Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Haka or Posture Dances

Haka or Posture Dances

The singular styles of posture dancing coming under the head of haka may well be classified under games requiring manual dexterity, for most of the action was performed with the arms. In some cases the arms alone were used, thus certain haka were performed in a sitting posture, when, the upper garment being removed, or tucked round the waist, the performers were quite unrestricted in their movements. Both sexes took part in this pastime, and indeed it was viewed as being a most desirable exercise, one exhibiting the dexterity and grace of movement of the performers. Young men and women who excelled in this art were much admired, hence great pains were taken to acquire free, graceful and well regulated action. In all activities requiring perfect time keeping and concerted rhythmical action the Maori certainly excels. The writer has a vivid recollection of witnessing the bayonet exercise, as performed by the Native Contingent many years ago, and the perfection of the time keeping displayed. Occasionally the drill sergeant would leave the parade ground, and then the men would, on their own accord, go through this exercise without any word of command. In the early days of European settlement, natives used to criticise the rowing of man-of-war sailors, and the manual as performed by Imperial regiments.

This posture dancing was performed at any and all times as an amusement, but especially at night, when the folk of a hamlet gathered together in one or more of the larger houses to pass the evening. The most important occasions, apart from ceremonial dances, when they were performed, were at meetings where several clans assembled, or possibly a party of visitors of another tribe was being entertained. At such functions great interest was taken in the page 86haka, and the best performers were selected for these exhibitions, each one being attired in his, or her, finest garments, with hair dressed and adorned, and wearing any available ornaments. Persons with hair too short to be tied up as a support for plumes, would wear a form of fillet, termed a tipare, to support such ornaments. Face paints were sometimes used by young women, and by young men not yet tattooed. In some cases a kilt only was worn by performers, in others a small cape was added.

Haka, accompanied by songs, were performed at a reception to visitors, to entertain them after reception, to avenge insults, at peacemaking ceremonial, during mourning rites, as a means of divination, when a good haul of fish was made, and on many other occasions. Some were of a purely ceremonial nature, others were semi-ceremonial, and so on down to the simple songs and performances of children. The name haka is applied to both a posture dance and its accompanying song. The most violent exhibition is the war dance and one of the most pleasing to the eye is the haka poi or ball swinging play.

In Edgar's account of the voyage of the Discovery during Cook's third voyage appears the following description of the Maori posture dance:—"The War dance or Heva consists of a variety of violent motions and hideous contortions of the limbs, there is something in them so uncommonly savage and terrible, their eyes appear to be starting from their head, their tongue hanging down to their chin, and the motion of their body entirely corresponding with these in a manner not to be described."

Fig. 16 A Maori Haka or Posture Dance

page 87

In speaking of singing among the Polynesians, Forster adds:— "I cannot leave this subject without mentioning that the New Zealanders used likewise to exhibit to us their war song, which was begun by one of them, and accompanied with violent stampings, motions and gestures, and the brandishing of their battle axes; at the end of every stanza of the song was a kind of burden, which was sung by the whole band of warriors, with the loudest and most dreadful vociferations; which gradually worked them up to a kind of phrensy, the only state of mind in which they fight."

Of a war dance and sham fight performed by two friendly parties of armed natives, Earle writes:—"It was conducted with so much fury on both sides that at length I became quite horrified, and for some time could not divest myself of the feeling that our visitors were playing false, so closely did this mock combat resemble a real one. The dreadful noises, the hideous faces, the screeching of the women, and the menacing gestures of each party, were so calculated to inspire terror, that stouter hearts than mine might have felt fear."

Crozet remarks:—"They frequently danced on the deck of our vessels, and they danced so heavily that we were afraid they would break through the deck."

Nicholas mentions the case of a Maori lad who was taken from New Zealand to Norfolk Island and Sydney when about twelve years of age. On his return to his native land "he was always ready to mingle in the dance, but his attitudes were by no means so easy and unembarrassed as those of his countrymen, and it appeared to us as if civilisation had cramped his limbs, and made him quite stiff and awkward."

