Update: so people will stop thinking I'm a redneck, I want to clarify what I mean upfront - I don't have a problem with the haka per se, but with the way teams sometimes use it to antagonise their opponents. Peace!
I'm sticking my neck out here, and I'll probably get called a heretic, but here goes: I don't like the way haka are sometimes used before sporting events.
Most people will remember that when the All Blacks adopted the new haka, Kapa o Pango, there was a minor controversy centred on whether the throat-slitting gesture featured in the haka was over the top. Despite feeble arguments to the contrary, the throat-slitting gesture made clear what the haka is intended to do: intimidate the opposition.
Last weekend, the Kiwis (NZ's rugby league team, for the uninitiated) played Great Britain in Australia. When the Kiwis did their haka, the opposition huddled in a group, doing their own thing and refusing to engage with the intimidation ritual. They weren't rude about it. They just didn't want to play. Miffed, the Kiwis came towards their opponents, crossing the centre line as they did the haka. The Kiwi team complained afterwards that Great Britain were disrespecting New Zealand culture.
About twenty years ago, Buck Shelford lead the All Blacks against Ireland. On this occasion, when the ABs performed the haka, their opposition took the opposite tactic, facing the New Zealanders staunchly with eyeballing and chests out. This, too, was decried as disrespectful to New Zealand culture. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
I feel incredibly uneasy with the idea that a ritual designed to intimidate, which the opposition are just supposed to stand and take, is seen to be part of New Zealand culture. Increasingly, the performance of the haka before matches has moved away from an expression of national pride, and towards something that is both a spectacle for an internationalised television audience, and a routine designed to get the testosterone and aggression flowing. Irrespective of the origins of the haka, which are not exclusively in warfare, the sport-as-war metaphor is played up.
Is there any particular reason why aggression and sport have to go hand in hand? Is it impossible to play sport well unless you enter into it with a warlike frame of mind? I don't know of any national women's sports teams who use a warlike ritual to prepare for a match. Other sporting codes - swimming, cricket, golf, to name but a few - don't use these rituals either. Neither do competitors in these codes hit each other during play.
Whether the haka as it's currently performed is an authentic expression of culture or not, I just don't think it's sportsmanlike or necessary to behave threateningly towards people, on the field or elsewhere.