Internationally, Haka is most frequently seen when the All Blacks take to the rugby field, and it is sometimes perceived only as a ‘war dance’. But the Christchurch terrorist attack has shown the world the haka performed in a different way: to grieve, to show love and support, to show resilience.
Associate Professor Te Kahautu Maxwell is an expert in Haka, as an academic but also an exponent and performer of the art. He explains the bigger meaning, and why New Zealanders are using Haka to defeat terror.
Haka is performed in many contexts, and at many of the most significant times in people’s lives.
The haka can be seen performed at tangi (funerals) on marae (Māori meeting grounds) and other spaces where the dead are mourned and remembered. It is an integral part of the Māori mourning process, that allows participants to vent their anger that a loved one has passed. It is also a sign of aroha (love, concern, empathy), and it can also be performed to show compassion to the bereaved, widowed and orphaned.
It is part of the funeral grieving process that allows participants to show their emotion. Haka is predominantly performed by men, for whom showing emotion has sometimes been seen as weakness. So Haka is a vehicle for men in particular to express love and emotion.
Our people here in Aotearoa, not just Māori but all New Zealanders, Kiwis, expatriates are using haka as a platform to express their support for the families of those killed in the terror attack, as well as our anguish, our shock and disgust at the atrocity.
It is true that the Haka can be performed as a war dance, and in this context it is because someone has invaded our space. My ancestors would also perform Haka when someone was murdered or killed without reason. In Christchurch someone has waged war on our innocence, on New Zealand itself.
Haka enables us as Māori to show manāki - which means to help, assist, enable ourselves and others. To maintain the mana or prestige of individuals or groups of people. This terrorist has transgressed this principal, which we maintain and hold sacred. This terrorist has not only attacked our Muslim community, he has committed an atrocity against us all.
Haka is the cloak that enables Māori and Aotearoa to show emotion, respect, and lift up the spirits of the Muslim community who have lost loved ones.
Haka is also a dance of resilience. We are telling the world we will remain steadfast to protect the safety of how we live and not allow the terrorists to raise their heads again.