Earle remarks (1827)—"The dances of all savage nations are beautiful, but those of the New Zealanders partake also of the horrible. The regularity of their movements is truly astonishing, and the song, which always accompanies a dance, is most harmonious. They soon work themselves up to a pitch of phrensy; the distortions of their face and body are truly dreadful, and fill the mind with horror. I was astonished to find that their women mixed in the dance indiscriminately with the men, and went through all those horrid gestures with seemingly as much pleasure as the warriors themselves."

Polack writes:—"The dances are performed with astonishing agility that habitual practice can alone bring to perfection … These performances are taught to the children from earliest infancy."

Bidwill speaks of a war dance that he saw in which 3,000 natives took part. He was much impressed by it:—"The whole performance page 88was so perfectly horrid that, although I am possessed of strong nerves, I could not repress a shudder, and my hair almost stood on end."

Dr. Thomson contributes the following remarks:—"Singing, or the haka, was the amusement of village maidens and young lads on fine evenings. For this purpose they assembled with flowers and feathers in their hair, and red paint, charcoal, and petals of flowers on their faces. Most songs were accompanied with action. The singers first arranged themselves in a row, in a sitting attitude, on a conspicuous place; the best voices commenced and finished each verse, then all joined in the chorus, which consisted of a peculiar noise caused by repeated expirations and inspirations, slapping one hand on the breast, raising the other aloft and making it vibrate with great rapidity, and moving the body in indelicate attitudes … When the haka was sung by grown men, the singers stood in rows or in squares. The action of the legs and body was graceful, but the uplifted hands vibrating in the air during the chorus, and the forced expirations and inspirations, produced a singular wildness … Singers adorned their hair profusely with feathers, and fastened their mats [garments] round their waists. As men sang in the open air in the evening, and as maidens assembled to hear the singing, and also to behold the finest shaped men, there were frequently intrigues on these occasions."

Haka being a generic term for many styles of posture dancing, it follows that each style had its specific name. Also haka songs were distinguished by name, and differed much in tone and delivery. Some were mild and pleasing, others, of the ngeri and kaioraora types, were virulent, incisive and savage. The different kinds of haka practised among the Ngati-Porou tribe were:

  • 1. Haka Taparahi
  • 2. " Pikari
  • 3. " Aroakapa
  • 4. " Porowha
  • 5. " Horuhoru
  • 6. Haka Waiata
  • 7. " Poi
  • 8. " Tutohu
  • 9. " Pirori

In the haka porowha the performers form in square, the ranks facing four ways. In the aroakapa the performers are ranged in two or more ranks facing in the same direction. In the haka taparahi, the performers are ranged in form of a square, but all ranks face in the same direction. The pikari implies certain movements of the legs not used in other forms. In the haka horuhoru the performers all kneel down. The haka waiata are posture dances accompanied by a mild species of songs and fairly slow movements; while others, such as page 89 Fig. 17 A Position in the War Dance Major-Gen. G. Robly page 90the taparahi, are accompanied by most energetic actions and fiercely rendered songs of the ngeri class.

Haka taparahi. This form of haka was performed by a number of persons standing in several ranks; these ranks were an arm's length apart, the performers standing an equal distance apart in the ranks. All the motions were gone through in time to the song, and, in some cases, the performers sank to a kneeling position at the conclusion.

In the following haka all performers save the fugleman are kneeling at the beginning of the performance. The kai tataki, or fugleman, calls out—

"Upoko kereru; pakia!"

At this cry all performers commence, as one man, the actions of the haka. The fugleman then cries—

"Ko Ruaumoko e ngunguru nei." Response by company— "Au! Au!" Fugleman— "Ko te rakau e tu nga werewere." Company— "A-ha-ha!" At this stage all rise, and proceed….

"He rakau tapu na Tu-taua ki a Uenuku
I patukia ki te tipuaki o Rangi-tapeka
Patua ki waenganui a te Tau ki Hikurangi
Te toka whakairo e tu ake nei
He atua, a he tangata!
He atua, a he tangata…. ho!"

Fugleman: "He atua, he atua to pare taitoko
Kia kitea e pare taitoko te whare hanga." Company: A-ha-ha!
Ka whakatete mai o rei he kuri
Au! Au! Aue! Ha! A-ha-ha!
Na wai pare hua taku hopeke
A whakaka te rangi kia tare au … ha!" Fugleman: "A, e roha te kawau." Company: "Ha!" Fugleman: "E kai te po tara." Company: "Tu ka tete, ka tete, tau ha!" Fugleman: "Koko ma, uko koko ma." Company: "E ko te hau tapu e rite ki te kei na mata ariki . . e

Tapa reireia kei tapa
E tapa konunu e, Koia ana tuku
I au e! I au e!"

