Saturday, 15 November 2008

(Mis)using the haka

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.


enzer said...

It's entertainment. They are all professional players who know each other.

And today is sunny and warm. :)

Brett Dale said...

It really doesnt belong in sport. Over in the USA, trash talking and intimidating the opposing team is now banned.

I think our atttuide is bias towards the haka.

Like you said, if a team faces the haka its called disrespectful, if a team turns away its called disrespectful.

I mean it really is pathetic what the All Blacks are saying, is "We can intimidate you and you just have to stand their and looked scared otherwise we will get offended"

Still with Rugby Union being such a minor global sport, it really doesn't effect NewZealand's image overseas.

Anna said...

Enzer, I'd be more inclined to write it off as just entertainment if there wasn't such a track record of violent behaviour on and off the field from rugby and league players. I'm inclined to think that anything that adds to the level of aggression in these sports is not a good idea.

And, as Brett points out, sledging is sledging, no matter what cultural form it takes.

Hugh said...

But if we get rid of the haka, how will all those middle aged white heterosexual men be able to claim that they don't dislike maori culture, with its only acceptable manifestation gone?

George said...

I agree entirely with the sentiment, but do need to comment. The gesture at the end of Kapa o Pango is not a throat slitting one, but the drawing of hau ora (life/energy/breath) into the lungs. Given the context, it is easy to see how it might be read otherwise of course.

Anna said...

You could well be right, George, but the media reported it as a throat-slitting gesture, and the guy who wrote the haka (can't remember his name) didn't correct it - or not that I read, anyway.

enzer said...

Well Anna, no doubt you were up early this morning to see the All Blacks do their haka prior to the test.

From recollection there was one incident of violence...a punch thrown in retaliation from some cheating.

I couldn't see any causal connection between the haka and the punch. I didn't see any violence in the 80,000 plus folk who turned up to see the match.They all did cheer and clap the haka though.

I would be interested in some evidence that the performance of a haka before a game causes an increase in violence.

Anna said...

Hi Enzer

I didn't claim that the haka causes violence, or even that I don't like the haka. What I don't like is the use of the haka to promote or vent aggression. I don't see that it's necessary to be aggressive to play sport. Many sports manage just fine.

Rugby clearly has a culture of aggression attached to it. You illustrated this pretty well when you mentioned that there was (only) one punch thrown in this morning's game. You'd probably never say, 'I went supermarket shopping today and there was only one punch thrown'. That's because aggression is acceptable in rugby in a way that it's not in other contexts.

Probably, if you were at the supermarket and you had a problem with the check-out chick, you wouldn't advance towards her or make a throat-slitting gesture at her either. That would be seen as intimidating and inappropriate.

I don't think punching people is a good idea. I don't think it's entertainment, either. Sport is entertainment. Punching isn't. I've managed to play sport without being aggressive towards anyone.

enzer said...

It doesn't intimidate anyone,Anna.These people play each other all the time, they are well aware of the haka and, at best, pretend to play mind games. But that's about it.

Plenty of sport is all about aggression.Controlled aggression.Rugby in particular is a contact sport and tempers do heat up.In fact players are baited by others so that they do get grumpy and end up with an infringement against them. That is just an aspect of the game. But violence isn't, as you claim, acceptable. The person who threw the punch in todays game was sent off.

And to equate a playing contact sport with paying for your groceries isn't particularly valid.

As one captain opined to a referee once..the game isn't tiddlywinks. If you don't like a contact sport that has elements of controlled aggression..then play another.

Anna said...

Punching people isn't 'controlled' aggression. It's uncontrolled. That's the whole point.

The player presumably didn't get sent to prison for assault, as he would have if he punched someone in another context. Why? Maybe he just 'lashed out'? Where have I heard that before? Why do we feel the need to give so many excuses - 'not tiddliwinks', 'tempers do heat up' - for violence?

