By Phil Hecken
Caleb is back today to discuss the “Haka,” which most of us may be familiar with (we’ve mentioned it and shown video clips of it on UW before), but aside from knowing that it is a “pre-game dance” of South Pacific origin, that’s the extent of our knowledge. That’s about to change. Ladies, and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming back Caleb as he takes you on a wonderful exploration of …
By Caleb Borchers
While today’s entry does not deal with uniforms, it is a discussion of something that is both aesthetic and athletic. Its my belief that the best Uni Watch subjects are about the meeting points of culture, art, business, and sports. Today’s topic certainly fits that bill. While the subject obviously could flow into the ongoing native peoples imagery discussion, I will not be making those connections or trying to stir that pot.
It is Saturday morning and my parents are in town. I sit down on the couch, grab my remote, and pull up the previous evening’s rugby game on my DVR.
“Are the All Blacks playing?” my sports-watching-adverse mother asks.
“Nope, just a club game, not an international test.”
“Shoot, I was hoping to see the haka. That’s the only thing I really like about watching rugby.”
While most Americans know very little about rugby, many are aware of this odd pre-game ceremony known as haka. For some (like my mom) it is the totality of their rugby knowledge. As an avid rugby fan I often wear my All Blacks (New Zealand’s national squad) gear around. If someone happens to recognize the logo (and not think its some sort of Adidas sponsored racial commentary), they typically say, “That’s the team that does a war dance thing right? The hockey or something like that.” In my experience the haka has an amazing ability to burn itself on the memories of first time rugby watchers.
Let’s first define some terms. Many use the term “haka” as a broad term referring to any war dance performed by a team as part of their pre-game preparations (typical protocol is for the haka to occur after the national anthem and directly before kick-off). This is incorrect. Haka (the term is both singular and plural) refers technically only to certain dances originating with the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. Haka is not a specific dance, but instead a style of dance. (For more specifics on what haka are and are not, look here.) Often haka are accompanied with grunting noises, eye ball bulging, and protruding of the tongue. People often connect these actions with the Maori history of cannibalism, but the debate about the nature of cannibalism in Maori culture makes this “obvious” connection not so obvious. While the most likely place for someone to see haka is an athletic event, it is a cultural event that occurs in many others contexts, particularly as part of the tourism industry.
The All Blacks, the most famous performers of haka, in fact do two different haka, Ka Mate and Kapa O Pango. Other national New Zealand teams, including the New Zealand Maori, have their own particular haka. Many schools also have their own versions. Other famous pre-game dances not technically haka include Tonga’s Sipi Tau, Fiji’s Bole and Cibi, and Samoa’s Siva Tau. While a haka typically occurs as part of pre-game festivities, some times teams perform a haka after winning a championship. The two most notable examples being the New Zealand Sevens team and the Chiefs (the only New Zealand Super Rugby team to have a haka).
(If anyone would like to try along at home, there is a nice little instructional Ka Mate animation here, provided by https://www.hakabook.co.nz/ where you can buy a nice little book about haka. I bought my copy on a trip to New Zealand and it’s a good primer.)
Performance of the haka by a New Zealand national rugby team goes back to the “New Zealand Natives” tour of 1888. As one can see from the footage at the beginning of this video, for much of the All Blacks history the haka was not taken too seriously. Fans loved it but players were not well rehearsed. Then came Buck Shelford. Shelford is proud of his Maori heritage and famous as one of the toughest characters in rugby history. (He lives in infamy for playing much of a game with a torn scrotum.) When he became part of the All Blacks Shelford demanded more respect for the haka. Soon the team changed their attitude and style completely. Since Shelford, the haka is serious business. It is now intended as a challenge to opisition more than a performace for the fans. The All Blacks practice it and talk as a squad about its significance. Usually the All Blacks with most knowledge of Maori culture, language, and heritage are the leaders of the haka.
The All Blacks historically have performed Ka Mate. Ka Mate was written in the early 19th century and tells the story of a chief escaping another tribe pursuing him. The content of Ka Mate does not directly deal with the game of rugby, but does describe a moment of intense pressure. The opening lines “It’s death, it’s death. It’s life, it’s life,” describes well the way much of New Zealand feels about rugby.
More recently the All Blacks have created Kapa O Pango. This haka was created in conjunction with some leading experts in Maori culture. This video and this video give a good explanation of the process of creating Kapa. The lyrical content of this haka does deal specifically with athletics, New Zealand, the All Blacks, and the silver fern. (All the more reason why the University of Hawaii’s use of it is farcical, even when they are in black unis.)