This is the end of the first part, and here all the performers kneel down.

page 91

Fig. 18 A Haka or Posture Dance Dominion Museum Photo

The above is said to be part of a very old haka, and one that was performed by Ngati-Porou prior to setting forth to fight. If incorrectly rendered, trouble would follow, such a thing being extremely unlucky, a bad omen. This was the war song chanted by Ngati-Porou prior to their first engagement with the Hauhau forces in 1865; a mistake was made in the rendering thereof, which foretold the deaths of several members of the force. Our contributor, Tuta Nihoniho, was unable to explain the wording of the song.

The dance known as haka tutohu or turanga a tohu is performed as an act of divination, in order to see what fate has in store for a party about to set forth on an expedition. It was performed by persons grouped in the form of a wedge, with spaces between the actors, who, however, did not stand in ranks. It was executed without weapons; if performed with weapons, it was termed a peruperu. The peruperu is not quite the same as the tutu ngarahu, or orthodox war dance. The following is a specimen haka tutohu:—

Fugleman: "Te kotiritiri, te kotaratara oko o tai
E haere titaha ana te kaha o te kupenga ki uta ra." page 92 Company: "Ahaha!

Inaia he tangata mate, inaia he tangata mate
I houhou ai e te patu, i houhou ai e te patu
Ki roto ki te onehunga
Kei motu te karihi i te tupere…. ha!"

The haka horuhoru was performed in a kneeling position by members of both sexes. The expression horuhoru describes the deep, grunting and rasping sounds made by the performers.

The following are the words of one of such haka:—

"Tai korokoro, tai korokoro
Te mira, te wara, te mira, te wara. Ha … ha!
I hau ma, i hau ma, i hau ma. Ha!
Hara poi, hara poi, hara poua iho
Hara poi, hara poi, hara poua iho
Hihi! Haha! Ho!"

There were many different actions in these posture dances, and an immense number of the songs were known, such items being composed on many different occasions. For instance, a new song, with appropriate gestures, might be composed as a special performance in welcoming a party of visitors, or as a token of resentment anent some slight or insult received. Some haka were performed by males only, some by women only, some by both sexes, while children also had their simple little haka, which were equivalent to the nursery rhymes of our children.

The haka pirori was a very peculiar form of posture dance performed in a very curious manner, and accompanied by an incisive, insulting, or virulent song, for the purpose of avenging an injury or insult received. The performers were absolutely naked and performed every act they could think of to express a desire to belittle and insult the party before whom they were performing. They exposed themselves by bending the legs, by turning their backs, etc., so as to flout the visitors. If a person died through having been bewitched by a certain person, or persons, and the latter had the effrontery to come and take part in the mourning ceremonies, then a haka pirori would be performed before them when they arrived in the village plaza, that is if they were not attacked and slain. I saw a haka pirori performed in 1898, but in that case the women were clothed, and the men wore a breech clout. This performance is not only designed to insult the wrong doers, but also to keep alive the memory of the injury received in the breasts of the performers and their friends; hence the act was described as a manatunga. "Ka patua e koe pea taku tamaiti; na ka karamai koe ki toku kainga, ka manatungatia koe, he whakaweriweri i a koe tona hangaitanga. Na, ki te kore te tangata pena e manatungatia, ka patua." (Suppose you page 93slay my child, and then visit my home, you will be manatungatia, which means insulting revilement. If such a person be not so treated, then he will be killed.)

The following is a specimen of a haka pirori:—

"Noho ana mai, noho ana mai a … [name of reviled person]
Te homai to konohi kia ukuia ki te werawera o aku raho
Ko te raho o whea? Aue!
Ko te raho e awhi nei i waho o te katipa
E pa nei te ara mimi, koia raka!"

