The Maori native culture has always captivated me because of its vibrancy. The indigenous Maori of New Zealand descended from the first inhabitants who arrived sometime between 1250 and 1300 CE and were of eastern Polynesian origin. More specifically “classic” Maori artifacts began to appear during the 15th century when a more martial, tribal culture developed.
These later Maoris had strict guidelines for loyalty and unity, which if threatened, were met with abrupt and intense retribution. This protective mode was based upon “Mana” (power and prestige), “Tapu” (sacred religious protection), and “Utu” (reciprocity or balanced exchange). Interfering with any dimension of these three was taken as an insult, threat, or attack, as was also, of course, any physical aggression.
One aspect of Maori culture that stands out for me is the Ta Moto or face carving and tattooing. The rituals are strictly Maori and became so well known that later Maori factions sold or traded preserved and carved Maori heads to Europeans. The fearsome look of the tattooed Maoris in battle was ominous in deed. Those who went into battle using facial contortions and body theatrics, including beating on body parts, if not also accompanied by tattooing, simulated this fierce look. This latter display became known as the haka.
The combatants or competitors were intense and wild. While many conflicts occurred in Maori history—e.g., Maori vs. Maori—the aftermath of battle was also often brutal with practices of cannibalism and other atrocities. This militant history (without the savagery) has carried forward into modern times with the perpetuation of the haka.
The haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. Haka is a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. Actions include violent foot-stamping, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping to accompany a loud chant. The words of a haka often poetically describe ancestors and events in the tribe’s history. http://www.newzealand.com/us/feature/haka
It is an intense physically rigorous display of a “no fear” attitude before battle or more often today in athletic competition. It symbolizes a tribute to the power of family and their ancestral spirit. The haka is also used as a greeting, recognition of accomplishment or achievement, special occasions, and funerals all with the ancestral power aspect in tact.
The Maoris use the haka today in athletic competition such as rugby and Ki-o-rahi (a traditional Maori ball sport with rugby qualities using an odd-shaped woven ball). The Maori people have an abundant collection of other athletic pastimes, including water sports, warfare simulation games, and dexterity contests.
Now, this brings me to a movie I saw about a typical modern day American adolescent who has some family problems, gets into trouble with the law, and finds his identity and success through playing rugby, while learning the haka as a team spirit war cry. The movie is “Forever Strong” (Produced 2008 by Go Films and Picture Rock Entertainment).
The image of seeing the haka performed by this rugby team in this movie is still playing in my head. It is captivating to say the least, especially connected to the sport of rugby. Rugby and its necessity for toughness have won my allegiance. It is a physical sport and the haka matches its ferocity! The lessons of life covered in the movie’s Special Features about the coach of this team, and within the story itself, moved me. They conjured up memories of my athletic and coaching careers. The leadership, mentorship, and improvement skills (rather than perfectionist or “positive thinking” agendas) taught through this true story are well worth viewing and sharing.
Watch this exciting video of modern day haka: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewz__XYclnw
SAI encourages everyone to see this art form called a movie. We encourage you to click on the references to understand the Maori culture—its art and sport, as well as the haka—and borrow freely from the lessons. The artistic and athletic experience is worth it.