Do you accept these excuses for violence in other areas of life? 'Tempers heat up' in plenty of places. I get annoyed in the supermarket and with other drivers. Can I punch them? Why does rugby get other rules to all other human activities?

enzer said...

And when the aggression becomes uncontrolled..the perpetrator is punished.As in being sent off,as in this specific instance. players can be banned for life. There is nothing to stop the police being involved.

That they very rarely are is because folk accept that violence is an aberration...done in the heat of the moment with no malice intended. This is why victims rarely, if ever, make a complaint.Perhaps they don't feel victimised.

I'm not sure that rugby has a different set of rules to any other activity in the wider society. It could be that, as I have said, the victims don't feel as such and that there is a compact that goes along the lines of 'what goes on in the field,stays on the field'.

The thing is...violence is quite rare on the playing field these days.Retaliation is usualy the greater of the two offences.And the haka is a piece of harmless entertainment and treated as such.

Andrew said...

The haka should not be part of the regimen of this current spoilt, arrogant, overblown, cheating All Black squad.

These guys clearly couldn't give a rat's arse about tikanga: it's just a useful tool for them to intimidate and take the moral high ground.

Out with the frippery; just play the goddamn game, and will someone out there in referee land please start penalising the bejesus out of these bastards.

By the way nice to see Cheatin' Richie McCaw calmly glossing over Croke Park's tragic and poignant history. You know, to let McCaw slip through the Otago Union's fingers ten years ago was once seen as a serious cock-up on the part of that province's administrators: However, I think history has shown that he ended up where he deserved - in the biased and rabid colours of red and black!

Mikaere Curtis said...

A haka is not about aggression, it is a posture dance. It is about expressing exuberance and cohesiveness.

In Kapo o Pango, the All Blacks are basically saying "We are the All Blacks. Our rugby prowess and our passion are awesome !". That aren't saying "We are going to hurt you"

Have any commentators on this post actually read the lyrics ?

Anna, please read the lyrics and then tell me which ones support your comment that "sledging is sledging, no matter what cultural form it takes."

I don't know where this meme of "if a team faces the haka its called disrespectful" comes from. Facing a team doing a haka is exactly the right thing to do. It is respectful and appropriate.

On the "throat-slitting gesture", the composer originally said it was about being on the "cutting edge" and later said it was about drawing the life force. Either way, it was not about intimidation. I believe that Maori gestures need to be viewed from a Maori standpoint, and not filtered through a Pakeha lens - as seems to be the case regarding the "drawing of the mauri" gesture.

Anna said...

I don't have a problem either with the lyrics or with haka more generally. I've got a problem with the way the haka is sometimes used. When (at least some) of the ABs do it, its a ritual they know little about, done to raise aggression levels. I suspect that for many of them, and their opposition, the 'drawing of life' gesture looks a lot like throat-slitting.

The merit of the haka as an artform surely doesn't mean that any use of it is OK? When a large crowd of drunken Dunedin students did the haka to rile Police during a couch-burning street party, was that OK? To me, it looked a lot like an appropriation of someone else's artform to express aggression.

The meme of "if a team faces the haka its called disrespectful" comes from the public irritation with Ireland after their response to the haka in 1989, as I mentioned.

You are quite right about it being mistaken to view the meaning of haka through a Pakeha lens. That's why I find it odd to defend the AB's use of the haka as a TV spectacle. The Cavaliers who toured South Africa did the haka in their capacity as All Blacks. Their choice to tour South Africa in the midst of Apartheid suggests to me a lack of cultural awareness or interest in social justice issues around ethnicity. I'm guessing they weren't too clued up on the cultural significance of the haka. Richie Macaw's glib comments about Croke Park suggest that cultural awareness isn't his strong suit either. I don't expect the guy to be a goodwill ambassador, but when it comes to respecting others' cultures what's good for the goose is surely good for the gander.

