The haka: From war dance to rugby legend


The All Blacks’ haka is intended to make the Kiwis’ opponents tremble in fear, and teams facing the black menace in the Rugby World Cup this year will need to know their story to avoid at least a small not being intimidated a bit by this war dance.

The All Blacks’ fullback Beauden Barrett says the haka is an important part of his preparation for every game. “It’s about how we as team members come together and unite, how we prepare for the battle.”

The haka is older than rugby itself and initially aimed to prepare Maori warriors for battles. Its two versions, Ka Mate and Kapa O Pango, are now performed by the All Blacks before every game. The latter first saw the light of day in 2005 and was created especially for the All Blacks’ use.

However, Ka Mate was used in 1820 – three years before rugby was played for the first time – by a war chief of the Ngati Toa iwi tribe just outside Wellington. This was after warriors from this tribe managed to escape from a rival tribe’s warriors.

“For New Zealanders it serves as a sign of deep respect and is about maintaining the prestige of an event,” Taku Parai, an elder from the Ngati Toa iwi Maori tribe told AFP.

The All Blacks originally only did the shout when they played overseas, and former players say it was just a power show, with not all the players knowing the words or executing the movements correctly. It was not until 1987, under the guidance of then-captain Wayne “Buck” Shelford, that it was performed with due diligence and the correct and coordinated hand gestures before every game. In the same year, the All Blacks won the very first World Cup rugby tournament.

Also Shelford says he is very proud of what the haka is today. “As Kiwis, it’s part of our culture and people respect it.”