What is Haka?

You might be wondering, what is a Haka?  The indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, the Maori, are responsible for the creation of these dances.  Haka is no more than a generic term for all Maori dance.  In fact, the most common misconception of haka is that it is only a war dance.  This is not the case at all.  Haka are very expressive dances in which the dancers convey with their fullest ability whatever message they wish to communicate whether it is a challenge, a welcome, a demonstration of delight and euphoria, defiance, or a number of many other things.  Most haka are performed only by men, some only by women, others by mixed groups, and some basic haka are even performed by children.  This form of dance is most easily understood if viewed as a composition that is played by many instruments.  Hands, feet, arms, body, legs, voice, tongue and eyes all play their own parts in the merging together of the dance itself to exhibit the overall purpose and reason for the dance.  Henare Teowai, a well-known master in the art of performing haka, was asked on his deathbed, “What is the key art in performing haka?”  The old, esteemed man replied simply, “Kia korero te katoa o te tinana”, which translates to mean the whole body should speak.  Haka are performed either uniformly, in which every member of the group does the same things at the same times, or independently, in which individuals are in total control of what they wish to do, giving them more creative and expressive freedom.  When performing a haka, participants use every part of their bodies to dance.  They may beat fists against their chests, smack flexed arms or legs, or stomp the ground ferociously.  Most times people inflate their cheeks with air while breathing, stick their tongues out in various ways, and open their eyes so that the audience can see as much of the whites of their eyes as possible.  In addition to all these things, those performing a haka also use a vast assortment of groans and grunts during the dance.