1. The earliest known rendition of the Haka was to get a guy to show his teeth
Yep! Although it’s not certain when the first Haka was performed, a common story is that of chief Tinirau whose tribeswomen were sent to get revenge on a tohunga (priest) called Kae who had killed Tinirau’s pet whale. All the tribeswomen knew about Kae is that he had crooked teeth so they performed the Haka before the rivalling tribe to make them smile, thus baring their teeth where Kae’s identity was revealed.
By the way, you can learn more about how to pronounce Maori words in Backpacker’s Guide to the Maori Language: te reo Maori.
2. The Haka is not just a “war dance”
It’s a common belief that the Haka is a ceremonial war dance or war chant. However, there are many different types of Maori Haka performed for different occasions with different meanings. For instance, the Ngeri Haka is performed to motivate the performers and spectators. There are also Haka for funerals too.
3. The Haka performed by the All Blacks is a celebration of life over death
The Ka Mate Haka, the Haka performed by the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team before each match, is often believed to be an intimidating war dance. However, it was composed by Te Rauparaha as he was on the run from a rival tribe. He hid in the kumara (sweet potato) pits in a pa (Maori village) where he was taking refuge. While his enemies searched the pa for him, Te Rauparaha chanted “Kama te kama te, Ka ora, ka ora” meaning “I may die, I may die. I may live, I may live.” When he emerged from the pit, his enemies had gone and Te Rauparaha lived on. The rest of the Kama Te Haka’s lyrics go on to celebrate life while he was so close to death.
4. You can visit the “birth Place of the Haka” for free!
By “birthplace of the Haka”, we mean the birthplace of the Kama Te Haka. The Kama Te Haka by Te Rauparaha (see above) was composed while in the kumara pits of Opotaka. This small old pa site can easily be visited off State Highway 47 between Turangi and Tongariro National Park. You can even see the old kumara pits and lots of information about the haka on interpretation panels around the area. Plus, there are some epic views of Mt Tongariro from Opotaka.
5. The quivering hand movements are to reflect the shimmering of heat
One aspect of many Haka, where performers shake their hands in the air, is said to come from the Maori legend of the Sun God, Ra. He had two partners, one representing winter and the other summer. Hine-Raumati, his summer maid, made the air quiver on hot sunny days and their sun would repeat this motion back to her with the quivering of his hands.