For the origin of haka (dancing) we must go far back in Maori myth, where we encounter the Haka a Tane-rore (The Dancing of Tane-rore), a name applied to the quivering appearance of the atmosphere, as seen on hot summer days. An old fable says that Ra, the sun, had two wives, Hine-raumati (Summer Maid) and Hine-takurua (Winter Maid). His Offspring by the former was Tane-rore, whose dancing may be seen during the months in which his mother holds the favour of Ra. It is sometimes alluded to as the Haka a Raumati, the dancing of the Summer Maid, and that was the origin of all the haka of the world.

Another quaint old fable gives Parearohi as the name of this summer dancer, and describes her as a woman, a supernatural being, who, in the fourth month of the Maori year (September) commences to dance. You may see her gyrating about forest margins and other places, and she is one of the first messengers of Raumati (summer). Her husband is Rehua, he who causes lassitude in man.

Another well-known myth is that of Tinirau and Kae, and how the latter was caused to laugh. Kae had slain Tutunui, the tame whale of Tinirau, who despatched a party to capture Kae by stealth. These persons were told that they would recognise Kae by means of his gapped teeth (niho kowae), hence it was necessary to cause him to laugh in order that his teeth might be exposed to view. Then it was that a party of women set about the task, among them being personages famed in Maori myth, as Hine-te-iwaiwa, Raukata-uri, Raukata-mea, and Ruhiruhi. They played games, such as ti papaki ringa, and sang, and sounded instruments, as the pu torino, Koanaii, pakuru, to, ku, torehe, and porotiti. They then performed a haka, accompanied by the following song:—

"E ako au ki te haka
E ako au ki te ringaringa
E ako au ki te whewhera
E! Kaore te whewhera
E ako au ki te kowhiti
E! Kaore te kowhiti
E kowhiti nuku e kowhiti rangi
E kowhiti puapua, e kowhiti werewere
E hanahana a Tinaku … e!"

page 94

Fig. 18aNatives greeting the Prince of Wales at Rotorua in 1920. Posture dances with and without spears Dominion Museum Photos

page 95

This effusion seems to have brought down the house, and to have made all laugh, when Kae was recognised, the end being that he was captured, taken away, and slain.

When, after the slaying of Raumati by Nga-Oho, the chief Ngarue visited Wai-mimi, Taranaki district, he first met his future wife, Uru-te-kakara, daughter of Raumati and Te Kura-tapiri-rangi, all being famous folk of those parts some four hundred years ago. The following is the song rendered by the party of Ngarue to accompany a dance performed as an exhibition of their accomplishments. The leaders of dance and song were Ngarue and his sister, Hine-ruhi. The latter carried in her hand as a baton a wooden weapon called a meremere, and named Horonuku-atea. She was a much admired woman, and concerning her a saying has passed down the centuries:— "Ko Hine-ruhi koe, ko te wahine nana i tu te ata hapara," implying that the glories of dawn emanated from her. The local people then rose and fell in to give a return exhibition, conducted by Uru-te-ka-kara and Hotorangi:—

"Ko wai
Ko wai to tangata, to wahine, e ore mai nei
E! Ko Ngarue pea, ko Hine-ruhi pea
Aue! Ira ra!
Haere mai ra ki konei taua nei tupeke ai
Aue! Aue! Ara ra!
A, he aha?
He moana waipu koe
He moana waimea koe
Aue! Ara ra!
Haramai taua ki konei miti ai
Aue! ara ra!
He aha he kai mau?
He miti runga, he miti raro
Aue! Aue! E ha!"

Funeral Dance:

The haka performed at an uhunga, that is during ceremonial mourning for the dead, is termed maimai, and it was allied to the apakura, or dirge, known as the Tangi a Apakura, which is the oldest dirge in the world, for it is the ceaseless moaning of the ocean. During the wailing for the dead, a person might call out "Hapainga te maimai," whereupon the people would join in the dance and song. This song is the maimai aroha, or token of affection; why it should be accompanied by a dance is known only to barbaric man, who ever translated emotions into action. In this posture dance, the women indulged in the swaying motions of the body and arms known as aroarowhaki, the men in somewhat more vehement pikari motions.

