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Haka - Essential or Unnecessary

By Martin Devlin

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If there are two words in rugby, bound to inflame immediate argument, it’s those two. Whenever the All Blacks tour the UK it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable objection to our traditional pre-game challenge is raised. Those in favour of this unique tradition versus those equally keen to restrict its performance, the naysayers convinced it gives our team a very tangible and unfair (motivational) advantage.


It may surprise our Northern Hemisphere friends to know that this same issue is also frequently & hotly debated here in New Zealand. From personal experience (working talkback radio for 20 years) it’s a topic that completely polarises people with opposing opinions unlikely to ever find any agreeable middle ground. It seems there’s as many Kiwis eager to remove Ka Mate as the AB haka as there is those keen to retain it.

Which perhaps partly explains why the original KM (a haka borrowed from one particular tribe) was joined a decade ago by Kapa o Pango – a new initiative designed (so we were told) to more completely represent the whole of NZ and thus every person ever wearing the jersey.

Now most of all that is true. Of equal importance though were the unresolved and rather tricky issues around the copyright and commercial ownership of Ka Mate. Meaning NZR didn’t own that haka (and could’ve potentially faced paying a century’s worth of royalties) whereas Kapa o Pango, commissioned especially for the All Blacks, is theirs to trademark alongside the team name, silver fern and that iconic black jersey.

This past fortnight has seen even more haka on display here with newly-created versions, specific to the Lions tour, performed by Super Rugby sides the Blues & Crusaders. (Highlanders opting for a ceremonial sword swap with Chiefs & Hurricanes yet to reveal).

Without wanting to offend anyone involved, the Crusaders haka last weekend left me cold. Not the physical actions or words themselves but more its placement, necessity and appropriateness (or not) for the fixture itself.

Let’s not forget we’re dealing with a rugby match between a touring team and commercially created professional franchise. Meaning the tradition and history, so vital a link between KM and the ABs, was glaringly and obviously lacking.


For me it was too style-ised, too music video looking and (dare I say) too contrived. I immediately envisaged some stereotypical ad-guy, way too over-enthusiastic in his gesticulations, spouting inane claptrap about “individually tailored entertainment packages” while espousing “unique haka” as the buzzword part of some over-thought “marketing strategy”. Yuk.

In fact the antithesis of everything I’ve ever been taught and believed that (any) haka is about. But what would I know? This after all being nothing other than my irrelevant opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no wish to offend anyone who did like that haka nor the creators of it who have every right to do with their intellectual property whatever they wish.

Personally I felt it was like watching rugby’s version of the plastic tiki – as unappealing as was equally unnecessary.


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Haka - Essential or Unnecessary