Even if you have not seen much of rugby you have likely heard of the Haka. It is one of the biggest traditions in rugby. But a lot of people don’t really know the meaning behind the Haka.
Why do rugby players do the Haka? The Haka is a traditional dance of the Maori people and it has been a tradition for the New Zealand team to perform the Haka prior to a game. It has been a tradition in rugby since the 1880s.
The Haka is a ceremonial performance in Maori culture. Many people believe that the Haka originated as a war dance but this is not the case. In Maori culture, the Haka was originally used to welcome distinguished guests or to acknowledge a great achievement. It is traditionally performed by both men and women.
In terms of the Haka within rugby, the tradition likely began around the same time as the creation of the New Zealand Rugby team. In 1888-89, the New Zealand Native team toured the Home Nations, becoming the first team from a British colony to do so. It was a historic tour for the New Zealand team.
It was originally supposed to only be Maori players selected to the team, but there were four non-Maori players eventually selected. Despite this, the team performed the Haka before their very first game of the tour against Surry. When New Zealand played their first international against Australia, they once again performed the Haka before the game.
Since then it has become a tradition for the New Zealand team to perform the Haka before a match. It is a tradition which has extended to other sports and is not just done by the New Zealand Rugby Union team.
In terms of why teams perform the Haka, the tradition in Maori culture is a huge part of it. The Haka has become an expectation for fans when certain teams play against each other as a team like New Zealand has been performing the Haka for over one hundred years.
There is also another reason why teams like to perform the Haka before a game. It can be seen as laying down a challenge. The Haka can be pretty intimidating to watch and it is why teams will often look to meet the challenge while the Haka is performed. Striking fear into your opposition can certainly help any team.
What rugby teams do the Haka?
Not every team in rugby will perform the Haka, it is usually something that is only performed by teams with a Maori or Polynesian influence. The New Zealand Rugby team are the most well-known performers of the Haka. They have been doing so since 1888 and the Haka is synonymous with the All Blacks.
But there are many more teams who perform the Haka before a game. These are mainly teams who have a Maori influence. Munster Rugby performed the Haka before a 2008 game against the All Blacks to commemorate the first game at their new stadium.
The Munster team that came up against New Zealand featured former All Blacks like Doug Hewlett and sevens player Lifeimi Mafi. They performed the Haka prior to the game, with their teammates standing behind the four of them in support.
The Haka is synonymous with Maori culture and these sorts of performances are also very common in Polynesian culture. There are other nations that have similar traditional dances that other rugby nations perform. Teams like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa all have similar dances that they perform before rugby games, but these are not the Haka.
Fiji has the Cibi which is a Fijian war dance that was traditionally performed before or after battle. Tonga has the Kailao which is a cultural dance that has more recently been updated in 2011. Samoa has the Siva Tau which is a Samoan war dance, which is also performed by WWE duo The Usos.
How is it decided who leads the Haka?
The Haka is one of the most well-known rugby traditions, with the performance striking fear into the opposition of the All Blacks. The Haka is usually led by one player who stands at the front of the team. It is a very big honour to lead the Haka.
The leader of the Haka is chosen by the captain of the team. It is why Aaron Smith is usually chosen to lead the Haka for the All Blacks. New Zealand captain Sam Cane sees Smith as one of the most experienced players in the team and likely a leader for the team. So Cane has Smith as the usual leader of the Haka.
Why are the All Blacks called the All Blacks?
The New Zealand rugby team are one of the teams that is often known by its nickname, alongside teams like South Africa( Springboks) and Australia( Wallabies). The name All Blacks first came around when a representative New Zealand team toured the British Isles in 1905.
The name came about because All Blacks player Billy Wallace saw a London newspaper that said the New Zealand team played like they were “all backs”. A typing error meant that the newspaper said “all blacks” instead. This was because the team played incredibly fast which is why they were described as playing like they were “all backs”.
While this is sometimes given as the reason, it is much more likely that the nickname came from the fact that the team played in an all-black uniform. The name is likely to have been created before this tour, but it became popularised on the tour.
Why do rugby players shake their hands during the Haka?
One of the most interesting facts about the Haka is that the part where the performer shakes their hands is supposed to imitate the heat created by the Maori Sun God. The Sun God had two partners, one that represented Winter and one that represented Summer. His Summer partner would make the air quiver on hot days and this is what the Haka is imitating.