Kalani Simpson

Claiming the rights
to tradition

THIS could be a problem.

News item: MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, May 23) » A legal row is brewing in New Zealand over the use of the Maori warrior dance, the haka, with traditional owners threatening action against any organization using it without permission.

Oh, that could definitely be a bummer for some people. Because everybody uses the haka, these days. Not just New Zealand's famous All Blacks rugby team (which does have official permission, by the way). Not just Kahuku High School's football team (which has turned it into a chicken-skin Red Raider tradition).


Apparently, strippers in Auckland do it.

On our own comics page, the Bad Cat in "Get Fuzzy" did the haka once, every word, expression, slap, step perfect in its sacred place. The Bad Cat meant business.

"Stay out of his way today," the man told the dog.

Yes, the haka has that kind of effect.

And everybody is doing it now. A 15-member traveling haka team is the star attraction in an upcoming 30-stop promotional tour through the United Kingdom this month and next, pumping the Sky Sports TV network's rugby coverage.

You could see why some might think this is getting out of hand.

FEEL FREE TO join in at home:

Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuru huru
Nana nei I tiki mai
Whakawhiti te ra
A upa ne! Ka upa ne!
A upa ne, ka upa ne whiti te ra! Hi!

If you know some Hawaiian words you can have an idea of the gist of it: dying, then living. A powerful kanaka who brings the sun and it shines again. An upward step, together, up the ladder. The sun shines!

There were many hakas, of course, but this is the most famous, the "Ka Mate" one, the Kahuku one, the All Blacks one.

It seems to accompany most every New Zealand ceremony, and not quite everyone in the world gets it, yet, but that is coming. Turkish officials had allegedly banned its performance at the recent 90th anniversary of the World War I battle of Gallipoli. They didn't think it appropriate.

Stung, New Zealand took the haka to the people, giving a live demonstration on a popular Turkish TV program.

"At the end of the show the studio audience was ecstatic. The producer was delighted, the anchorman was delighted, and the phones started going straight away," Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson told The New Zealand Herald.

Up to 30 million people had just been shown the moves, seen the meaning, felt the mana.

The Turks were blown away.

This particular "Ka Mate" haka is traced back to a Maori chief named Te Rauparaha, who composed and performed it to commemorate a daring, narrow escape following a battle in the early 1800s. He was given refuge by another chief who then "made the sun shine" by uncovering Te Rauparaha's hiding place to show all was safe again. Te Rauparaha climbed out of the pit, and did this haka in celebration, on the spot.

It is the descendants of his Ngati Toa kingdom who claim intellectual property rights, who hope to get legal guardianship.

Of course, some scholars think Te Rauparaha's version was only the latest adaptation of an ancient chant. Does a man who fetches the sun sound like Maui? Yes, they thought so, too.

A VISITING RUGBY team on a road trip to Australia in 1884 is believed to be the first use of a haka before a sporting event. In 1905 "The Originals," the first All Blacks, performed "Ka Mate" before their legendary match at Wales, to epic applause. In 1913, the All Blacks took the haka on their tour of America. By the 1980s, it wasn't just a road show. Now, it's all haka all the time.

Now, everybody's doing it. Everyone wants on the bandwagon. Every team wants it as a pregame cheer.

Of course, it's deeper than that, if done right. Kahuku has shown that -- an awesome sight, thigh pads thumping, the passion, the precision. The chicken skin.

Kahuku should be fine, of course. The Ngati Toa only want to keep it from being used for inappropriate or commercial purposes. And you'd better believe it, the haka can be used for commercial purposes, these days. It's pop culture now. That's how big it's become in the world of sport.

The New Zealand Herald reported there are even negotiations ongoing about it being used in a PlayStation rugby game.

Don't worry. That one would be approved, the proceeds going to Maori scholarships. Te Rauparaha's words ringing prophetic after almost 200 years:

I die! I die! I live! I live! Climb up! Up, and out into the sun.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

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