Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

You are here:

Navigate in: Māori | English

The evolution of haka from traditional to contemporary

Te Keepa Stirling shares how soldiers used haka in battle. He compares traditional expressions of haka with haka performed for contemporary occasions.


When I spoke to my older brother about it, he was in the Twenty… the world war, he went off to fight. He told us that haka they used to do were haka taught at the time in the desert, these were the haka. Some came from the times they were on patrol. While they were on patrol on occasion, they would be out for four hours, then they would perform the haka of that time, a military haka relating to Tūmatauenga, the God of War. When they heard a whistle without any apparent ending, with nothing landing on the earth, they knew what that meant. At that time, the enemy had mortar shells. With mortar bombardment, all personnel in the vicinity would be killed. The call came to “Fall on Papatūānuku (the ground).” That was the call, you had to drop and lie flat on the ground, because if you didn’t , when that shell hit, it would explode. That was one of the aspects, therefore their haka was a haka from those frightening times, about the whistling shells – alas, alas, be careful, be careful. These are the stories about their time in their desert as they told me. I felt very deep concern for them hearing this. Their haka was a safeguarding haka, a warning haka to protect them in the army. That was the strategy of our ancestors at the time, to hold firm, to be mindful of danger. When they stood to perform the kinds of haka without weapons and haka with weapons to hand, all those haka were to strengthen the body. Why is that? When the enemy came, the body of army would know how it should perform. These days, on the stage, the difference these days is that it’s just decorative.. That is good, but we should go back to the ways of our ancestors of old. “My friends, the haka is a haka of war parties.” But the difference these days, the old spirit and the intention to terrify the enemy has gone. We now take up the cudgels on political issues in the haka, but we are only fighting the government with words, about injustices. But if we really wished to perform the haka correctly, the spirit in the haka would be as it used to be.