia kia kino nei hoki! / Stomp the feet as hard as you can!
Team:  Kia kino nei hoki! / As hard as we can!
Leader:  Ka mate, ka mate / You die! You die!
Team:  Ka ora’ Ka ora’ / We live! We live!
Leader:  Ka mate, ka mate / You die! You die!
Team:  Ka ora’ Ka ora’ / We live! We live!

All:  Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru / Here stands the Hairy Man…
Nāna ne I tiki mai whakawhiti te rā / …who can bring back the Sun so it will shine on us again!
A Upane! Ka Upane! / Rise now! Rise now!
A Upane Kaupane” / Take the first step!
Whiti te rā,! / Let the sunshine in!
Hī! / Rise!

When performed by men,[5] the haka features protruding of the tongue. Photo taken by Steve Evans on January 10, 2011.
When performed by men,[5] the haka features protruding of the tongue. Photo taken by Steve Evans on January 10, 2011.

The work of a kapa haka consists of the performance of a suite of songs and dances spanning several types of Māori music and dance, strung together into a coherent whole. Music and dance types that normally appear are waiata tira (warm-up song), whakaeke (entrance song), waiata-ā-ringa (action song), haka (challenge), pou or mōteatea (old-style singing), poi (coordinated swinging of balls attached to cords), and whakawātea (closing song). They may also include tītī tōrea (synchronized manipulation of thin sticks). In a full performance, which can last up to 40 minutes, each music or dance type may appear more than once.

Music for kapa haka is primarily vocal. All song types, with the notable exceptions of mōteatea and haka, are structured around European-style harmony, frequently with guitar accompaniment and acoustics. Spurts of haka-style declamation are woven into the songs, as are dance movements, facial expressions and other bodily and aural signals unique to Māori. Song poetry is completely in Māori and new material is continually being composed.

Group of Maori men and women performing a haka in Ruatoki during the visit of Lord Ranfurly and party, photographed in March 1904 by Malcolm Ross.
Group of Maori men and women performing a haka in Ruatoki during the visit of Lord Ranfurly and party. Photographed at Bay of Plenty in March 1904 by Malcolm Ross.

The sole musical instruments used in kapa haka performances are the guitar, the pūtatara conch shell, the sounds of poi and rākau and body percussion, especially the stamping of feet.

Kapa haka are mixed groups of anywhere between several and dozens of people, dressed in neo-traditional Māori dress. These groups comprise individuals linked in some way, be it by extended family group, iwi (tribe), school, or some other association. Performers are largely synchronized, but with men sometimes doing some actions while women do others. A few performers have particular roles, such as the kaitataki (male and female leaders), often moving among the performers to urge them on. Composers, arrangers, choreographers and costume designers also play major roles.

Every two years, kapa haka from all parts of New Zealand compete in Te Matatini, New Zealand’s national Māori performing arts competition for adult groups. Another important competition takes place yearly at the ASB Bank Auckland Secondary Schools Māori and Pacific Islands Cultural Festival, commonly known as Polyfest, where the level of performance is also very high.

19th-century illustration of a haka, published in The Ancient History of the Maori, 6 Volumes, plus 1 volume of illustrations (Government Printer: Wellington), 1887-1891.
19th-century illustration of a haka, published in The Ancient History of the Maori, 6 Volumes, plus 1 volume of illustrations (Government Printer: Wellington), 1887-1891.

In the lead up to the Rugby World Cup in 2011, flashmob haka became a popular way of expressing support for the All Blacks. Some Māori leaders thought it was “inappropriate” and a “bastardization” of the traditional war cry, despite its popularity. Sizeable flashmob haka were performed in Wellington and Auckland, as well as London, which has a large New Zealander immigrant community.

On August 28, 2012, the New Zealand Herald posted a story of video footage which went viral worldwide of soldiers from the 2nd and 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment performing a haka for fallen comrades who were recently killed in action in Afghanistan.

In November 2012, a Māori kapa haka group from Rotorua performed a version of the “Gangnam Style” dance mixed with a traditional haka in Seoul, celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between South Korea and New Zealand.

Māori Battalion survivors of action in Greece, performing a haka in Helwan, Egypt for the King of Greece. From left to right, the four men in the foreground are John Manuel, Maaka White, Te Kooti Reihana, and Rangi Henderson. Photo taken by unidentified New Zealand official photographer around June 24, 1941. From the collections of the Imperial War Museum and National Library of New Zealand.
Māori Battalion survivors of action in Greece, performing a haka in Helwan, Egypt for the King of Greece. From left to right, the four men in the foreground are John Manuel, Maaka White, Te Kooti Reihana, and Rangi Henderson. Photo taken by unidentified New Zealand official photographer around June 24, 1941. From the collections of the Imperial War Museum and National Library of New Zealand.

On July 20, 2015, Dawson Tamatea, a teacher at Palmerston North Boys’ High in Palmerston North died. Hundreds of his students performed a haka at his funeral. In the first month, the posted video had over 6,000,000 views.

The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team adopted the haka as a pregame ritual during the 2006 season. Originally, Tala Esera, who played high school football at Kahuku High School, introduced the haka to the team, and during the 2006 season, star quarterback Colt Brennan led the team in performing the haka. The team’s 2007 campaign, which saw Brennan emerge as a Heisman Trophy finalist and lead the team to an undefeated regular season, as well as a berth in the Bowl Championship Series despite the Warriors not playing in a BCS conference, drew American attention to the haka. The Warriors are just one of numerous American football teams to perform the haka as a pregame ritual.

In 2016, on the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, New Zealand firefighters honored the victims with a haka.

New Zealand - Scott #997-1002 (1990) first day cover
New Zealand – Scott #997-1002 (1990) first day cover

On August 24, 1990, New Zealand Post released their sixth issue in the Heritage series of stamps commemorating New Zealand’s 150th anniversary (Scott #997-1002).  The six-stamp set honors the Tangata Whenua — the original people of the land. Many hundreds of years ago, ancestors of the Māori are believed to have sailed from the west to settle in the Pacific Islands of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. A few hundred years later, their descendants settled the Marquesas and Cook Islands in what is now known as Hawaiki, or the homeland of the New Zealand Māori. It was from here, around 800AD, that the first canoes ventured to Aotearoa. As well as introducing the dog, the rat and edible plants to this land, these settlers also brought with them their Polynesian cultural heritage which has developed over time to become the Māori culture as we know it today.

The 40-cent stamp portrays Ranginui raua ko Papatuanuku, the legend of Rangi and Papa (Scott #997) with Kahu – huruhuru,  a Māori feather cloak on the 50-cent denomination (Scott #998), the waiata — a chant-like song — on the 60-cent stamp (Scott #999), a moko tattoo on the 80-cent (Scott #1000), the carved bow piece of a Maori war canoe or Tau ihu (Scott #1001), and the haka on the $1.50 highest value (Scott #1002). The set was designed by K. Hall of Christchurch and printed by Leigh-Mardon in Australia by the lithography process. There were 100 stamps per sheet on unwatermarked red phosphor-coated paper, perforated 14 x 14½.

Flag of New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand
Rangatiratanga flag of the Maori sovereignty movement - recognized as the national Maori flag of NZ by NZ Cabinet in 2009
Rangatiratanga flag of the Maori sovereignty movement, recognized as the national Maori flag of NZ by NZ Cabinet in 2009.
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