Kapa O Pango and Ka Mate are both part of the All Blacks’ repertoire. The leadership of the team decides which will be performed before a game. Early on there were some rumors that Kapa was created in part because the story behind Ka Mate was somehow unpalatable for tribes in the south island of New Zealand. Kapa would thus be performed before games played on the that island. The logic there is fuzzy and the All Blacks have shown seemingly no preferences based on geography. The All Blacks do seem to prefer performing Kapa before more significant tests, Ka Mate the rest of the time. In my memory they have performed Ka Mate before all games against tier two nations and almost always perform Kapa before games in which they can win a trophy.
Responses to the haka are part of rugby lore. Both the Irish and French have responded by slowly approaching the haka, ending nose to nose with the All Blacks. This creates an obvious tension before the game, but also risks ugly confrontation, so it has been generally outlawed by the International Rugby Board who fine teams for advancing beyond a certain point. Several years ago the Welsh responded by refusing to be the first that turned away from the haka, leading to an awkward, tense staring contest. Australian David Campese used to do warm ups, ignoring the haka all together. Crowds sometimes will respond by signing a national song. By far the most fascinating response comes from the other Pacific island nations, who will respond with their own dance in one of world sport’s great spectacles. A similarly fantastic moment occurred during a game against Irish club Munster, when Munster’s Kiwi players (some former All Blacks) performed their own version of Ka Mate.
The haka has a long history of controversies as well. Various voices have called for the end of the haka due to putting others at a competitive disadvantage and being out of date. Others criticize Kapa O Pango due to the violent image of the “throat slitting” gesture at the end. The All Blacks consistently defend that motion as taking in the “breath of life.” While some players do clearly make the move in a way that suggests opening the lungs others have a tendency to move their hand in a discernibly more violent nature. The NFL has banned a similar move famously performed after a touchdown pass by Brett Favre. (Note that Australians are the most frequent haka complainers. If they ever beat the All Blacks consistently they might whine less.)
Others have wanted to move when the haka occurs to lessen its impact. This led to a famous occasion when the Welsh union refused the All Blacks the traditional post-anthem window at a game in Cardiff. The Kiwis responded by doing the haka in the hallway outside their changing rooms. On this occasion the All Blacks stressed that the haka was personal and spiritual. It may be personal, but it is also a large reason that many fans pay big money to attend All Black games. No other nation has dared repeat Wales mistake, fearing the backlash from ticket holders. In the end some question if this decision was little more than the Kiwis passive aggressively getting their way.
The “personal and spiritual” description of the haka would hold more water if the All Blacks didn’t trot the haka out every time a sponsor asks them to. The fanfare surrounding the haka, including microphones, camera men, and pyrotechnics afterwards, also make it feel like less of a deeply personal experience and more of a show. Some All Blacks (particularly second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu) have a bad habit of frequently complaining that an opponent “disrespected” the haka. One might fairly wonder, given the commonness of the complaint, if one can do anything to “respect” the haka other than cower in fear. While the haka certainly must be meaningful to the players, it strikes many as hypocritical for the All Blacks to stress the haka’s sanctity while also taking full commercial advantage of the tradition.
Worldwide the haka is perhaps the most known rugby tradition. It brings much tradition, excitement, commercial impact, and controversy to the sport. While players from regular opponents like South Africa and Australia find the tradition stale at times, many international players see fronting the haka as a career achievement. It is simply one of the most remarkable sights in the world of sports and fascinating meeting point of athletics and aesthetics.
Thanks, Caleb. Great, great article (as always). Readers? How about a big round of virtual applause for Caleb, and please post your thoughts in the comments section down below.
Counting down towards the NFL season. Got Music From NFL Films going full blast here, so let’s kick off, so to speak, with some vintage NFL art. Here’s a nice 1970 Boston Patriots poster. The same seller also has great posters for the NFC/AFC, Steelers, Chiefs, and a Redskins one I’ve never seen before. Check on these quick, all but the Skins are up this afternoon.
• The White Sox have had a long and varied uni-history; this one surely isn’t among the highlights. “Egads,” says David Polakoff, who sent it in.
• Terrific mini-bat set from the late 1950s-early 1960s.
• Great LA Rams artwork on the cover of this 1967 SI NFL season preview issue.
• The SF Giants have some continued fascination with Star Wars; not quite sure why. This Buster Posey Stormtrooper bobble is gonna be given away September 8th, and I’d really like to have one. The Giants aren’t beating anyone this year, but they lead the league by ten miles in terms of bobble giveaways.
