The tradition of Aotearoa



When the New Zealand All Blacks take to the Soldier Field pitch Nov. 1, they will be representing a country full of pride and admiration for its national rugby union team. Beyond that, however, they will represent a nation that was originally settled and founded by Māori.

Prior to European settlement in the Pacific Islands, tribal wars between Māori cultures were common, complete with weaponry and skilled warriors. Compared to present-day rugby, it could be said the All Blacks summon some of that warrior spirit (or wairua) with the haka.

The country credits Tane-rore, son of Sun God Tama-nui-to-ra and summer maid Hine-raumati, with the creation of the haka dance. His influence is often represented in haka by the quivering of hands.

During the days of tribal warfare, haka was used as a way to prepare warriors for battle both physically and mentally, whether it was on the field of battle or at tribes’ camps.

One of the All Blacks’ more famous hakas, Ka Mate, Ka mate, was created by a 19th century Māori warrior chief years before it was seen on a rugby pitch. Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe leader Te Rauparaha was kept hidden from an enemy tribe in a pit around the year 1820 and, upon his release when the coast was clear, performed Ka mate, Ka mate for his people.

Ka mate, Ka mate was introduced to the rest of the world during the New Zealand Native team’s tour in 1888 and 1889. It was not until the 1980s when the haka became a staple at All Blacks matches played in New Zealand at the behest of Wayne Shelford and Hika Reid, who ensured the All Blacks performed the haka with the “precision and intensity” it deserved.

In 2005, Ngati Porou tribesman Derek Lardelli created a special haka “for and about the All Blacks” – Kapa O Pongo. Kapa O Pango has been used sparingly alongside Ka mate, Ka mate since.


The All Blacks, however, are not the only performers of the haka. Rugby union teams from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and other Pacific Island nations offer their own cultural challenges prior to matches.

Even during the Eagles’ match against Tonga in Carson, Calif., in 2013, the “cultural challenge” was present in the run of show at Stubhub Center. Tonga performed its Sipi Tau, during which the Eagles stood at midfield, arms locked behind their backs.

They did the same later that year when the New Zealand Māori All Blacks visited the States. The Māori All Blacks performed their own haka at PPL Park, to which the fans in attendance responded with chants of “USA.” Māori All Blacks captain Tim Bateman was later asked about the crowd’s response.


Responses to the haka have been mixed since the All Blacks began displaying it on tours around the world. Most teams, much like the Eagles, will face the challenge alongside each other at midfield. Others, like France’s 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup team, have been disciplined for their responses.

In the 2011 World Cup Final, the 22 French players on the pitch during Kapa O Pango began walking towards the All Blacks and eventually crossed the midfield line. According to then-captain Theirry Dusautoir, the team was so close to the haka they “wanted to kiss the New Zealanders.” The IRB fined the French Rugby Union £2,500 for breaching a “cultural ritual protocol.”

Teams like France and the U.S. do not have a cultural challenge with which they can respond to the haka, whereas the Pacific Island nations of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, etc., can reply with their own. Traditionally, the responsive cultural challenge begins before the end of the first.


Some say the haka gives the All Blacks a “distinct advantage” while simultaneously intimidating the opponent, who, for most teams, cannot respond in kind. Both teams prepare for a match but it is the team offering the challenge that is able to give itself a last-minute arousal boost. The New Zealand Herald, however, published a story at the end of June 2014 with research to discredit the advantage theory:

In the 31 tests played under head coach Steve Hansen, the All Blacks have conceded the first points in 17. In seven of those, they conceded the first points within five minutes and in another seven, conceded within the first 10 minutes.
In four of their last six tests, they have conceded the opening score and each time it has come within the first five minutes.

The article also discusses the functions of the brain and how it relates to preparing for a match. All Blacks Mental Skills Coach Gilbert Enoka told New Zealand Herald of the brain’s three parts: instinct, thinking, and emotion. Once an individual or, in this case, an All Black is put under pressure, the thinking portion of the brain becomes less involved, leading to potential miscues on the pitch.

Despite opponents scoring early and the possible negative side effects of the haka, the All Blacks have managed 21 wins and one draw in their past 22 matches since their last loss against England at Twickenham Stadium in December 2012. Dating back to their first match of the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup against Tonga, the All Blacks have won 40 of 43 with just one loss.


While the haka is usually considered a type of battle cry, or challenge, it is also widely used for ceremonial occasions and in additional contexts. Hamilton Boys’ High School in New Zealand offers other examples of when the haka can be performed, including the haka of support and haka of welcome. Members of New Zealand’s armed forces have also been known to perform the haka.

A recent point of contention revolves around New Zealand’s other national teams performing the haka. In early September, the Tall Blacks – New Zealand’s national basketball team – performed the haka before their matches at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Turkey, to the surprise of Team USA.

During their haka at the first two games of the Tall Blacks’ World Cup campaign, opposing teams ignored the challenge and returned to their team bench.

In 2006, haka done by New Zealand teams at the Commonwealth Games were met with criticism from fellow competing teams. The rugby sevens team did five after winning gold and the swim relay team performed a haka after winning bronze. With two medals at the halfway point of the Games, many said the New Zealand representatives in Melbourne were “overdoing it.”


The haka has been and continues to be used in a variety of ways, from a preparation technique for a physical activity to a welcome ceremony for honoured guests. For New Zealanders, the haka reflects a sense of pride and tradition, while others may see it as intimidating and nothing more. Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: when the All Blacks step on the grass at Soldier Field Nov. 1, they will be met with a challenge of their own.

For more information on the haka, visit the New Zealand Embassy’s “Haka” exhibition at The Field Museum just outside Soldier Field in Chicago between Oct. 29 and Dec. 1. The exhibit is included with admission to The Field Museum, which will offer a $5 discount with a USAvAllBlacks ticket stub. Click here for more information on the exhibit.

Ka mate, Ka mate

ā ka mate, ka mate
ka ora, ka ora
ka mate, ka mate
ka ora, ka ora
tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
ā hupane
ā kaupane
ā hupane, kaupane
whiti te rā


It is death! It is death!
It is life! It is life!
It is death! It is death!
It is life! It is life!
This is the man above me
Who enabled me to live
As I climb up
Step by step
Towards sunlight

Kapa O Pango

kia whakata
hoki au i ahau
hi aue, hi
ko aotearoa
e ngunguru nei
au! au! aue ha!
ko Kapa O Pango
e ngunguru nei
au! au! aue ha!
i ahaha
ka tu te wanawana
ki runga i te rangi
e tu iho nei,
tu iho nei
pongo ra!
Kapa O Pango!
ponga ra!
Kapa O Pango!
aue hi!


Let me go back to my first gasp of breath
Let my life force return to the earth
It is New Zealand that thunders now
And it is my time!
It is my moment!
The passion ignites!
This defines us as the All Blacks
And it is my time!
It is my moment!
The anticipation explodes!
Feel the power
Our dominance rises
Our supremacy emerges
To be placed on high
Silver fern!
All Blacks
Silver fern!
All Blacks!
aue hi!