Shortland wrote as follows:—"On fine evenings it is the favourite amusement of the young men and girls to assemble for the purpose page 96of joining in this rude sort of concert. They may at these times be seen seated in a row, their hair dressed with feathers, and their faces smeared with red ochre and charcoal. The best voices commence and finish the verse. What may be called the refrain is shouted out by the united voices of the whole choir, who, at the same time, form an accompaniment by slapping one hand on the breast, while the other hand is raised aloft and made to vibrate, so as to produce on the eye an effect analogous to that of the shake in music. This vibrating of the hand is called kakapa. Each verse of the haka is a separate sentence, complete in itself, terminated by what I have called the refrain, which is a peculiar gutteral noise, caused by repeated inspirations, succeeded by forcible expirations of the breath. When there are many singers the effect is strange, and not unpleasing."

Many of the haka of olden times are now no longer practised, such as the haka koiri, and others of a ceremonial nature. Others that have survived, such as the haka poi, have been affected by European influences. Two other forms that have survived are the haka with which visitors are greeted, and the ngeri type, which includes an incisive chant composed and sung for the purpose of avenging some slight, or insult; this latter form is now falling into disuse. In some cases the whole song is sung by all members of a company, in others a fugleman sings the first line, or few lines alone, after which the company joins in. In others, the leader sings every Fig. 19 A Posture Dance by Women Dominion Museum Collection page 97other line alone, the company rendering the next as a kind of chorus. These arrangements differed to a considerable extent. The company always performed the motions of the haka, as the song was sung, including stamping with the feet, arm thrusts and flourishes, quivering of hands, movements of body and head, out thrust tongue, distorted eyes, grimacing, etc. Some dances included all violent, energetic movements, others were of a much milder nature. In some cases, the fugleman's first call was for action on the part of the company, as—

"A-a-a-a! He ringa pakia!"

whereupon all commence to strike the palms of their hands on their thighs, keeping perfect time. Or—

"A-a-a-a! He waewae takahia!"

when all commence to stamp the right foot on the ground, after which the fugleman chants another line or two to lead up to the chorus. The following haka was composed by the Rua-tahuna natives at the time when their lands were about to be formed into a special reserve, the Rohe potae


"A-a-a-a! He ringa pakia!"
(Hands of perfomers slapped on bare thighs)

"I ki mai nga iwi o te motu nei, ma te rohe potae au ka mate."

Chorus: "Kaore!" Fugleman:

"I ki mai nga iwi o te motu nei, ma te rohe potae au ka mate."


"Kaore! Kaore!
Ma Hoani he aha
Ma Apanui he aha
Ma Timi Kara e whakawhaiti
Au! Au! Au!"

Some years ago the writer rode a long trail to Wai-aua in company with a party of natives making a pre-arranged visit to that hamlet. The party included some relatives of the local people, hence the wording of the haka with which it was greeted:—

"Ki mai nei to tipuna, a Tapui-kakahu
'Kai hoki i Wai-aua.'
He aha te kai?
He namu te kai
He aha te kai?
He namu te kai

These things are not worth translating, for the wording conveys no sense to us. For example the above reads:—Your ancestor Tapui-kakahu said, "There is also food at Wai-aua.' What is the page 98food? Sandflies are the food. What is the food? Sandflies are the food,—A-ha-ha!" The explanation of this apparent nonsense lies in an old tradition all too long to relate here. Many of the old haka are now untranslatable, on account of obsolete expressions contained therein, and also because we can now obtain no explanation of incidents, etc., referred to. Others, again have apparently become corrupted to some extent.

When the first Land Commission visited the Tuhoe tribe, in order to take evidence as to ownership of the different blocks, quite a stir was created among the natives, and many old jealousies and feuds were revived. This led to the composing of several haka, or songs of derision, which were rendered with fierce rhythmical emphasis, and accompanied by the usual posture dance. During the ceremonial reception of the Commissioners, a long procession of young men, bare-legged and naked to the waist, issued forth in single file from a large house, each man having his arms out-stretched before him, with hands resting on the shoulders of the preceding man. On reaching the middle of the marae, or plaza, the men arranged themselves in two ranks, facing the visitors, and performed their haka:—

"Te tangi mai a te ika nei a te poraka
A, ku-ke-ke … e!
Ku-keke-keke a Tuhoe ki Te Whaiti
A, ku-ke-ke … e!

