That’s New Zealand’s “All Black” rugby team doing the “Ka Mate Ka Mate” Haka.  Haka is a Maori term which traditionally was a general term referring to any sort of native dance.  Purposes range from a variety of ceremonies such as funerals, to entertainment, to an organized expression of hatred for another tribe, to war mongering.

  In traditional Maori culture women performed both supporting and lead roles in Haka.  In fact the old legend Tinirau and Kae involves only women and tells a tale of the first Maori tribe.  Tinirau loaned his pet whale to a neighboring chief, Kae, to ferry him home.  Instead of sending the whale back to Tinirau, Kae killed and ate it. 

  Tinirau then gathered his best female dancers and sent them to Kae’s village.  They did not know what he looked like, but were told that there was a gap in his teeth.  They performed with such skill that Kae laughed, was thus recognized, and a spell cast upon him.  There is a moving rendition of this Haka in the wonderful movie “Whale Rider”.

  Today, the term brings to mind in most a vigorous performance by men – often with apparent bellicosity.  Western awareness of Haka most frequently relates to the All Blacks.  New Zealand’s national team has long been at or near the top of world rugby.  In fact, the national consciousness troughs with a championship loss much like Brazil does with soccer.

  All Black was originally a derogatory epithet applied to the team’s first European tour in 1905 because it included several dark skinned Maoris.  They thereafter played with vigor and adopted the black uniforms they sport to this day.

  The team performs a Haka before each game to “adrenalize” and is most frequently the “Ka Mate Ka Mate” Haka as above.  This Haka is of the legend of warrior chief Te Rauparaha.  A series of skirmishes leaves him hidden, crouching in a pit alone, protected from opponents spell casting by neutralizing effects emanating by his wife sitting above.

  Empowered, he appears and does the “Ka Mate Ka Mate” moves which are associated with the following words: 

Aha ha!  I die, I die
I live, I live
I die, I die
I live I live!
For this is the hairy man
who has fetched the sun
and caused it to shine again!
One last step up
Then step forth
Into the sun
The sun that shines! 

  Would adrenalize me.  And have the opposite effect if I watched perform it in preparation for kick off. 

  Interesting cultural side note.  The name of a prominent regional team is “The Crusaders”.  Games begin not with Haka, but with knights on horseback.  Imagine if a US football team adopted that name?  It’d be all over Al Jazeerah in a heartbeat. 

  While now on the subject of cultural insularity I’m reminded of a TV schedule insert I saw recently in a French magazine.  Through the course of a week were notices for a series called Les Peoples du Soleil about the ancient indigenous peoples of Latin America.  Problem was that there was a photo of a Mayan pyramid with the note about the Inca segment and one of Machu Pichu alongside the bit about the Maya.

  I’ll bet that they have enough history to study in Europe that those decimated by their emissaries (Cortez Pizarro et al) get short shrift.  Most American kids would notice the mistake, let alone a succession of proofreaders.  Is it a stretch to infer there from anything about the attitude of the European majority towards minorities?

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