Many thanks to Wendye and Café Babylon for allowing me to post this small piece.
The maori haka is famous for its use at the beginning of rugby games, and sometimes other places as well, such as ceremonies to welcome important visitors to the marae. This particular version, put up by a Russian site no less, is the classic and maybe original haka, though many other types came to be used as tribes moved about New Zealand and took territory or not, often after terrible conflicts with very gruesome outcomes. (ISIS has nothing on our maori ancestors.) Even in the wars with the British, whose weapons one would think vastly superior, maori fought the invaders to a standstill. The Treaty of Waitangi was born out of this, a time when the chiefs met as equals with British officialdom to parlay.
Have a good look at this haka. The words that stand out are: It is death! It is life! The story that goes with this chant is that the original composer, Te Rauparaha, much like the composer of the American anthem, Francis Scott Key, was in prison when he wrote the song, quite literally down in a pit, filling himself with the volition to get out of there, (which I imagine he did.)
I wrote down the words a while back:
Ka mate, ka mate
(It is death, it is death)
Ka ora, ka ora
(It is life, it is life)
Ka mate, ka mate
Ka ora, ka ora
Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru
(This is the hairy man)
Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra
(Who caused the sun to shine again for me)
(Up the ladder, up the ladder)
(Up the ladder, to the top)
Whiti te ra!
(The sun shines!)
In early times, roaming militant maori tribes approached peaceful villages to conquer them, but first each side would perform a haka, facing one another like a team of fighting cocks. Sometimes the haka was enough to prevent bloodshed; the village would lay down its defences. I have an oral history of one incident that turned out differently. It happened in missionary days to an ancestor on my father’s side. He was a missionary minister, Methodist I think, though I am not certain of that. He lived with a North Island maori pa or village. The chief came to him in great distress because the fiercest tribe in the region was intending to conquer the village. He had no defence, no mighty haka to perform that might cow the invaders.
The ceremonial weapon of status which the chiefs carried was a long spear pointed at one end and shaped like a blade at the other end. The version called taiaha has elaborate carving on the pointed head end, with perhaps a tuft of pigeon feathers dangling from it. During the haka the chief flourishes it much as a marching band captain uses his baton.
My ancestor decided to innovate. He must have been good with a penknife, or else he had a maori friend who was an expert carver. At any rate, somebody set to and carved not just the head of the taiaha but the entire length of it, and not with symbols of war, but with symbols of peace. I have seen and touched the taiaha myself as a child. My great-uncle had it in a glass case, and I think by now it would be in a museum.
The reverend also composed a different haka, one of peace, and I’m sorry to say I don’t have a record of that haka. But the new taiaha and haka together were sufficient to astound the invaders and instead of annihilating the defenders, they made peace and went home.
…Our Maori ancestors have endowed us with a rich heritage,
and we cannot take credit to ourselves by basking in the sun
of their reflected glory. We must be up and doing. Work
is the keynote to success, physically and mentally. Each
generation must develop leaders whose ideals make for the
common good. In the selfish world of today, we may be able
to contribute something of the spirit of kindliness,
hospitality, and toleration that are in danger of being
extinguished by the current standard of material gain.
We must hold to something of the spirit, toward both things
celestial and things terrestrial…
[Sir Peter Buck,1949]
Whiti te Ra !!