History of the Haka - explaining New Zealand's rugby ritual

Facing the haka will become a familiar task for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand over the next five weeks.

Not only will the All Blacks perform the traditional pre-match challenge before all three Tests, for the first time, all five of the Lions’ Super Rugby opponents – Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders, Chiefs and Hurricanes – have been given an opportunity to deliver their versions of the haka.

It is thought that not all of them will do so, but the Blues – the Lions’ opponents in Auckland on Wednesday – will take up the offer. Here, we take a look at what the haka is all about.

What is the Haka?

The haka is a traditional war cry, war dance or challenge from the Maori people of New Zealand. It is performed by the All Blacks before every Test match – home and away – immediately prior to kick-off. It is a short ritual that sees players performing facial contortions, stamping their feet and slapping their thighs.

The traditional haka starts with the chanted words “Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!”, which translated means “I die! I die! I live! I live!”.

What are its origins?

(Gareth Fuller/PA)
(Gareth Fuller/PA)

It was first performed by the New Zealand Native rugby team in 1888 and 1889, and it has been carried on by the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, since 1905.

The original “Ka mate” haka was composed in the early 19th Century by a Maori warrior chief called Te Rauparaha.

How do opposing teams face up to it?

(David Davies/PA)
(David Davies/PA)

Opposition teams usually stand in a line 10 metres inside their own half and observe the challenge being laid down by New Zealand.

Has it caused controversy?

(David Davies/PA)
(David Davies/PA)


Ireland captain Willie Anderson famously marched his team towards the All Blacks while the haka was going on at Lansdowne Road, Dublin in 1989, ending up nose-to-nose with All Blacks skipper Wayne Shelford.

England hooker Richard Cockerill went head to head with his opposite number Norm Hewitt at Old Trafford, Manchester in 1997.

In 2006, the New Zealand players performed the haka in their stadium changing room in Cardiff as a protest because Wales wanted to immediately follow the haka by playing their own national anthem.

Does it still have a place in modern-day professional sport?

(Owen Humphreys /PA)
(Owen Humphreys /PA)

The majority view is one of the haka being a piece of traditional sporting theatre that should never be lost, although there is an opinion that it has become too much of a sideshow and too much attention is placed on it.


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