Hollywood hijacks haka

01:43, Jan 31 2009
WAR DANCE: A scene from the move Forever Strong

Hollywood has hijacked the haka for a big-budget film and Maori are again bemoaning their lack of authority to stop it.
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Ka Mate - already widely used by Kiwi sports teams and recognised internationally as a symbol of New Zealand culture - is now appearing in the United States rugby film Forever Strong.

The movie is yet to hit New Zealand shores but representatives of iwi Ngati Toa, the tribe whose late chief wrote the iconic war dance in the 1820s, said they were not consulted about its use. Ngati Toa extends from the Tararua Ranges to Wellington and across the Cook Strait to Nelson and Marlborough.

FOREVER STRONG: A promotional shot for the movie.

After being approached by Stuff.co.nz, iwi spokesman Taku Parai said Ngati Toa were frustrated with the lack of consultation and recognition of their role as guardians.

"Why don't they come out here and ask the right people," he said.

"All we ask is for people to inquire with us, to come and sit down with us and to dialogue."


TRAINING: Sean Astin rehearses the haka with John Kepa Kruse.

Mr Parai said they had re-applied to trademark Ka Mate - after several unsuccessful bids over the past decade - and were waiting on a hearing.

A trademark would allow Ngati Toa to stop other people using the haka, or entitle the iwi to payment for its use.

In 2000, Ngati Toa researcher Oriwa Solomon unsuccessfully applied to trademark the haka. It caused an outcry when it was revealed the tribe could demand up to $1.5 million from the All Blacks to perform it.

CONTROVERSY: The haka has previously been put to controversial uses, including as a promotion in the bakery of the year awards.

Mr Parai said there was a perception that, if people were forced to seek Ngati Toa permission, the iwi would "ask the world". This was not the case, he said.

"All we ask for is some fairness, even a koha or scholarships or something that will come back feasibly to the iwi."

The iwi would also make the haka freely available where its use would directly benefit Maori, such as for health campaigns, he said.

This is not the first time Ka Mate has been used in a controversial manner.

In 2006, Fiat used the haka to advertise its cars and, last year, the bakery of the year awards featured a mock performance by gingerbread men.

Forever Strong is based on a high school rugby team in the United States, the Highlanders, who perform the haka before big matches.

Highlanders coach Larry Gelwix said in an earlier interview that the team had great respect for the haka. He said movie executives had flown cultural advisers over from New Zealand, but Mr Parai said he had no knowledge of this.

He said the advisors should have been Ngati Toa.

"You can call any tribe in the country and they'll tell you who [this haka] belongs to."

Crane Movie Company, the representatives for Forever Strong, did not respond to enquiries from Stuff.co.nz. The movie has been widely panned by critics.