This could be a little difficult, but I feel compelled.
Not having grown up in New Zealand, I've always been wary about commenting on any aspect of the haka. I'm not even sure the phrase ‘the haka' is legitimate, because there are many, used for different reasons, from laying down the challenge ahead of a sporting contest to acknowledging notable achievements.
But what constitutes a truly effective haka? I'm not about to try to prescribe a strict set of guidelines. Where I'm really going is picking up the thread that I've seen running through a few columns over the last decade: that the haka is an overused form of acknowledgement.
Don't get me wrong, it's an incredibly powerful and moving ritual, in the right context. In other words, the haka shouldn't simply be getting wheeled out at the drop of a hat.
At 1st XV rugby games, it's virtually standard for the assembled body of male students to perform one, and I'm told schools come up with their own versions. Practised extensively, they look brilliant when performed properly. Volume and intensity add to the special qualities the haka as a ritual possesses.
But you wouldn't want every Tom, Dick and Harry and a few of their mates breaking into spontaneous haka on the touchline at arbitrary points during the game. The united haka, performed to show the respect of the assembled school body for their team, is what you want to see.
Where this is all coming from is the footage of the truly spine-tingling haka performed by hundreds of members of 2/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry, at Burnham military camp on Saturday. The occasion was the funeral service for Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris, killed six days earlier in Afghanistan.
The fact that the Youtube link has been tweeted by such luminaries as CNN's Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper means millions will have seen it now, and for me it encapsulates, perfectly, what I have come to regard as the key element of a haka - respect. In the three-minute NZDF video, it's a quality that is tangible in the emotionally charged, almost abandoned, participation of the soldiers. Compelling viewing.
And it doesn't need hundreds of people to convey that. One of the most moving haka I've witnessed was done by two Maori teenagers for a teacher after a school production a couple of years ago. Respect was there in spades, and there was barely a dry eye in the house.
- © Fairfax NZ News