Why do New Zealand All Blacks do the haka and what do the words mean?

Sam Whitelock of the All Blacks leads the haka (Getty Images)
Sam Whitelock of the All Blacks leads the haka (Getty Images)

If you’ve ever caught a rugby match with New Zealand’s fierce All Blacks, then you will be well aware of the passionate dance they perform on the field.

This traditional Māori dance of haka was first performed by the team, which used to be called The Natives, back in 1888 and 1889, when the Kiwi rugby team played in Britain and Australia.

While the players would originally only perform the haka when playing overseas, after 1986 they started to do the meaningful dance at home matches, too.

The haka will come out in full force when New Zealand play Namibia on Friday (September 15).

Here is a comprehensive look at how haka came to be, the deep meaning behind it, what the words uttered mean, and its importance to the Māori.

What is the haka?

The haka is a ceremonial Māori dance.

It includes movements like the stomping of the foot, rhythmic body slapping, and, perhaps most famously, the protruding of the tongue alongside a loud chant.

Who created the haka and what does the dance mean?

The haka was created by the Māori people to celebrate various aspects of life.

The story goes that the Māori sun god, Tama-nui-te-ra, and his wife Hine-Raumati, who embodies summer, had a son named Tane-rore. On hot summer days, her little boy would dance for Hine-Raumati, making the air quiver. His rapid and light movements are the inspiration behind haka dances.

From welcoming distinguished guests and acknowledging great occasions or achievements to intimidating rivals and proclaiming strength ahead of a battle, the dance is performed to communicate a variety of emotions and situations.

There are various types of haka. Tūtū ngārahu, for instance, sees the performers jump from side to side, while whakatū waewae involves no jumping. And while ngeri is performed to psychologically motivate a warrior, manawa wera haka is often associated with death and funerals.

What are the All Blacks saying during the haka?

Different haka dances include different chants. The one performed and made famous by the All Blacks is the Ka mate haka, which was composed by Ngati Toa Chieftain Te Rauparaha around 1820.

Ka mate was created in a time of conflict between two tribes, so the chant fits the tale.

The Māori words of the chant are: “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 upane kaupane whiti te ra! Hi!”

In English, the chant translates to: “I die! I die! I live! I live! I die! I die! I live! I live! This is the hairy man who fetched the Sun and caused it to shine again. One upward step! Another upward step! An upward step, another … the Sun shines!”

In August 2005, before the Tri-Nations Test march against South Africa, the All Blacks performed Kapa O Pango, a new haka all about the All Blacks, for the first time.

Kapa O Pango’s chant translates to: “Let me go back to my first gasp of breath. Let my life force return to the earth.

“It is New Zealand that thunders now. And it is my time! It is my moment! The passion ignites! This defines us as the All Blacks.

“And it is my time! It is my moment! The anticipation explodes! Feel the power. Our dominance rises. Our supremacy emerges. To be placed on high.

“Silver fern! All Blacks! Silver fern! All Blacks!”