A haka is a generic term for a Maori dance often characterized by vigorous movement of the entire body, stamping of the feet and grimacing often accompanied by cries, grunts and chants.

These are the pictures you might have seen of Maoris in fierce body stances with intense countenances, their eyes bulging and rolled back so that the whites above their eyes are seen and their lips pouting with their tongues sticking out.

Traditionally there were two major types of haka among the Maori people, those performed without weapons and expressing various sentiments including welcoming, and war hakas in which weapons are usually carried and an attempt is made to challenge and intimidate the enemy while bolstering up one’s own energy.

One of the first descriptions of a haka was given by Lieutenant John Gore in 1769 when Lieutenant James Cook on the Endeavor landed in New Zealand.

About an hundred of the Natives all Arm’d came down on the opposite side of the Salt River, drew themselves up in lines. Then with a Regular Jump from Left to Right and the Reverse, They brandish’d Their Weapons, distort’d their Mouths, Lolling out their Tongues, and Turn’d up the Whites of their Eyes Accompanied with a strong hoarse song. Calculated in my opinion to Chear Each Other and Intimidate their Enemies, and may be call’d perhaps with propriety A Dancing War Song.

Today hakas are still performed by Maori at their social and cultural functions and for official New Zealand events. They can be seen by visitors if allowed to visit a marae (Maori meeting place).

During both world wars, Maori warriors fought in their own contingents alongside the Allied forces. A famous photo captures the 28th (Maori) Battalion soldiers performing a haka in Cairo during the Second World War.



But today the haka is most often seen performed by the All Blacks, New Zealand’s world famous rugby team, before their matches. This tradition has been going on for over one hundred years. A haka called “Ka Mate!” which is based on the chronicle of a Maori chief, Te Rauparaha, escaping from his pursuers has traditionally been done.

Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!

’Tis death! ‘tis death! ’Tis life! ‘tis life!
’Tis death! ‘tis death! ’Tis life! ‘tis life!
This is the hairy man
Who brought the sun and caused it to shine
A step upward, another step upward!
A step upward, another… the Sun shines!

More recently another haka, “Kapo o Pango”, composed expressly for the All Blacks sometimes replaces it.

Some have criticized that this use of the haka with rugby has cheapened its meaning and the haka has lost its significance. In any case, its presentation by the All Black players has become an integral part of both New Zealand rugby and culture.


All Blacks haka

Not to be outdone, other Pacific Island (Samoa, Fiji, Tonga) rugby teams have their own traditional dances that they often perform before the match. Sometimes the battle of the hakas as it might be called gets quite intense as the opposing teams perform and taunt their opponents literally in their faces.

Things can start to get out of hand. Here is a photo of the Australia Dreamtime Team (all of aborigine descent) playing the NZ Maori team in 2008. Aborigines with spears and boomerangs taunt the opposing Maori players.Aboriginal_war_dance_meets_Maori_haka_2008_RLWC

Maybe the NFL should consider having opposing hakas before their games. The Washington Redskins could do a war dance while the Minnesota Vikings pretended to be storming ashore from a Viking ship? The Chicago Bears could snort and stamp around before the bird-like gesticulations of the Baltimore Ravens?

There are a number of videos online of hakas being performed. Here is one of the All Blacks rugby team performing the haka before the start of the match. These are big boys and one can’t help but feel a bit intimidated having to face them.


1) traditional haka
foulkmaori.wikispaces.com2000 × 1312Search by image

2) ‪Māori Battalion – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
en.wikipedia.org3040 × 2999Search by image
‪Maori men kneeling, performing the haka

3) dreamtime photo

commons.wikimedia.org3210 × 1452Search by image


One thought on “Haka

  1. Be had me check out these duds on iTunes ….so I saw four or five videos …one, the All Blacks were performing before the Maori King….and the were all dressed in black SUITS, white shirts and ties…and they were still intimidating !!!! Very cool tradition !!!

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