Haka: The Dance of Tāne Rore

Matau Flanagan

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Maori Battalion performing a Haka, Egypt. National Library of New Zealand.

“Tāne Rore is the son of the Sun god, Tama Nui Te Rā, and Hine Raumati, goddess of summer.

The rising of the heat waves, the trembling air as seen on a hot day, and the shimmering of Tama Nui Te Rā reflecting from Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) is the dance of Tāne Rore, the deity of Haka.

“Mai i ngā atua, heke iho ki a tātou tīpuna.”

From the gods, to our ancestors.

“Stories from my ancestors” retells a history of the first people to perform the Haka; a story about a group of wāhine toa (female leaders) and two chiefs, Tinirau and Kae.

A group of women led by Hineteiwaiwa, wife of Tinirau, embarked on a journey to capture Kae. They did not know what he looked like, but knew of his sharp teeth. Therefore, in order to capture him they had to find a way for Kae to show his teeth. The dance of Tāne Rōre was used by Hineteiwaiwa and her group to entertain the village of Kae, so that he may be entertained and bare his teeth.

Since the first Haka was performed, it has been adopted and adapted over time by many tribes throughout Aotearoa. It’s a major part our country and history because of how much it has grown over the years, and how it enables us to express ourselves when words are not enough.

Over the years, Haka was made popular by the All Blacks, through their first performance of the Haka “Ka Mate” in 1888, to the recently composed “Kapa o Pango”. Since then it has become a global phenomenon because of its uniqueness.

Haka received international recognition from sporting events. Photo by Mark Weakley

Growing up in Aotearoa meant that in most homes, watching the All Blacks play a match against overseas competition was a cultural norm for us. Before every game there would be a Haka performed by the All Blacks, and the Haka “Ka Mate” is one of their most iconic throughout the years.

Behind every Haka is a history that dates back to our ancestors. The most well-known origin story in relation to the composition of “Ka Mate” is of Te Rauparaha and the kumara pit.

Te Rauparaha was a chief of the tribe known as Ngāti Toa, and while people celebrate what he achieved for his iwi, there were tribes that suffered and lost a lot of their own people from the blood that was spilt. In particular, the battle between Ngāti Toa and the local iwi of Canterbury, Ngāi Tahu.

Because of the loss of so many Ngāi Tahu chiefs and tribe members as a result of their battle with Ngāti Toa, the Haka “Ka Mate” brings forth memories of the past that Ngāi Tahu descendants may never forget. Therefore, the Haka “Ka Mate” should not be performed in Canterbury as it disrespects the mana of Ngāi Tahu and his descendants.

Understanding what and where a Haka comes from is important, because it may cause offense to an iwi you perform it to.

There are two definitions of the Haka. The first comes from the name itself, Hā and Kā.

Hā – ‘The breath of life’ that we share between each other is represented in the words and different noises made throughout Haka.

Kā – Being to ignite, and the energy that is shown through the actions, the facial expressions we use, and also the “wiri” which represents Tāne Rore.

The second comes from He Pātaka Kupu: Haka is expressing an individual or groups’ thought on a topic through hand movements, the widening of the eyes, the extension of the tongue, and the stomping of the feet, to embody the words that are spoken.

However, there is a third meaning that comes from an outsider point of view. To many, the term “war dance” is the best way to describe what the Haka is in two words, because of how it is performed.

The Haka has been used in the past by war parties to intimidate, to scare away opponents, and also to challenge one another.

While Haka can be called a “war dance”, this term narrows down this tāonga to something that is less than what it really is.

Haka is a celebration of culture and of people.

It is expressing oneself in a way where actions and facial expressions give deeper meaning to the words that are spoken.

Haka is a tāonga unique to Aotearoa and its people.

It is a tāonga that I hope will remain for Aotearoa’s future generations.