Few spectacles can match the terrifying sight of the All Blacks performing a haka before a test match. You feel a chill down your spine fifty metres away in the stands so imagine how it must feel facing it as an opponent. The intimidating thigh-slapping, eye-bulging, tongue-poking chant traditionally used is the Te Rauparaha haka, and like all such Maori posture dances it is designed to display fitness, agility and ferocity. This version was reputedly composed early in the nineteenth century by the warrior Te Rauparaha, who was hiding from his enemies in the sweet potato pit of a friendly chief. Hearing noise above and then being blinded by the sun when the pit covering was removed he thought his days were numbered, but as his eyes became accustomed to the light he saw the hairy legs of his host and was so relieved he performed the haka on the spot. It goes:

Ka Mate! Ka Mate! (It is death! It is death!)

Ka Ora! Ka Ora! (It is life! It is life!)

Tenei te ta ngata puhuru huru (This is the hairy man)

Nana nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra (Who caused the sun to shine)

A upane, ka upane! (Step upwards! Another step upward!)

A upane, ka upane! (Step upwards! Another step upward!)

Whiti te ra! (Into the sun that shines!)

Over the last decade or so, descendants of tribes once defeated by Te Rauparaha took umbrage at the widespread use of this haka at rugby matches and consequently a replacement, the Kapa o Pango (Team in Black) haka, was devised. Numerous Maori experts were consulted over what form the haka should take but controversy still surrounds the final throat-slitting gesture, which is supposed to symbolize the harnessing of vital energy. The Kapa o Pango and traditional Te Rauparaha haka are now used roughly equally, the uncertainty over what they’ll be exposed to further unsettling the All Blacks’ opponents. But whichever you manage to catch, both versions still illicit that same spine-tingling response.

For match schedules visit www.allblacks.com.

 

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