Haka are best described as challenges. They are used to make a point and to vent anger… They are vocal performances involving rhythmic declamation in triple metre and aggressive or challenging facial expressions (pūkana, literally “glaring”), body movements and demeanour. The men make heavy use of foot stamping, body percussion, and grimace in an attempt to appear as menacing as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, haka is not only a war dance. There are many different types of haka, each appropriate for a different occasion. According to haka and Māori-language expert Tīmoti Kāretu, the haka provides a platform for its composer to ‘vent his spleen, to sing someone’s praises, to welcome his guests, to open a new meeting house or dining hall, to pay his respects to the dead, to honour his ancestors, to teach his traditions to the succeeding generations.’1 What each of these variants has in common is the mauri (life force) that permeates every aspect of the art. Haka draws on the performers’ spirits as well as their thoughts.
These incredible performances might inspire kids of all ages to attempt their own ferocious facial expressions.
Watch more dance tradition videos on this site.