A Challenge

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First off, watch this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUFsL6o8y5s

That is the All Blacks (New Zealand’s national rugby team) performing a haka.  In this case, the haka is essentially a war challenge – you don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of these (New Zealand won this match 23-13).  The All Blacks have performed a haka before every game they’ve played since 1888…they’re ranked as the number 1 team on earth by the International Rugby Board, having only been beaten by five countries in the team’s history.  Perhaps it’s all because they intimidate the dickens out of their opponents each and every game!

However, hakas aren’t all threatening and war-entangled.  The word ‘haka’ in Maori simply means ‘dance.’  There are hakas for just about any occasion, be it a wedding, home-warming, funeral, acknowledging achievements, or simply for amusement, complete with varying scripts of words with the accompanying dances.  The haka is distinctly Maori, and thus, uniquely New Zealand.

With that in mind, one of our neighbors, a native New Zealander, Ed thought that all of the international students in the complex should learn one.  It seems that you can’t properly experience New Zealand without having learned a haka.  He had one of his Maori friends, Tristan, drop by and teach us one – the ‘Ka Mate.’  This is the same one that the All Blacks do, and probably the most famous (and one of the easiest!).  It goes like this:

Ka mate, ka mate!  Ka ora! Ka ora!

(I may die! I may die!  I may live!  I may live!)

Ka mate, ka mate!  Ka ora! Ka ora!

(I may die! I may die!  I may live!  I may live!)

Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru

(This is the hairy man)

Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā

(Who brought the sun and caused it to shine)

Ā, upane! ka upane!

(A step upward, another step upward!)

Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!

(A step upward, another step upward, the sun shines!)

It took some doing, but we eventually had all of the words (more or less) down, and began incorporating the motions.  Now as we’ve established already, not all hakas premeditate war, battle, combat, gore, etc.  One thing about this particular haka: it does.  Many of the motions involve you smacking yourself.  This isn’t simply to make a noise – it is actually to harm yourself so that you get your adrenaline pumping.  Seeing as we weren’t about to head out into battle, we toned it down quite a bit, but after about an hour of pounding on your chest, legs, and forearms, you get a bit sore.  Regardless, it all came together.

Check out some members of the Queen Street Complex (including yours truly) performing a haka:

As you will see, there were a few ladies in the mix.  Some hakas are gender specific, and some are mixed.  Our instructor Tristan said that there is a good deal of conflict and debate revolving around which is which.  He didn’t seem to care much, and was happy to teach whoever was willing to learn.

Take care,

~Jake

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