• Nice looking 1970s-era Bobby Orr milk mug. No Bruins ID on it, so maybe it was a local NE market giveaway?
• Nice big set of 1970s MLB fridge magnets.
• Check out this vintage PCL San Diego Padres Original SEALED Friar Decal Sticker. That comes from Michael Ortman who says, “I’m a native San Diegan, and also a typical Uni-Watch reader with a mutant ability for recall when it comes to anything graphic, and having said that, I’ve never ever seen this before.”
Seen something on eBay or Etsy that you think would make good Collector’s Corner fodder? Send your submissions here.
NCAAFB Uniform News & Updates
This will be a semi-recurring column on Uni Watch and will appear whenever there is any news or updates on the College Football uniform front.
If you have ANY new NCAAFB news, follow and tweet me at @PhilHecken (and you’ll get your tweet in lights on here). You can also e-mail me (Phil (dot) Hecken (at) Gmail (dot) com) or send/cc: Paul to the following address: NewCollegeUni (at) Gmail (dot) com. OK? OK! (for any image, click to enlarge):
• Old Dominion University (helmet):
“The matte navy blue background, gray metallic stripe running down the middle and decal of Big Blue (ODU’s lion mascot) inside the outline of the state of Virginia on the left side of the helmet are all still there. This represents our first look, however, at what’s on the right side of the lid: The players’ numbers in metallic gray.” (from The Lost Lettermen h/t Chris Mahr).
• University of North Texas (throwback):
For the celebration of their 100th Anniversary, the UNT Mean Green are going to wear these special throwback uniforms on August 31st, when they open the season against Idaho. According to this article, “The jerseys, which were introduced at a Monday afternoon press conference at the stadium, incorporate elements from the golden eras of Mean Green football-the Abner Haynes era of the late 1950s, the Mean Joe Greene era (1966-1968), the Hayden Fry era (1973-1978) and the recent four-year bowl streak under Darrell Dickey (2000-2004).” (Thanks to Braden Morehead and h/t to Phil Fleckenstein ”@ZestyTacoSauce).
• Baldwin Wallace University:
— BWU Equipment. (@BWEquipment) August 13, 2013
(h/t to Nick Hanson).
That’s it for the college uni news for today. Keep the tips coming folks!
Here’s the latest on the ‘Skins name and related issues:
• “Governor threatens veto: A bill that loosens a ban on Native American mascots in Oregon schools could be killed by the action” (h/t to Alex Allen)
• “Ditching the Redskins, Once and for All”
Uni Watch News Ticker: Wonderful start to today’s ticker, and it comes from Marty Corcoran, who spent the weekend at Notre Dame, and whose cousin who played hockey there gave us a tour of the rink. They’ve got some interesting interlocking “ND”s painted on the walls. Pretty cool! … And there is a whole ticker’s worth of ticker submissions from Leo Strawn next: “I have a white cap/black bill like the old White Sox home caps. So I was checking out Okkonen’s early Sox unis and noticed a mistake he made. For 1917 it says: ‘The White Sox wore special patriotic uniforms during the 1917 World Series.’ There is a photo linked to the uni templates that shows this combo, which is not included in his uniform graphics for that season. (Okkonen only had one combo with a dark cap, and that was worn with a dark uni, not this “patriotic” one.); Also, I may have brought this one up before (not sure), but the WFL of 1974-75 used a yellow ball with red stripes for its inaugural season. But the cover of this 1974 “Football World” game program shows Commissioner Gary Davidson holding a yellow ball with BLUE stripes. I was a huge WFL fan and that particular ball was not used in any WFL games that I’m aware of; On the subject of football, I stumbled across this awesome Ottawa Rough Riders helmet from the 1950s (on eBay)!; And another eBay find: This Canadian Football mag from 1981 with those simplistic, beautiful Montreal Allouettes jerseys. Notice how far apart the TV numbers are spaced on his shoulder; Down under, the Richmond Tigers and Gold Coast Suns wore special jumpers this weekend. The Tigers honored supporters who donated to the “Fighting Tiger Fund”, which helps the club cover some of the costs of running the team; The names were hard to see on the sublimated jumpers at a distance, although the “Strong & Bold” patch (not sure what to call it, since it’s not technically a “patch” since it’s sublimated) is plainly visible, but I did manage to find a close up to show the names, and noticed something odd. The names were alphabetized by first name, not surname; The Suns wore a special