My First Haka

I was ignorant till last week of the haka, the Maori dance. Often known as a war dance since its popularization by New Zealand rugby team, it apparently has lots of other ceremonial uses as well.

Here are two elite schools in New Zealand bringing their best haka to their annual match. Remarkable to see the student bodies themselves doing it, mixed with the beanie cap aesthetics of the English public school system. Weirder than a Philippine prison yard doing the “Thriller” dance.

I can imagine it having its desired effect, especially if a team sprung it on you without warning. I did a search of it to see how controversial it is in the whole authenticity-versus-appropriation discussion, and its Maori critics seem focussed on the specific circumstances when they feel it’s inappropriate; over all it’s rather widely adapted as a New Zealander thing. Becoming the leader of a prominent haka seems to be a coveted position – an honor almost always reserved for a young man of Maori descent.

Tokenism? I have nothing to say on the matter, living in a place where most of the indigenous people are long dead, their closest descendants far away.

One of the scariest parts of it is the hyper-precise timing, something militaries around the world do to intimidate. If they’re capable of this type of precision and coordination, what else could they do to us?

Compare it to this wedding haka at what looks like a mixed wedding. Rhythmic and full of that part of feeling that’s bordering on mania: too much juice; bat shit crazy.

Knowing nothing about it, it sure seems like it’s not just to scare people, but to use the occasion of a life milestone to open up the hood of the car of “civilization” and its institutions – school, adulthood, marriage, the family, the nation, the passage of time itself – to look at the motor, and show off what’s inside: raw emotion and the threat of violence, but also loyalty. (Pardon the automotive analogy. I am still really just a guy from New Jersey.)

And about that Philippine prison…there was a time when it wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t get to see The Grinch Who Stole Christmas on TV. Now it just ain’t Halloween without the scariest, most  beautiful “Thriller” video:



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