The All Blacks have given the Maori haka – or at least one version of it – an international profile. Commonly considered a war dance, haka are in fact performed on other occasions too – as a welcome to distinguished guests for instance, or to acknowledge great achievements and special occasions – as these members of Christchurch’s Mareikura kapa haka group did on Waitangi Day on February 6th. Most people remember the haka for its power and emotional impact - its facial contortions, the showing of the whites of eyes, feet stamping, body slapping and the poking out of tongues.
The traditional war haka were called peruperu and were performed before battles to discourage and frighten the enemy. Weapons (especially spears and or mere as above) were waved about and fierce facial expressions and cries were characteristic. The most common haka performed is still ‘Ka Mate,’ a ceremonial haka that stems back to the 1820s and Ngati Toa chief, Te Rauparaha. And contrary to popular belief, the performance of haka is not exclusive to men. There are some haka which are performed exclusively by women, although most commonly, women provide a background of singing to a male performance.
Now, in Rotorua, visitors wanting to learn the haka can do so at Rotorua’s longest-running backpackers, Kiwi Paka. The 90-minute lessons, taken by local man Tiki Edwards of Haka World, are for men and women and will provide visitors with helpful background to the history and meaning of the haka. Tiki came up with the idea when he was living playing rugby in England. He was repeatedly asked to perform the haka during his time living there and he found people from all cultures were curious about the dance.