Slap the hands against the thighs! Puff out the chest! Bend the knees! Let the hip follow! Stamp the feet as hard as you can! It is death! It is death! It is life! It is life! This is the hairy person Who caused the sun to shine! Keep abreast! Keep abreast! The rank! Hold fast! Into the sun that shines!
What the…? If you were to walk down the road (with a group of people) and shout this at passing strangers, you’d get some weird looks, fainting grannies, vomiting babies and maybe the odd punch. But then of course you wouldn’t. And even if you would, you wouldn’t be saying that. You’d be hollering this out:
Ringa pakia Uma tiraha! Turi whatia! Hope whai ake! Waewae takahia kia kino! Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! Ka Ora! Tenei te ta ngata puhuru huru! Nana nei i tiki mai! Whakawhiti te ra! A upane ka upane! A upane kaupane whiti te ra! Hi!!
Nice friendly hello at the end there. See, the haka doesn’t really translate. And that’s fine because it’s a Maori tradition, not meant to translate at all (they didn’t have Google Translate back then).
And that’s my point. It’s a Maori tradition. Traditions should have no function to intimidate in an arena where getting the mental edge is key.
Think about it. The All Blacks are a legendary brand, not just team. When preparing to face the All Blacks, seasoned internationals put that branding out of their mind, realise the players aren’t demigods, just individuals they need to beat. But then throw in the Haka. This pumps the All Blacks up while the opposition have to face up to some serious aggression; doubts can come crawling in – pure intimidation. Not only that, it is a challenge the All Blacks lay down, a challenge the other team cannot even respond to. Brian O’Driscoll consulted some Maoris on the 2005 Lions Tour to New Zealand to ascertain how best to respond to it. Apparently he got it wrong! Wales, more controversially stood up to the Haka in 2009. Watch the video to see the reaction:
The All Blacks were disgusted, apparently Wales hadn’t shown respect.
The All Blacks get to have their cake and eat it. On one hand it’s a challenge and it gets them pumped for the match while the opposition have to grin and bear it. Then when the opposition try to lay down a challenge of their own by standing up to the challenge they suddenly become horrible monsters disrespecting an ancient tradition!
And that’s what it is, an ancient tradition. This is a modern game. Remember, the Haka is a war dance; Maoris would dance this to warn their enemy and try to intimidate them to the point of surrender. This intimidation has no place, somebody get rid of it.