Behold, the “hakarena”. And yes, that’s a combination of “haka” and “macarena”. It was coined in an advert to promote Jacamo, a British menswear brand. It features Matt Dawson, who used to captain the English rugby team, leading a much less formidable team swinging their skinny hips, tapping their pale chests and crossing their arms to that irritating 1990s macarena beat. It’s excruciating viewing.

It’s also causing a stir. Pita Sharples, a former Māori Party leader, minister of the Crown and now a knight, says the advert is “shameful”. And Matiu Rei, a Ngāti Toa kaumātua, calls it “disrespectful”. They might well be right. There’s a difference between denigrating the haka as a cultural institution and satirising the Ka Mate haka as just something the All Blacks do. But the line is blurred here.

At best, the hakarena is light satire. At worst, it’s mocking the haka. To me, it seems like light satire, a dig at the All Blacks rather than an act of aggression against the haka as a Māori cultural institution. But we shouldn’t ignore the troubling history that comes with any attempts to satirise or subvert the haka. Whether they mean it or not, every effort to minimise the haka comes with years of colonial baggage.

It was only a few years ago that the late Frank Keating, a celebrated UK sports journalist at the Guardian, described the haka as “crude” and “graceless”. It was, he wrote, a “danse macabre” (dance of death).

Then Paul Sheehan, a columnist at the Sydney Morning Herald, ripped into the All Blacks’ Kapa o Pango haka for its “throat-slitting” gesture. He suggested that this reflected terribly on Māori because of the “unspeakable acts” we were well known for.

But the worst offenders, of course, have been, Pākehā New Zealanders. There were the Auckland University engineering students who performed their annual mock haka until a then youthful Hone Harawira and some of his mates, let’s say, discouraged them.

Perhaps the worst offenders, though, some years ago, were the All Blacks themselves. Their version of Ka Mate was genuinely pathetic. You’d hope that players from that era would have the decency now to cringe whenever they see a replay of their clumsy, unconvincing efforts. In a way, it was a Kiwi version of a minstrel show.

These days some white people are angered when indigenous peoples make a point, however briefly, of highlighting their identity on the sports field. For instance, Aussie Rules crowds have booed Adam Goodes, the Aboriginal AFL player who once had the temerity to celebrate a goal with a few indigenous war dance moves on the field. And, get this, it was in the course of AFL’s “Indigenous round” of the championship.

New Zealanders and even Australians know that, beneath the immediate spectacle of a haka or an Aboriginal war dance, there is a deeply uncomfortable history waiting to be told. The Ka Mate haka is essentially performing history. It’s Te Rauparaha’s struggles. But it’s also a chapter in the colonial conflict between performing a genuine haka — like the All Blacks of today — or doing a mock haka for the amusement of the crowds, as our All Blacks used to do.

No matter how well-meaning or benign, an attempt to satirise the haka can’t escape this history. This is the context in which we have to view any shot at mocking the haka. So, is the hakarena part of this racist heritage? Probably not.

That may be a disappointing answer. But, of course, it’s not my opinion that matters. It’s what Ngāti Toa think, because Ka Mate is their haka.


© e-tangata, 2015


Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.

If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.