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All Blacks offer spectacle even before matches

Reuters file photo

Then captain Richie McCaw, center, and other All Blacks members perform a haka before a match on Aug. 15, 2015.

By Kakuya Ishida / Japan News Staff Writer Students wearing serious looks on their faces stamped their feet, brandished their arms and shouted in Maori.

It was a haka, a traditional dance of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people. The haka was performed at a high school in Christchurch on March 20 when the students welcomed New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to a ceremony to mourn two students of the school who were among the 51 victims in the mosque shootings in the city that month, according to reports by foreign media organizations.

A number of groups have performed hakas in the country in memory of the victims since the attacks on two mosques took place.

Many people may associate the haka with the famous New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. Their tongue-flicking and eye-rolling performance near the 10-meter line in their own half before test matches to heighten their morale and intimidate opponents is a sight to behold.

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  • AP file photo

    Students perform a haka for the arrival of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (not seen) for a ceremony at a high school in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 20 to mourn two students who were among the victims in mosque shootings earlier that month.

There are two types of haka that the All Blacks perform — Ka Mate and Kapa o Pango.

The former, which starts with the lyric “Ka mate, Ka mate, Ka ora, Ka ora” (I die, I die, I live, I live), tells the story of the celebration of the survival of a tribal group chief who was being pursued by enemies. The latter is to reconfirm the existence of the All Blacks and express their determination before a showdown as “Kapa” means “team,” and “Pango” means “black,” hence Kapa o Pango is the All Blacks. Kapa o Pango was newly composed for exclusive use of the All Blacks in 2005.

As to which haka the All Blacks perform, Kapa o Pango is regarded in many cases as the haka to use for a must-win match. The selection from the two versions apparently indicates how the All Blacks rate an opponent. Japan has faced New Zealand several times, including two matches in past World Cups. Every time, the haka performed was Ka Mate, not Kapa o Pango.

The haka is basically a war dance, but the warlike hakas performed by the All Blacks are just one type of haka. Hakas are performed at all kinds of ceremonial occasions in New Zealand, such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and funerals for people of high standing. Each region, tribe, organization and sports team has its own version of the haka.

Back in 1905 during an All Blacks tour of Britain and Ireland, the team began doing the Ka Mate haka mainly for must-win matches. At the time, Maori members of the team led the haka and the non-Maori players watched and followed the leader’s example. Therefore, the performance looked unsynchronized.

But it was around the 1980s, before the first Rugby World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, that the All Blacks began performing the haka almost in perfect synchrony to showcase New Zealand’s rugby to the world. Before then, the haka had seldom been performed by the All Blacks even in New Zealand.

It is widely accepted that the All Blacks’ haka is a traditional custom before an international match and ignoring it is considered to show a lack of respect for New Zealand. In most cases, the opposing team stands on its 10-meter line with the players’ arms around each others’ shoulders to watch the performance.

There has been criticism of this “privilege” given to the All Blacks. The question remains as to why such a performance is allowed for New Zealand. Some critics say the haka gives the All Blacks an advantage, as if they already lead by a try before the match actually begins.

While opposing teams seem to take the haka performance in stride, some resort to subtle and not-so-subtle tactics to counter the All Blacks. In some cases, several players of the opposing team approach and get up close to the All Blacks during the performance and square off with them near the halfway line.

Australian players do not readily take off their warm-up suits nor take the field after the haka until the referee urges them to do so. In addition, their supporters in the stands sing loudly in unison “Waltzing Matilda,” a famous popular song in Australia, to delay the All Blacks players, who are still in high spirits, from taking the field and starting the match.

As for England fans, they boo while the All Blacks are performing the haka to drown out the shouts of the haka leader and sing their supporters’ song, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” based on the gospel melody.

South African supporters disturb the haka by also booing and singing their supporters’ song, “Shosholoza,” which was a work song for black people.

The current All Blacks haka has the players in the form of an arrowhead with the captain at the top. But not everyone can serve as the haka leader, who shouts to lead the performance. Only those of Maori descent are eligible to be the leader.

With all the media exposure Ka Mate had been getting, and criticism that it was being misappropriated or inappropriately used by other entities, a lawsuit was filed by the Maori tribal group that originally performed the haka. The group sued to stop the commercial exploitation of the haka under intellectual property rights.

In 2014, New Zealand enacted the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act, in which Ka Mate was recognized as an integral part of the culture of the tribal group. When Ka Mate is used for commercial purposes or for other such events, it is necessary to obtain permission from the group. Exceptions apply for performances used for educational and noncommercial purposes. The New Zealand Rugby Union has reached an agreement with the Maori tribal group to allow the All Blacks the right to perform Ka Mate.

In an interview with a foreign media organization in 2015, New Zealand’s then Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell said that the haka was part of their culture and identity, and using it for profit is not what the haka was intended for and “it should be treated respectfully.”

Examples cited of exploiting the haka included a soft drink TV commercial in Japan in 2010 in which famous Japanese singer Namie Amuro, who retired from the entertainment industry in 2018, danced with other dancers, including “haka boys” in black jerseys that evoked the image of the All Blacks.

Meanwhile, among the 20 teams in the 2019 World Cup, New Zealand is not the only one that performs a haka.

Three Pacific island nations — Fiji, Samoa and Tonga — also perform their version of the haka before an international match. It is called Cibi for Fiji, Siva Tau for Samoa and Sipi Tau for Tonga.

Depending on the matchups among these four countries, a “war cry battle” might occur before the start of a match in this World Cup. It will be interesting to see which side will start its haka first and how players on both sides will face off amid loud shouts and choreographed moves in such a battle.Speech

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