Enzer, you mention that there's a compact that violence that goes on on the field stays on the field (although you also say that it's not accepted, which seems contradictory). That's exactly my problem - violence is accepted, and part of the entertainment. That's why people are reluctant to challenge it. They like to watch it. Hence the excuses ('heat of the moment', 'no malice intended') that don't wash in any other area of life. 'Heat of the moment' used to be an acceptable reason for hitting your wife, until people realised it was a pile of crap used by people who chose not to exercise self-control.

Anna said...

NB. I'm completely aware that the haka is not exclusively about aggression. That's why I'm bemused that it's represented in popular culture (largely because of the ABs) as a 'war dance', and that this in turn is used to play up the sport-as-war metaphor. As far as I can see, this representation of the haka has the greatest appeal for slightly drunk and nostalgic Pakeha men, who once again know bugger all about the origins of haka as performance.

Carol said...

I must say, I like seeing the way the All Blacks and the Rugby League Kiwis do their haka. I understood that these days, the team gets instruction from Maori on its significance and how to perform it properly.

This began when Buck Shelford was captain in the 1990s. He wasn't happy with the way the haka had been done previously, and said that, if the ABs were going to do it, they should do it properly. That's when they began performing a more fiercesome haka.

These days the haka is usually led by a Maori with some status in the ABs' team. The exception was when captain Tana Umaga led the new one (Kapo o Pango). This was because this haka included some Pasifika aspects, to reflect the more multicultural make-up of the current ABs.

I also thought that Kapo o Pango was written at the request of the team, because they wanted it to be their gift to the ABs, and they were very aware of its cultrual significance.

So I don't think the performance of the haka by the Cavaliers is very relevant to the version performed today. There's usually a few Maori and/or Pacfic players in the team, who probably are from a background where they have learned a srong respect for such performances. Many of the most strenuous, intense and seemingly culturally meaningful performances are by Maori or Pacific players eg Ali Williams and Ma'a Nonu.

I'm not so sure about every drunken group of kiwis that perform it though. I have heard some Maori say that they don't mind as long as they do it with an understanding of its significance. But, I'm not sure that happens.

I don't have a problem with the physicality of the haka or the game, and don't associate it with off-field violence. I grew up in a strong rugby family, and never experienced any kind of domestic violence, or saw violence amongst other rugby followers/players I knew.

Bevan11 said...

You can't expect an international team not to view the haka from a Pakeha perspective. They're not familiar with Maori culture. It's not their place to be 'respectful to Maori culture'; they're just there to play the game.

They should be free to react to it as they want.

BTW, it was a shame not to see any mention of the U-17 Women's World Cup on here.
It was a great tournament; hope some of you got along to a game.

muerk said...

For me, the haka is about the mana of the All Black team. I think a well performed haka creates mana. My favorite time for the ABs haka is when they are playing a Pacifika team who can reciprocate in kind with their own. I just get chills watching that because both teams "get" what the haka is and they understand the spiritual dimension of the kawa and tikanga of the haka.

I think the haka needs to be seen from a Maori perspective.

muerk said...

And... I just wrote "haka" 6 times in a small paragraph and I feel obliged to apologise for my poor writing ;)

Mikaere Curtis said...

Anna, the meme that haka is a 'war dance' is rooted in Victorian value judgements, not the All Blacks.

I'm totally with you with respect to violence not being OK in sports, even if the sport involves strong physical contact such as rugby tackling.

And I'm OK with aggression if it is within the rules of the sport. Tackling with full strength is OK, whereas purposefully injuring, hitting, biting, gouging etc are not.

I also disagree that the purpose of the haka is to "intimidate the opposition", rather, it is focused on raising the passion and cohesion of the All Blacks.

Labelling the haka an "intimidation ritual" is fundamentally incorrect, and supports the meme that haka is a "war dance". These kinds of pejorative descriptions are unhelpful and play to Eurocentric prejudices that view indigenous cultures as mere savages. I am quite surprised to find this attitude at the Hand Mirror.