jumper with a modified logo saying “Foundation Member”, and also included names on the jumpers of those supporters. (You can see the area with the names much easier on the Gold Coast jumper, which appears to be a big square of a lighter color surrounding the logo.); AFL Round 20 featured two color-on-color matches this weekend: Melbourne Demons v Gold Coast Suns and Sydney Swans v Collingwood Magpies.” … More Notre Dame info from Warren Junium: New ND equipment room–Here’s a look at the Big Lep and prepping the game helmets. Next stop, the Owls of Temple. … Good WaPo article that examines upgrades at the Montgomery County public schools weren’t funded with taxpayer dollars, instead arriving via private donations and parent fundraising (thanks to TommyTheCPA). … Nice find by Troy Guthrie who has a great t-shirt from Florida Marlins’ 1st year in existence. “My parents bought me this shirt and a regular Marlins t-shirt for my birthday in June 1993 and I proudly wore them with my teal Marlins cap. The shirt had a psedo-Wikipedia entry on the Marlins’ look before Wikipedia ever existed.” … One NFL update I missed yesterday was brought up by Thomas Juettner: The Chicago Bears wore white shoes for Friday’s game. Says Thomas, “Not sure if this is completely permanent but if it is then it would be the first time the Bears have worn white cleats since 1998.” … Jason Hillyer saw these NFL-licensed kids bike helmets recently at a Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. … NFL number change update — The Ravens recently signed Brandon Stokley, who will wear #80. He wore the same number on his first run with the Ravens from 1999-2002 (thanks to Andrew Cosentino). And it seems like they’re having a lot of fun with it too. … In yesterday’s lede, and in the comments, there were questions raised about the Vikings purple helmets not matching the color of the jerseys. The Vikings have actually attempted to address this (scroll down). I’m not buying that the colors match. … Looks like the FSU Seminoles pants are now “a lighter material” (h/t BJ Lanier @BJ_Lanier). … Gotta love MiLB Mascots — here is the the sleeve patch for the Wilmington Blue Rocks which is their mascot, Mr. Celery. Note that Mr. Celery is wearing striped stirrups (awesome submission by David Kendrick). … More on banned NFL masks: Brian Orakpo’s mask is gone (from Tommy Turner). … Heh. This is pretty funny (thanks to Andrew Hoenig). … Nice one from Manzell Blakeley: The M’s had swtiched to the ultra-generic “S inside a baseball” logo by 1989 when Griffey Jr joined the team – but in 1987 the Mariners Single-A affiliate Bellingham, with Griffey in tow, played a game at the Kingdome before a Mariners game. … Prior to the Vikings’ first preseason game on Friday, they had been wearing they prior set of pants. It seems as if in yesterday’s practice, they have switched to their new ones, notes Kyle Petersen. “I am unsure why they would do this.” (August 6th practice; August 12th practice – Vines courtesy of Vikings writer, Andrew Krammer @andrew_krammer). … So, did you know Kerry Wood hosts a whiffleball game at Wrigley? Now you do (h/t Jay Greening @jay_peg). … “Absolutely frightening mascot of some sort on this 1950s White Sox scorecard,” says Todd Radom (@ToddRadom). “Maybe a deranged great-uncle of Mr. Met.” … “Auburn Fail,” writes Ryan Bohannon. “Used a Washington helmet in their ad for a game vs. Wazzu. Does this prove football outside of the SEC doesn’t matter? You make the call.” … Michigan football to ease back on alternate uniforms, Brady Hoke says (thanks to Steve Ceruolo) … This past Saturday night in St. Petersburg, Cosmos midfielder Joseph Nane wore a shirt with no crest, notes Chance Michaels. “I didn’t get to watch the match, so I don’t know if he lost it during the action or if it was never there in the first place.” … In tennis news, The Fed is back to his old frame in the Cincinnati tourney (thanks Brinke). … Northwestern has updated its logo (from Jay Francis). … And, thank you USPS, this really ruined my Monday–but at least I can now legally scream “GET OFF MY LAWN”. I’m OLD, but I’m not THAT old!
And that’s all for this fine Tuesday dear readers. Big thanks again to Caleb Borchers for that great lede, Brinke for the CC, and to everyone who contributed to the ticker, the College Football Uni News or the ‘Skins News sections. You guys have a great day and I will catch you again on Hump Day.
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHecken.
“I take offense to the phrase ‘Jaguars kindergarten art project!’ My pre-schooler has much better skill and taste than the designers of that abomination.”