It's 2015 And Things Are Weird With The Haka

Any knowledge of Maori culture or any sort of research into various hakas performed at funerals or special occasions (like after Manaia Cherrington's NRL debut), tells you just how sacred the haka is. There is simply no sight that gives you(/me) goosebumps like watching a haka done how it is supposed to be done, knowing that the haka is so much more than a pre-game ritual to get you psyched for a sporting contest.

When watching a haka - I haven't done one and nor do I want to do one if it isn't it the true spirit of what is was designed for -  I can't help but feel immense pride in our little country that we call Aotearoa. The haka, like Te Reo and other Maori (for lack of a better term) things, are important to me as a European kiwi because it reinforces for me that Maori culture is alive and well, even though it might be suppressed to some extent by 'the white man'. 

I guess there is some guilt within me for what Europeans have done to Maori and other indigenous cultures around the world. Watching the haka relieves some of that guilt and appreciating the haka to me means that I am appreciating everything that it stands for - ancestors, land, Maori gods or whatever it may be. Appreciating the haka and what it stands for makes me, as a white man, feel more comfortable in my identity as a New Zealander.

Unfortunately, the haka has received headlines for comical reasons. The English poked fun at it and now in the video above, the Arizona Wildcats busted a haka out before a game. There is certainly a part of me that is disgusted by the way the haka has been over-used, but who is to blame?

While the English were poking fun at the haka, Jonah Lomu - as the face of Mastercard for the Rugby World Cup - performed a random haka in the streets of London. Lomu is the man, no one can ever really say a bad word about Jonah Lomu, but this was nothing more than commercial exploitation of the haka. 

Is commercial exploitation of the haka worse than Americans doing their own rendition of the haka?

Aotearoa, as a country, has benefited greatly from the haka's role in the identity of our country. It doesn't matter whether you view Aotearoa from a Maori or a European perspective, Maori culture has been a crucial part of Aotearoa's tourism industry and the haka is perhaps the most easily recognized aspect of Maori culture to a foreigner/tourist. 

While we all cringe at Arizona's attempt at the haka, or Byron Kelleher naming a bar after the haka, we have all played some sort of role whether minor or major in the increased profile of the haka. Over time, the haka has been used to sell Aotearoa as a destination and we now sit in position where you mention 'New Zealand' to someone from another country and there's a high chance that they will talk to you about the haka - yet they haven't actually watched the All Blacks play a full game of rugby.

Watching that video of the Arizona Wildcats attempting a haka is probably the most cringeworthy thing you will see today. The guy leading the haka is Lene Maiava is American Samoan, which only raises the cringeworthy-ness of it all because there's no connection to Aotearoa at all and perhaps Mr Maiava would have been better off doing the Siva Tau (or the American Samoa equivalent).

But the fact that this group of young men did the haka is thanks largely to us as kiwis. We have raised the profile of the haka to such a point where people around the world want to experience what it's all about, even if they do it all completely wrong.

Is it shit that people around the world want to experience what it might be like to be a fierce Maori warrior way back in the day? 

Is it shit that people around the world want to experience a feeling that usually only kiwis can truly grasp?

I think it is kinda shit, but I can't go all in on that because at the end of the day we can only really blame ourselves. And I'm not even sure if 'blame' is the right word because the haka is a significant aspect of Maori culture and I would argue that the presence and popularity of the haka keeps the spirit and relevance of Maori culture alive and well.

As the title suggests - in 2015 things are very weird with the haka. Not only with non-Maori/kiwis doing the haka or poking fun at it, but also with our own people blatantly exploiting the haka for financial gain. This is why I can't really get mad at other people for their cringe-worthy haka antics, because kiwis have been benefiting off of the haka for ages.

Things are weird, which make any sort of conclusion hard to conjure up. I do however think that we now have levels to the haka with 'Ka Mate' being on one level and other hakas which are reserved for more important (?) occasions on another level. The world can flatter us with their Ka Mate imitations and we as kiwis can keep enjoying the financial and social benefits that Ka Mate offers in terms of tourism and identity, but hakas like the ones below are what the haka is all about. 

As a European kiwi, these examples epitomise my love and appreciation of the haka. To me this level of haka is sacred and if the the world or kiwis try to exploit/imitate this level of haka, then things would be beyond weird. Until then, it's all just a little weird.