Although it is possible to cite an example from almost two decades ago where "facing the New Zealanders staunchly" was seen as disrespectful, can you find any examples in that are contemporaneous ?

Anna said...

For the love of God - I've just explained at great length that it's not the haka I have concerns about, but the way it is sometimes used. To illustrate this in my initial post, I gave the example of the Kiwis using the haka to come at the Great Britian league team by advancing over the centre line. This looks to me like the misuse of a haka in the name of poor sportsmanship. However, it seems we can't hold our sporting heroes up to scrutiny.

I did not brand the haka an intimidation ritual. In fact, I said the opposite. I said the ABs sometimes use it as an intimidation ritual, giving the above example. As you're aware, violence is a part of rugby and league. If the haka was performed in a manner which is more true to it's origins - ie not used to confront the other team by chasing them across the centre line - it might set a tone for the game which is less conducive to violence.

And I didn't say that the haka is a war dance. Once again, I said the opposite. I said that the ABs use it purely as a war dance, irrespective of its origins.

I've actually made no attack on the haka at all. I've directed all my wrath towards the All Blacks and Kiwis. Having this misconstrued as Eurocentrism is really offensive to me.

Bevan, you're quite right about the U17 tournament, which was wonderful - I would have liked to comment on it, but don't know anything about the beautiful game at all. Although, as far as I know, none of the players punched each other on or off the field during the tournament.

Carol said...

But, Anna, my point was that the ABs currently attempt to perform the haka in a way consistent with Maori values/ethos and not so much as an initimidation ritual. You do seem to be arguing that NZ rugby union & league teams always perform the haka as an intimidation ritual, and that, as sports, they inherantly promote violence.

I don't agreee with either of those propositions, and to me they are based on a superficial knowledge of rugby & rugby culture. I think a more important argument is related to the ways male sports (including rugby) promote male dominance, but not in quite the obvious way you claim via the haka and the inherant violence of rugby. It can also be found in the culture that permates UK soccer, for instance.

But that is not to say all men who are involved in rugby are misogynistic and/or promote male dominance. i have some male friends who have played and followeed rugby, who strongly support feminism in conversation and the way they behave.

My reading of the rugby league incident was that the England team were disrespecting the haka by ignoring it. So the Kiwis took the haka to them as a way of making it something they couldn't ignore.

Anna said...

Hi Carol

The last comment of mine wasn't in relation to yours - but I don't think either that the haka is always a means of intimidating the opposition, or that rugby is always violent. Clearly, the haka is not always used to intimidate, but at times it can be. Likewise, I know plenty of non-violent men who play rugby, or have done, my partner included. I've said the opposite, more than once.

What I'm saying is a) the haka can be used to badger the opposition, although it *isn't always* used that way, and b) some sports (noticably league and rugby) are more associated with violence and others. If you set out to be inflammatory, either by (mis)using a haka or in some other way, you make violence more likely. It is quite possible to discourage violence, in sport or elsewhere. Likewise, it is quite possible to perform a haka in a way that is not aggressive.

It's a matter of personal opinion, of course, but I think taking the haka to people in a way they 'can't ignore' by crossing the centre line onto their territory and getting in people's faces, in a country and cultural context that is not your own, is deliberately rude. If the incident had occurred in NZ, fine - the tangata whenua call the shots, within reason at least. When you're somewhere else, respsect for the host is good.

Why the eagerness not to hold rugby to the same standards of conduct we would expect of other sports, and other arenas of life more generally? If the Silver Ferns did something which involved crossing the centre line in a way their opponents couldn't ignore, I doubt it would be defended so vigourously, a) because we don't like to see women behaving like that, and b) we don't get as sentimental about netball or prize the rituals around it as highly as we do rugby.

Carol said...

Anna, OK. I see what you're saying. I don't thnk I hold rugby to a different standard than other sports. I enjoy seeing women play rugby and wish there was more of it on TV.

I also enjoy watching netball and have no problem with the physicality of it these days. It can be quite bruising, but the women give it their best, and frquently that means getting in each other's faces, literally.

