History of the Haka

Is there any greater sight in sport than to watch the 22 or so men put up a challenge as powerful as the haka to the opposition? You know the feeling, absolute quietness descends the household when these men begin their war cry and you just feel the hairs on your head stand up! Well we thought it might be a good idea to learn a little more about this awesome tradition. So strap in…here is the history of the haka!


The origins of the haka are deeply rooted in the mists of time. It is a history rich in folklore and legend that reflects Maori heritage. New Zealand has grown up immersed in haka since first encounters between Maori and early European explorers, missionaries and settlers.

While recent tradition suggests the haka was the domain of men exclusively, legends and history reflects a different story. Indeed, the story of the most famous haka, Ka mate!, proves to be about the power of female sexuality.

According to legend, the haka was derived from the sun of god Ra. He had two wives: Hine-raumati, who was the essence of summer, and Hine-takurua, the essence of winter.

Ra and Hine-raumati lay together and gave birth to a son called Tanerore. On hot summer days it is possible to see the light dancing. Legend has it that this is Hine-raumati’s son, Tanerore, performing for his mother and the wiriwiri or trembling shimmer is today reflected in the trembling of the haka performer’s hands.

Maori myths and legends are peppered with stories about the haka.

War Dance

The first hakas were created and performed by different Maori tribes as a war dance. It is an ancestral war cry. It was performed on the battlefields for two reasons. Firstly, it was done to scare their opponents; the warriors would use aggressive facial expressions such as bulging eyes and poking of their tongues. They would grunt and cry in an intimidating way, while beating and waving their weapons. The second reason they did this was for their own morale; they believed that they were calling upon the god of war to help them win the battle. They were heavily choreographed and performed in time. It gave them courage and strength. This type of haka is called a peruperu haka.

haka war

Overtime, the haka evolved and it came to be used for more than just battles. It became a way for communities to come together and it was a symbol for community and strength. This type of haka is called a ngeri haka. Unlike the peruperu, the ngeri does not use weapons. Their purpose is different; they are performed to simply move the performs and viewers physcologically, rather than to cause fear. This different goal is reflected in the way that they are performed. Their movements are more free, giving each participant the freedom to express themselves in their own movements. Both males and females can perform a haka; there are special ones that have been created just for women.

In New Zealand, you will find that the haka is performed for a lot of different reasons. Nationally, it is used at important events; an example of this is rugby games where it is performed at the start of each match. It is also performed for personal reasons too. It is performed at weddings, funerals, local events and more. It is also performed for special guests as a sign of respect. It is not exclusive to Maori; anyone is welcome to perform a haka.

Ka Mate Haka

The Ka Mate haka is the best known of all haka dance. This is due to the fact that the New Zealand Rugby team (All Blacks) incorporated it into their pre-game ritual since 1888. This is not a war dance like Peruperu is. First of all they do not have weapons, secondly, Ka Mate is more of a spiritual cry rather than a war cry. It helps build self confidence and raise the spirit of those performing it.

Ka Mate was composed by a chief named Te Rauparaha in the 1820s. Te Rauparaha is the High Chief of the Ngati Toa and was in charge of lands from Porirua right up to the Kapiti Coast to Levin as well as Kapiti Island.

Once when pursued by his enemies, Te Rauparaha came to Te Wharerangi and asked for his protection. The latter hid him in a kumara pit with his wife sitting over the entrance. According to custom, this was considered strange. Firstly, no male would ever place himself in a position beneath the genitals of a woman. Secondly, the female organs were believed to have a shielding effect. Of course, in times of danger Te Rauparaha was willing to forego custom in order to survive.

“Ka Mate! Ka Mate!” (I die! I die!), he muttered when his pursuers arrived. Te Wharerangi indicated that Te Rauparaha had gone to Rangipo and he whispered “Ka Ora! Ka Ora!” (I live! I live!). When the pursuers doubted the words of Te Wharerangi, he gloomily muttered “Ka Mate! Ka Mate!” once again. When Te Wharerangi continued to convince the pursuers, he exclaimed “Ka ora! Ka ora! Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru nana nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra!” (I live! I live! For this is the hairy man who has fetched the sun and caused it to shine again!). The hairy man in the Haka refers to the chief Te Wharerangi who gave Te Rauparaha protection. And Te Wharerangi was a man of very noticeable hairy habit.

haka 2

Here is the lyrics to Ka Mate and a video of the performance:

Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuru huru
Nana nei i tiki mai
Whakawhiti te ra
A upa … ne! ka upa … ne!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra!

I die! I die! I live! I live!
I die! I die! I live! I live!
This is the hairy man
Who fetched the Sun
And caused it to shine again
One upward step! Another upward step!
An upward step, another … the Sun shines!

A New Haka?

In 2005 the All Blacks performed for the first time Kapa o Pango. This haka was added to reflect the emerging multi-culturalism of New Zealand. According to many of the All Blacks players, it was felt that they had to ask themselves what the haka really meant to them, and could they justify performing a haka if they did not connect with it. In 2005, against South Africa in the Tri-nations, Tana Umaga led the first Kapa o Pango haka here and just look at the face of Brian Habana..he looks like he wants to run straight out of the stadium! It is no surprise I guess when you see Piri Weepu’s throat slit gesture!

Here are the lyrics and performance

kia whakata hoki au i ahau
hi aue, hi
ko aotearoa e ngunguru nei
au! au! aue ha!
ko Kapa O e ngunguru nei
au! au! aue ha!
i ahaha
ka tu te ihiihi
ka tu te wanawana
ki runga i te rangi e tu iho nei, tu iho nei
ponga ra!
Kapa O Pango!
ponga ra!
Kapa O Pango!
aue hi! 
Let me go back to my first gasp of breath
Let my life force return to the earth
It is New Zealand that thunders now
And it is my time!
It is my moment!
The passion ignites!
This defines us as the All Blacks
And it is my time!
It is my moment!
The anticipation explodes!
Feel the power
Our dominance rises
Our supremacy emerges
To be placed on high
Silver fern!
All Blacks!
Silver fern!
All Blacks!
aue hi! 

Personal Favourites

To finish off this blog I just wanted to add in 2 personal favourites of mine. The internet is full of videos of the haka but I just want to leave you with these two:

1. The Welsh accepted the challenge from the All Blacks so much that the referee had to separate the teams

2. Who could forget this haka? The Munster boys leading the Red Army into battle against the All Blacks on one of the most historical nights in Irish and world rugby. Just a pity they didn’t get the win in the end

For more on everything historical..keep it here!


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