Maori people Performing Haka

Image © Spring O'Brien

I was only young when my family moved to New Zealand, and those early days are now mainly a blur of trying to fit in, learn a new language and find friends.  But one thing does still stick in my memory and will remain there forever.  And that moment has to be the first time I saw and heard the New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks, perform the Haka before a game.

New Zealand All Blacks Haka
Image from

I can still remember where I was, outside of course, when my mother appeared and said ‘Come quickly, the All Blacks are going to do the Haka’.  My thought was – “The who are going to do the what?”  She was however insisting that I came in so reluctantly I wandered inside to find my father on the edge of his seat, the television on very loud and my mother pointing to it saying ‘watch, watch’.

Well, when those players formed a semi-circle and crouched down, their ‘leader’ walking around psyching them up; the hair on the back of my neck stood up.  It still does to this day.  It’s such an amazing sight, such a truly New Zealand thing, that no matter where in the world I would find myself in the years after that, the sound of the Haka always takes me back home, it fills my heart with pride to be a kiwi and brings tears to my eyes.  I don’t generally watch the rugby match, but the Haka I try not to miss.

The All Blacks were first formed as a team in 1884 but it wasn’t until 1905-1906 that the name ‘All Blacks’ was first used to describe our national rugby team.  There is some debate whether the name came from a misprint in a newspaper or because of the ‘all black’ strip the team plays in, but regardless of that technicality, the name became a permanent fixture.  And I’m proud to say that the All Blacks have won 75% of all rugby matches they played in since 1903, but that is just me showing off!

The Haka of course dates back much further than the All Blacks, it is said to date back to 1810, when it was composed by Te Raupahara of Ngati Toa (which is a Maori Iwi or tribe).  The Haka is a traditional Maori war dance that was used to prepare a war party for battle.  The All Blacks use it for a similar cause, to unify the team, motivate them mentally and yes, to intimidate the opponent (sometimes with spectacular results).

The All Blacks performed the more traditional ‘Ka Mate, Ka Mate’ haka from 1888 until 2005, when there was some controversy over its use and the new Haka ‘Kapa O Pango’ was written especially for the All Blacks.  I have obviously seen both Hakas used, and I must say I prefer the ‘Ka Mate’ more.

The traditional Haka (‘Ka Mate’) has a leader who will shout out a set of instructions to his ‘warriors’ before they all join together.  Its translation is as follows (I never knew the translation until years ago, but knew every word in Maori):


Ringa Pakia! (Slap the hands against the thighs!)

Uma Tiraha! (Puff out the chest!)

Turi Whattia! (Bend the knees!)

Hope Whai Ake! (Let the hip follow!)

Waewae Takahia Kia Kino! (Stomp the feet as hard as you can!)

Then the Haka itself:

Ka mate, ka mate! (‘Tis death! ‘tis death)

Ka ora! Ka ora! (‘Tis life! ‘tis life!)

Ka mate, ka mate! (‘Tis death! ‘tis death)

Ka ora! Ka ora! (‘Tis life! ‘tis life!)

Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru (This is the hairy man)

Nana nei I tiki (Who brought the sun)

Mai whakawhiti te ra (And caused it to shine)

A upane! Ka upane! (A step upward, another step upward!)

A upane, ka upane (A step upward, another step upward)

Whiti t era! (The sun shines!)

Hi! (Rise)

Maori people Performing Haka
Image © Spring O’Brien

The Haka is widely accepted as a tradition regarding the All Blacks and many people enjoy seeing it.  Some think of it as an unsportsmanlike attempt to intimidate the opposing team, while this is somewhat true, it is clear that opposing teams are also motivated by it as well, seeing they are close to the Haka, generally just 10 meters away.  Some teams have been known to link arms while the All Blacks are doing the Haka and inch slowly toward them, the Irish did this famously in 1989 (I remember this one).

In 2005 it was decided that the All Blacks should use a Haka designed for them, and the resulting ‘Kapa o Pango’ was performed amidst controversy about the ‘throat slashing’ action in the final movement.  After much debate the All Blacks kept the movement but have continued to use ‘Ka Mate’ for most matches and only perform ‘Kapa o Pango’ on special occasions (along with the almost ‘banned’ action).

The translation for ‘Kapa o Pango’ seems somewhat subdued, but it mentions a few more New Zealand icon images.

Kapa o Pango (All Blacks)

kia whakawhenua au I ahau (Let me become one with the land)

Hi aue hi

Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! (This is our land that rumbles!)

Au, au, aue ha! (It’s my time! It’s my moment!)

Ko Kapa o Pango e ngunguru nei! (This defines us as the All Blacks!)

Au, au, aue ha! (It’s my time! It’s my moment!)

I ahaha!

Ka Tu te ihiihi (Our dominance)

Ka Tu te wanawang (Our supremacy will triumph)

Ki runga kit e rangi e tu iho nei

Tu iho nei, hi! (And be placed on high)

Ponga ra! (Silver Fern!)

Kapa o Pango, aue hi! (All Blacks!)

Ponga ra! (Silver Fern!)

Kapa o Pango, aue hi, ha! (All Blacks!)

But whether it’s ‘Ka Mate’ or ‘Kapa o Pango’, the Haka and the All Blacks go hand in hand in New Zealand.  It not only unifies the team prior to games, but it unifies all Kiwis and makes us, even for just that moment, part of something very special.

About the Author:

Monica Toretto is a writer, painter, photographer and blogger. She lives with her two young sons in Invercargill near Bluff. She has travelled widely in Canada and the US and worked as a veterinary technician before returning to New Zealand. Her work has appeared in several magazines in the UK and New Zealand. She has also authored a book of poetry and photography called ‘Words’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.