I went through a period of being anti-rugby, starting in the 70s, because of the attitude to women amongst many rugby players I knew (not because of any violence). They could be pretty sexist, and at times (verbally) misogynistic. Then I went to live in the UK for near on 2 decades.

At first I thought soccer was a "better" game, that involved a more positive attitude towards women. I soon learned that, scratch the surface, and it wasn't any better than attitudes amongst many NZ rugby people. And in the mean time, I think attitudes towards women amongst many rugby players improved.

So in the end, it seems to me it isn't the game but the players/followers that can be the problem.

Also, from an ethnicity POV, rugby league is strongly embedded within Maori & Pacific cultures. This is indicated by the way the Maori channel shows a lot of rugby league that is not seen on other fre-to-air channels.

There's also a lot of game-playing around the start of rugby game rituals, that all countries indulge in. I'd rather focus my attention on actual violence, especially violence against women, and not some of the on-field rituals, which can have a special meaning for many in Maori & Pacific communities.

Anna said...

Yes, physicality is part of the joy of sport (and people inevitably get hurt by accident). Much of the enjoyment of watching the haka comes from the expression of physicality. And ritual is also important - it adds to the solidarity of the team.

But there is a world of difference between doing a haka to express these things, and doing it to get in someone's face and wind them up. The first sort of haka expresses pride and prowess. The second just builds aggro, which may turn to the throwing of punches.

Violence in sport is very much 'real' violence. There is nothing symbolic about getting punched in the head. It can seriously injure or kill you. If/when my son plays rugby, I would hope the only injuries he risks are accidental ones. And violence in sport adds to the aggression levels of spectators - hence the spike in domestic and alcohol-related violence which follows clashes in some sports, but not others.

Surely rugby players, like everyone else, have an ethical responsibility to conduct themselves in a way which mitigates these outcomes, not encourages it?

Carol said...

I don't really know if there's any evidence that a fairly exhuberant, physical, or even "intimidating" haka, results in violence on the field or off it. Is there? Usually people's responses to what they see in the media, isn't as direct or straight forward as might be expected.

I feel it's probably similar to the influence of violence in the media. I know many people say that such depictions of violence have an impact on violent behaviour. But, in fact, there is not generally such a straight forward cause and effect relationship. Generally, the evidence shows that a few people can copy on screen violence, while it has no impact on the behaviour of many others. One of the big factors is in the culture the perpetuator is immersed in. So real violence isn't so much caused by screen violence, as by being immersed in a culture where such violence occurs and is seen as OK.

I don't know that the kind of sport has that much influence. eg. There's a long history of violence associated with soccer in the UK, while people in NZ tend to see it as a non-violent game.

Rugby never seems to have resulted in the kind of brawls and other violence perpetrated by UK soccer fans.

I think violence that damages people in sport should be discouraged, and usually is in the rules of and refereeing of games (except maybe boxing). But, more importantly, I also think that violence shouldn't be promoted within society as a way of solving problems.

Also, how much is the rise in violence after rugby games related to alcohol consumption? What is the evidence for such violence BTW? I've heard it mentioned, but don't know of the research/stats that show this.

Andrew said...

O.k. if New Zealand sports teams wish to perform the haka prior to matches they should do it away from the opposition. Surely if it is simply a personal thing designed to get them thinking in the right vein about the game ahead - in a sort of meditative or contemplative way - then confronting the opposition is not only unnecessary but actually counterproductive.

To get back to Anna's original point which does to have got lost amongst some more extemporaneous stuff: it does seem that the Kiwis and more particularly the All Blacks are using their expressions of the haka for less than admirable purposes. If that's the case then I'm surprised that they seem to be receiving so much support here. It would seem to me that to use elements of indigenous culture for potentially malign reasons is the ultimate insult, and not something that would be looked upon favourably in other settings. I can't help feeling that, as a nation, we judge the All Blacks by different standards than we do everyone else.

