November 1, 2015

SCAZZERO | Haka Flocka Flame

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By SOPHIA SCAZZERO

Now the extent of my exposure to the rugby is personally only viewing one game, and watching Ross get completely beat up trying to play it on Friends. What I do know is that it’s like football except you throw backwards (because that makes sense), and the guys are super buff and don’t wear any pads when they play (which makes football players look weak). There are also these fun lift things they do where they basically build pyramids so a guy can get high enough to catch the ball. It’s big in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and is catching on in America at the collegiate level but is far from becoming a national league sport. And then there is the Haka. There is a chance you have seen the YouTube video of rugby players performing an intimidating chanting/stomping sort of routine in front of their opponents before the start of the game. Solely players from New Zealand perform it, and it’s called the Haka. The New Zealand team All Blacks is famous for performing before each game. It’s composed of stomping, a “Come at me” sort of stance, bugged out eyes (they actually have a word for that, Pukana), chanting and sticking out their tongues, the intention of all this being to intimidate their opponents. And it works. They look super intense, scary and badass. Not that I’m a rugby player, but it would definitely work as an intimidation tactic on me.

The All Blacks are believed to have been performing the particular Haka that they are famous for, called the “Ka Mate,” since 1906. It originated as a traditional war dance of the native Maori people in New Zealand, which is why only native teams perform it. Most opposing teams stand in silence when the Haka is being performed, though there have been some incidences of certain players purposefully ignoring the performance. English fans drown it out by singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” (that’s a song choice ripe for analysis later). Over the years it has become quite the a crowd pleaser, some tournaments have actually come under fire for disallowing the performance of it Incidentally, the team just won the 2015 Rugby World Cup this Saturday in a final match against Australia, so maybe there is something to a little pre-game intimidation.

Getting pumped up before a match isn’t a new thing; Baseball players have their walkout songs, football players run underneath an arch flanked by jets of steam, and running and high-fiving is a big one just generally throughout all sports. But the Haka is something entirely different. It’s unique in that it has become a traditional part of rugby in New Zealand and became almost a given when they started playing international matches, and also became a way to popularize New Zealand’s history and culture. Like anything that holds traditional cultural importance; only those with knowledge of its roots and significance should perform it. The Haka is not just used for sporting events, the Maori people use them to speak on events of political and social importance, and hold National and local Haka competitions annually. This has caused some controversy in the past, with some international tournaments not allowing the Haka to be performed due to its origins. But overall, it has been viewed as a positive way to popularize the respected Maori tradition, and as a good source of entertainment and sportsmanship in the international arena.

Sophia Scazzero is a second year columnist. She can be contacted at sscazzero@cornellsun.com. Instant Replay appears every Sunday this semester. 

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