Here Tuhoe compared themselves to frogs, which had recently reached that district, and rapidly multiplied. 'The cry of the creature, of the frog.' Ku-ke-ke represents the croaking of the frog. Tuhoe are croaking at Te Whaiti (the name of a block of land claimed by three clans, and the cause of much ill feeling). The haka continues:—

"Titiro ki runga! titiro ki raro!
Titiro ki te mana motuhake e rere mai nei … e!
Hihi ana mai te pene a te komihana
A, hihi ana mai!

(Look up and look down. Gaze at the special power flying yonder. List to the hihi sound of the pen of the Commissioner, as it goes hihi.) The 'special power' was a flag presented by the Government to the Tuhoe tribe, and on which were the words "Te Mana motuhake mo Tuhoe" (the special mana for Tuhoe.) Hihi is an improvised sound word, an example of onomatopoeia, that represents the sound of a pen writing. The Maori is much given to the use of sound words, and readily evolves them when required. Thus he speaks of the ticking of a watch as tatetate, and calls a bullroarer huhu. When a Tuhoe bushman returned from a visit to Auckland, he was asked as to what had page 99 Fig. 20 A Posture Dance by Men Dominion Museum Collection Fig. 21 Visitors from Polynesia to the Christchurch Exhibition received in the manner Maori. Illustrates the kneeling position in some posture dances J. McDonald, Phtto impressed him most during his stay in town. He replied "Ko te kikihi o nga waewae i nga huarahi"—the kikihi sound of feet on the pavements, the ceaseless sound of many footsteps on stone or asphalt sidewalks.

page 100

The following haka has been much in evidence of late years:—

"Ka mate! Ka mate!
Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru
Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra
Upane! Kaupane!
Upane! Kaupane!
Whiti te ra."

(It is death; it is death)

(It is life; it is life)

(Here is the hairy person)

(Who caused the sun to shine, etc.)

Dance of the Mareikura

Advance of Mareikura

Many of the old haka were remarkably picturesque performances, and some of the most spectacular were performed on ceremonial occasions. For example, when two clans met in order to make peace after fighting, the party coming from a distance would fall in on the plaza. The local warriors, stripped for the peruperu and haka, then marched on to the plaza in an ordered column, though not keeping step. Preceding them was a party of girls, clad in fine garments, and adorned in manner barbaric with paint, feathers, etc., the picked dancers of the clan. These girls marched ahead of the men, and, at a certain distance in front of the visitors' opposing column, they halted, facing the opposition party in one rank. The column of fighting men halted behind them, their front rank screened by the girls. The latter, led by their kai kakariki, or leader, then performed one of the most interesting haka of former times, one that requires the illustrating aid of the cinematograph. At a given signal, all the girls made a sharp left turn and marched slowly round the left flank of the rear column, still singing, and each girl waving her right arm, as though beckoning to their late enemies to approach. As the kai kakariki cleared the left flank of the column of men, she made another left turn, the third, and led her rank of maidens in behind the rear rank of men. When she came parallel with the right flank of that column, she halted her line, and all made another left turn. The page 101countermarch was now complete, and the haka powhiri or welcoming dance concluded; the row of girls was in the rear of the column, which then broke into the strenuous display and roaring chorus of the peruperu dance. This was followed by a similar performance on the part of their late enemies, after which speeches were made on both sides, and the peace binding ritual was chanted.

Both sexes acted as leaders in haka, and women were noted for their lascivious motions of the onioni type. Such leaders usually carried a weapon in the right hand and indulged in grotesque movements and contortions described by the terms pukana, pikari, whakapi and aroarowhaki. A man might carry a short weapon, as a mere, or a long one such as a taiaha, or pouwhenua, or tewhatewha, or a carved or painted paddle, but women preferred the mere, or a short wooden weapon termed meremere. These strenuous forms of dances, and their accompanying vigorous songs, are not so pleasing to most Europeans as the milder performances of the haka poi, and that of the girls described above. Those haka performed in a sitting position, such as the ruriruri, were also often of a comparatively mild nature.

It must not be supposed, however, that all vigorous haka are incisive, betokening hostility, or contempt. Many of those employed when welcoming visitors are decidedly strenuous, as also is the umere, with which women were wont to welcome a good haul made by fishermen.