Anna said...

Carol, Women's Refuge have publicly stated that the incidence of violence rises after games.

In the provincial city I used to live in, it wasn't safe to go into town on rugby nights for some parts of the community. The gay and lesbian community postponed an event they'd planned when they found it coincided with a game, because they experience harassment on the streets on rugby nights. This event clash was an oversight - normally they simply accept that they can't go out safely on these nights and plan around them. Anecdotal evidence I've heard suggests that people from non-New Zealand backgrounds also felt unsafe on rugby nights, as they were more likely to have racist abuse hurled at them by drunk people.

Some of the objectionable behaviour on rugby nights - eg piss and vomit on the streets - follows any celebration where people drink heavily. But the vibe of aggro - expressed in fights over taxis, fights in pubs (including ones involving players), etc - following rugby isn't present on other events like NY.

Rugby doesn't directly cause this sort of behaviour (the people who do it obviously have to take responsibility), but anyone who has ever organised a large event will tell you that how you promote and run a given event will affect people's behaviour at it.

To that end, observing the highest standards of sportsmanship on and off the field, and broaching the game and its rituals in a spirit of competitiveness rather than aggression, seem like a good idea to help mitigate the negative impacts. To my mind, this includes not using the haka to bait the opposition, not trash talking the opposition before or after a match, and players setting an example by not fighting in pubs.

I can't understand why this is Eurocentric or even controversial. I can't understand why the safety issues surrounding rugby aren't of concern to so many people.

Mikaere Curtis said...

Sorry Anna, I misread your comments and you did not describe the haka as a war dance. But you did use terms such as "a ritual designed to intimidate" and "warlike", and I take issue with these as being both inaccurate and perjorative.

I agree that the Kiwis should not have crossed the centre line, and that this is unsportsmanlike.

However, this is not how the haka is typically used in this context, so I'm unclear that this is a persistent problem with how the haka is used. Then again, I seldom watch the Kiwis, mainly the All Blacks and they have never done this to my knowledge.

The issue of violence in sports is a real problem, and needs to be addressed. Referees need to penalise violence out of the game, and commentators should stop referring to in-game violence with euphemisms such as "argy-bargy" or "biffo".

Which brings us to the heart of the matter. There are very strong memes in our society the promote violence as a valid way to resolve issues.

More importantly though, it is promoted as largely having no consequences for the victim. You can see this in movies and TV shows all the time where they heroes take hits that would put an ordinary person in hospital, yet they keep on going.

I believe we need education on the impacts of violence. I have no research whatsoever to back this up, but I have a theory that many of those who perpetrate maiming or killing blows simply have no understanding of the consequences of their actions. If people knew that hitting kicking someone in the head, or hitting them in the head with a baseball bat could kill them, I suspect there would be fewer homocides.

Anna said...

To clarify: I don't think that the haka is necessarily "a ritual designed to intimidate" or "warlike". It's origins are neither of these things, and I'm quite aware of this. I think these are the ways it is sometimes used (cynically) before sporting encounters. I think the haka can be and sometimes is misappropriated and used as a vehicle for poor sportsmanship, as in the case of the Kiwis in the weekend - just like other aspects of tikanga Maori (most noticably the moko) are misused from time to time. When the haka is misused to promote aggression, it is very difficult to comment on this without appearing to be critical of Maori culture. That's part of what makes this sort of misuse insidious. It implicitly portrays poor sportsmanship as being inherent in Maori culture. Then people like drunken Dunedin students misinterpret it as an expression of aggression and use it as a form of provocation.

Julie said...

Those interested in this thread might also be keen to read an article in today's Herald about recent haka-related activity at All Black tests.

'A haka expert said it was great for the game's spectacle that opposition teams were increasingly, aggressively going eyeball to eyeball with our national teams. "I think it's really cool," said Kawariki Morgan. "For too long we've been up in their faces and they've done nothing." '