The Māori traditional dance popularized by the powerhouse rugby team from New Zealand, the All Blacks, is making news ahead of the World Cup, which starts on Friday. And...not in a good way.
Matt Dawson, former England scrum-half (player in-between the forwards and backs), debuted a new dance, the Hakarena, this week.
Is it ever okay to make fun of a culture and its traditions? That is the question posed by the hakarena. On the one hand, it is a fun, light-hearted poke at a team that often seems invincible. The haka is part of who the All Blacks are.
The All Blacks perform the dance before their international matches. It is a nod to the Polynesian influence that is prevalent in New Zealand society. According to the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, the haka expresses “a variety of emotions such as joy, anger, and sorrow, called for exceptional rhythmical skill”.
When the All Blacks perform the haka, every type of emotion is evident on their faces and in their movements. It can be intimidating.
So intimidating that Dawson created his hakarena to counter it ahead of the World Cup. A smooth ploy or a foolish venture? How far is too far when someone mocks another's culture? It depends on your perspective.
Perspective is a funny thing in this social media world we live in. Simple, light-hearted jokes, even those about a culture, are funny to some and offensive to others. When it comes to one's culture, mocking is exclusive to those who are a part of it.
“The Haka is done as a way of honoring the enemy,” said co-leader of the Māori party, Sir Pita Sharples. “You do it if you’re up for a challenge. By doing the Haka as the All Blacks do, it’s recognizing the worth of the other side. So, if they’re doing something to mock the Haka, then that’s pretty shameful.”
Had the hakarena been a mocking of something in America, it would be trending here within minutes. If you've been on Twitter for long, you know all about the Twitter mob mentality or group think, depending on your perspective.
Had this happened in America, the Twitter mob's anger would not be silenced. There would be a groundswell of support from the Twitter group think. Americans would be tweeting and arguing about it for days on end.
But, this happened to New Zealand.
The defending World Cup champions are taking it in stride. Their focus is on the task at hand, defending their championship.
To further promote the haka in a positive way, the All Blacks debuted a new app called Haka 360. The app allows fans, with use of a headset, to see the haka up close, giving them a full immersion into the All Black pregame experience.
The All Blacks (Pool C) take to the pitch on Sunday against Argentina. Dawson's former team, England (Pool A), kicks off the tournament as host on Friday versus Fiji. New Zealand and England could meet up as early as the quarterfinals, depending on how they finish in pool play. (The U.S. team begins play on 9/20 versus Samoa).
Should New Zealand and England meet up in the tournament it will be all business. The All Blacks will perform the haka, as is their tradition. England will receive their anthem. Both sides will be respectful. It's about the match on the pitch – the championship – after all.
And, most likely the hakarena will be restricted to the internet or being performed outside stadiums during the tournament.
Or, by a few drunk blokes in the stands. But, then again, that's a cultural thing isn't it?