The Haka, New Zealand’s fearsome dance of war

The Haka, the Maori war dance, is synonymous with the culture of New Zealand. It is generally the first thing that comes to mind when people think of New Zealand’s famous rugby team the All Blacks. Their powerful and awe-inspiring pre-match ritual is admired and known by millions of people around the world.

The Haka has even captivated Hollywood celebrities and members of the royal family. For his Game of Thrones and DC Comic fans, Jason Momoa paid homage to the Maori culture during the premiere of his blockbuster movie Aquaman, sending chills down peoples’ spine with his own take on it.

Prince Harry became the first British royal to perform the Haka back in 2015, and during his recent visit to New Zealand with Meghan Markle the military returned the favour with a rousing Haka.

What exactly is the Haka? Why is this war dance so deeply embedded in Kiwi culture?

The origin of the Haka

The story behind the creation of the Haka goes back deep into the roots of Maori culture, and is based around the tradition of story-telling.

It is said to have originated from the Sun God Tama-nui-to-ra. Legend has it that he had two wives – Hine-takurua, the Winter Maid, and Hine-raumati, the Summer Maid.

Hine-raumati and Tama-nui-to-ra had a son, Tane-rore who created a Haka for his mother. According to legend, the quivering appearance of the air on hot summer days is said to be a sign that Tana-rore is dancing for his mother. This light, rapid movement eventually became what is recognised as the foundation of the Haka we know today.

Beyond the legend of Tane-rore, Maori have used the Haka on the battlefield. European settlers were met with the Haka to signify their readiness for battle, invoking fear and respect. Decades later, the legendary 28th Maori Battalion performed the Haka before fighting German troops. The Battalion has since been recognised by both Allied and German forces as being a formidable group of soldiers and was the most decorated New Zealand unit during the Second World War.

More than a war dance

At the core of the Haka and Maori culture is the word mana, which means respect. A Haka is a demonstration of respect – respect for who the Haka is being performed for, even if they are an opponent.

The importance of respect is perhaps a contributing factor to where you may see a performance of it today, which is generally part of a warm Kiwi welcome or a sign of love and happiness. Recently a video of a Haka performed at a Maori wedding went viral with over 33 million views.

It is also performed to mark solidarity in times of adversity, and in the days and weeks after the Christchurch attacks it was performed by many groups that came from New Zealand to mark their respect for those affected.

Experience New Zealand’s spirit

The Haka is a symbol of New Zealand’s collective and unified identity. With its reputation for hospitality, the country is renowned for its ability to accept and welcome all races and cultures, which is often referred to as Manaakitanga. This comes across in the hospitality that you experience from New Zealanders, truly making this unique country feel like it is a home away from home.

There are many opportunities for visitors to New Zealand to experience the haka, including:

Te Puia, Rotorua – At Rotorua, the birthplace of Māori cultural tourism, Te Puia Māori Arts and Crafts Centre invites guests to experience Māori culture and customs. The centre puts on an excellent hangi and showcases traditional performances.

Auckland Museum – The Museum’s performance is recognised as being one of the best in New Zealand and culminates with a spine-tingling version of the world-famous Haka.