A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

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Haka spreads from rugby to American football

The haka is conquering the world of battle-like sports it seems. Rugby teams from New Zealand and other pacific islands have performed war dances like the haka for a long time already. But now football teams from Hawaii and even Texas have also adopted the haka.

The first example is of Kahuku High School’s Red Raiders (Hawaii). The second example is from the University of Hawaii Warriors. It appears the small state of Hawaii is becoming strong in American football. Perhaps because of their adoption of the haka? The third example are Trinity College Trojans. An estimated 4,000 people of Tongan descent live in Trinity’s hometown of Euless, a small city near Dallas, Texas. The Tongan students were also inspired by the traditional All Blacks’ haka (Ka Mate), and got permission to also do it. The fourth example is by the Brigham Young Univeristy (BYU) Cougars, again in Hawaii.

An interesting observation is that it appears to matter a lot whether the players directly face the opposition during the haka (as is customary) or perform in front of the audience. Regarding the UH Warriors’ haka two incidents were reported with opposition players ‘being offended’ by the haka when they were looked straight in the eye. I think the correct interpretation is that they were challenged (not insulted) by the haka, that is why they do it originally. Now, if you watch the fifth movie closely you can see the UH Warriors turning during their haka to keep facing their Purdue opponents as they are fleeing elsewhere.

Other Hawaiian high shools are also reported to perform the haka. And I think I found several on YouTube, which are added to the playlist. The last one is from the Ko’olauloa Pewees (?) and is touching rather than intimidating, as I guess the boys are about 10 years old. I think the haka is in football to stay, and I can’t wait to see where it will go next.

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17 Comments

  1. Aj

    The Haka is not meant to be an intimidating War Ritual. It is a ritual in which the Maori (and other Island countries like Samoa and Tonga) people ask their ancestors and Maori people to give them strength and courage during arduous times. However, the tradition behind the Haka is overlooked by American teams when they adopt it as part of their ‘pre-game festivities’. Ka Mate and Kapo O Pango (both adopted by Trinity Trojans) are used by the New Zealand Rugby team. As tradition goes, the ritual is exclusively Maori, with Maori words, Maori symbology and, rightly so, the Haka is led by somebody of Maori decent unless no players in the squad fulfill this criteria.

    By having American teams adopt the Haka, many New Zealanders have been offended by their lack of ‘respect’ for their heritage. I doubt very much that the players realise what they are asking for with a Haka and see it as an intimidation technique. The Haka is not there as an intimidation technique. Look at how the New Zealand squad reacted to the Welsh Rugby team’s request that they do the Haka and then play the Welsh national anthem. New Zealand refused to do it as it was disrepectful to their heritage and so they performed the Haka in the changing room, with no less passion than if it were infront of other teams and fans. Until Americans know the real reason behind a Haka, can respect what they mean and dont do it ‘to look cool’. If it’s not in your heritage, leave it alone.

  2. thanx for the sharing, Interesting article.. keep it up that way mate 🙂

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  3. Nice article, I think there’s always going to be conflict between rugby & American football. Essentially they are two completely different games.

  4. Nice article, thanks !

  5. First off Trinity did not receive permission to perform either Haka…Kapa O pango was developed for the All Blacks alone they own the copy rights
    Furthermore the Ngati Toa Tribe were just recently acknowledged by the NZ government as the rightful owners of the Ka mate haka….their mission is to protect it from being commercially ripped off and inappropriately used by outsiders

  6. Me

    I really disagree with this, the NFL has turned the Haka into a circus event.
    AJ is right, I don’t think the Americans truely understand the meaning behind the Haka and I think this is really shown in the second clip, when they perform Kapa O Pango – which mokopuna has pointed out, was written specifically for the All Blacks with references to the Silver Fern. I understand that Kapa O Pango was written for THIS reason, to prevent other teams from using it, as what had happened to Ka Mate being somewhat commericalised.

  7. Does the Haka actually intimidate opponents or not? it would be interesting to see this in the English Premier League!

  8. Jock Buoy

    You have got to be kidding. It’s a culture, not a circus.

  9. Don’t go offending the spirits of the Maori tribal elders now! Anything could happen!

  10. Shaun

    I always thought hawaiians were polynesian. Maori’s are also polynesians. As are tongans, samoans and fijians. All the later play rugby and have their own haka, so why cant hawaiians have one for their contact sport. After all, rugby and american football stem from the same seed. I do agree though that they should not copy New Zealands. That is heritage. I’m sure there must be an eldar on the islands or an archive somewhere in Hawaii which describes how hawaiians challenged their opponents with a war dance. after all they are the same people. As for the texans…not sure about that. Perhaps they have one or two kiwis in the team like Munsters rugby team in Ireland. The differnce is only the New Zealanders do the haka, the rest of the team stand in line behind. Texans do have a thing for symetric formality, so maybe they all join in for that.

  11. Eric in Euless

    I am a 1994 graduate of Trinity in Euless Texas. Trinity Highschool no longer does the Ka mate. They now do the Sipi Tau. There are several hundred Tongans in the school…probably 500 out of 3000 students. The city of Euless has around 5000 Tongans out of 50000 residents. The football team is on average 30-50% Tongan. In 2005 they got permission from local Maori elders to do the Ka Mate because of two reasons. The first is that their uniforms are black and white. The second is that they did not want to do a “Tongan” chant because they did not want to seem to be “tooting their own horns” or “showing up” the rest of the team. The team is really very multinational/multicultural….Kenya,Virgin Islands,Navajo, White,Black,Mexico,Tonga,Phillipines,etc. are on the team. The school is famous for having something like 30 nations and 30+ languages represented in the student body. This is unique because most schools in Texas are almost all white or all black.

    In 2009 the team voted to switch to the Sipi Tau. I prefer the Ka Mate though, it is much more exciting.

    F.Y.I. the NFL has nothing to do with the Haka in American Football. BYU is in the state of Utah.

  12. Eric in Euless

    One more note….The University of Hawaii does not do the Haka. They now do a Hawaiian chant. The Haka they did, which I do not know the name of, involved dragging their thumb across from one shoulder to the other to represent drawing in of energy. It was interperted as throat slashing and too many people complained so the Hawaiians decided to do a chant that represented thei own culture.

  13. Eric in Euless

    Final note…When Trinity started doing the Ka Mate there was alot of education. Translations were posted in the newspapers. Histories of the Tongans, Maoris, and the chant itself were explained. Alot of effort was put into teaching us what the Ka Mate is and why they do it. The reason is that it is 100% foreign to this part of the world. There are no war chants in US culture. So efforts were made to educate, but you can not make people listen.

    • @Eric in Euless, tx for the info. The throat slashing gesture has often given offense. It’s the Kapa o Pango.

  14. bubba

    i remeber performing the haka at my camp cool thing im tonga

  15. bubba

    but my real name is polutele alitini

  16. Nirai

    I agree to take something as traditional as The Haka away from the Maori people is way too disrespectful. It’s clear that American’s have a way of branding things(Ex.Tomato Sauce-Ketchup) just so they can call it thier own. They need to understand that this was never a means to make sports players look big & scary. It was used long ago as a way to challenge and instill fear into the hearts of your enemies .

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