Discover The Haka: A Traditional Ancestral War Cry, Dance Or Challenge

Haka is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance, or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. War haka were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition.

“Ha” means Breath and “Ka” means Fire, together it means “Fiery Words” or to put fear in the heart of the enemy. Haka are best described as challenges. They are used to make a point and to vent anger. They are performed by both men and women, with the focus on the men in the front and support from the women behind.  They are vocal performances involving rhythmic declamation and aggressive or challenging facial expressions (pūkana, literally “glaring”), body movements and demeanor. The men make heavy use of foot stamping, body percussion, and grimace in an attempt to appear as menacing as possible. Haka are often described as traditional war dances but in fact had many other uses, they are performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

So, what do they say? “Make the earth tremble as hard as you can. As hard as we can. No, I’m alive, life is mine! I will be defeated, I will die! No, I take back my life, Life is mine! I am born of distinguished people who’s legacy shines on me like the sun. Keep abreast! Keep abreast! In your ranks! Hold fast! Into the shining sun!”

Kapa Haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means 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. Kapa Haka 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.

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 synchronisation of action, timing, posture, footwork and sound.

While this performance is getting famous around the internet, there are a lot more others out there. 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.

The New Zealand sports teams’ practice of performing a Haka before their international matches has made Haka more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888–89 New Zealand Native Football Team Tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand Rugby Team since 1905.

Kapa Haka performance groups are very common in schools and there are festivals for young people to gather, celebrate and compete. This is the winning whakaeke at the National Secondary Schools Kapa Haka Competition 2010. It’s long time ago but we like it.

The most famous competition takes place yearly at the ASB Bank Auckland Secondary Schools Māori and Pacific Islands Cultural Festival, commonly known as Polyfest. They say that winning isn’t the most important part but being able to feel the Māori environment and spirit. This is a festival where nearly 90,000 spectators turned out in 2015.

Let’s take a look at it: a bit too much glam, but with good insights of the history and culture.

“Man will dissapear but the land will always be here. We are only guardians of the land.”

Māori culture forms a distinctive part of New Zealand culture (14% of the population). There have been three distinct but overlapping cultural eras—before widespread European contact, the 1800’s in which Māori began interacting with European visitors and settlers, and the modern era since the beginning of the 20th century. The present culture of the Maori has been strongly influenced by western European culture but remnants of the old culture have been retained and revived, though often in a modified modern form. Maori speak fluent English but the New Zealand government has established government funding, organizations and schooling systems to encourage the learning and usage of the Maori language. As a result, there is now more awareness of their culture by young Maori.

We hope you enjoyed this article! Let us know your thoughts, share it, like it.

Finally, here’s a workshop video for you, so you can now practice at home! 🙂




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