Thursday, August 7, 2008

When is it too much haka?

The last commonwealth games were not massively successful by past standards for New Zealand, considering we only pulled in 32 medals in total, compared to the previous 30 or so years. But it was still an awesome achievement for our athletes from a small nation of 4 million, who compete on a world stage and bring back medals - bloody good show I say. Screw all the naysayers who whinge about the number of medals - I don't see any of the local sports journo's getting off their fat butts to applaud the effort, let alone running a marathon for their country. And with the Olympics on the cusp of starting, I can only smile in anticipation of our plucky teams taking on the world, and bringing home the glory. In saying that, I must admit I do have a small, ah, not a complaint but maybe a suggestion - less haka this time round eh?

The haka is a national icon for our country - nothing stirs the blood of a kiwi more than seeing the All Blacks before the next clash with the Boks, the Frogs or the Criminal Element and putting the fear of our mana into them.

Its origins lie in our Maori history, and it has always been used in conjunction with ceremony of some form. The earliest forms are attributed to formal proceedings between tribes before tribal councils were held. The most common form of haka Ka Mate! is said to have been introduced by a particularly fierce and successful Maori chief by the name of Te Rauparaha in the early nineteenth century. It is a short tale of his escape from pursuers from another tribe, and the exhilaration of his ultimate survival (see It has been used by the All Blacks since 1888, and performed before nearly every single match since 1922 - its one of the best parts of a home rugby test match.

These days however, we see it being used not only in rugby, but in every other sporting code as well. Not so much by the women's teams, which is ironic because the first haka's were apparently performed by Maori women, but its not really their scene I suppose. Although it would put the shits up the Aussies if the Silver Ferns Netball team came out onto centre court before a match and did Kapa a Pango. It turns up all over the place, and its for this reason that I wonder if its losing a bit of its uniqueness. Is it possible to have too much haka? Is it possible that it could lose its special place in our nations heart, and fail to cast a smidgen of fear in the oppositions if we do it all the time?

Case in point was the 2006 Commonwealth games in Melbourne. When you win a medal in the pool, its tradition that the medal winners, after being awarded their bits of metal on a string, wander down the ranks of their team mates and fans waving and soaking up the applause. Normally this is a reasonably quick process as it doesn't really take that long to walk, except if you are a Kiwi who has won a medal. Every single time one of our athletes made their way down the line, they had to stop and wait while the entire swim team did a haka. I know it doesn't take long, but after the 3rd or 4th time you could see the officials, other competitors and spectators beginning to roll their eyes and get a bit frustrated. Is it really necessary to haka someone who came third? And how do you think that makes the person who got the gold feel - I won but I'm being shoved aside so some yahoos can celebrate their mates bronze?

Dallas Seymour, ex sevens legend and Olympic Official for the NZ Team says otherwise. He concedes that people may have had the impression that it was trotted out for anything and everything, but he also points out that its not just a challenge or a call to the fight - its used as part of ceremony and a uniquely NZ way of welcoming people. "In Maori culture it's one of those everyday things done in a whole lot of different settings. It's one of those things that people get a real kick out of." He also said that a well timed haka can be more special that anything from the official ceremony of the Olympics or Commonwealth games. "Sarah [Ulmer] said in Athens to be acknowledged in a uniquely New Zealand way was more emotional than anything else she went through. It was the only time she cried in terms of getting the gold as well."

I guess I agree with Dallas that it is a very important part of our culture, and its not about other countries, and more about our national identity. I just wish it was used a little more judiciously, and perhaps not in the middle of other peoples ceremonies - show a little more respect and perhaps some of the haka-haters will chill out.

In saying that, most of the haka-haters I have heard from a Poms or Aussies, and really they are just jealous of not having something of their own to perform before a big game. Waltzing Matilda sung by some big fat hairy beardy weirdy or Swing Low Sweet Chariot sound slow and lame - the complete antithesis of what is required to rev you up for the big game ahead. So screw them.

Go the Kiwi's at the olympics - you'll do us proud I'm sure. And go the AB's next Saturday against the Boks in Capetown. Give them the good news boys!

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