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General Debate : Dr Pita Sharples

General Debate : Dr Pita Sharples

Wednesday 22 March 2006

Kapa o pango kia whakawhenua au i ahau!
Hi aue, hi!
Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! Au, au, aue ha!
Let me become one with the land
This is our land that rumbles
It’s my time! It's my moment!

These are the concepts of nationhood, of passion, of strength that create a distinctive international presence for New Zealand. Yet when first peformed at Carisbrook last August, the new haka of the All Blacks was greeted with insults and attacks from the media and English public alike.

A throat-cutting gesture at the end of the haka was interpreted as implying the slaughter of opponents and was reason for particular anxiety. Indeed the Editorial of The Times had this to say:

If a crazed thug drew a finger threateningly across his throat while screaming into someone’s face on a high street, police would have good grounds for arrest.

Yet if this Editor had talked to haka expert, Derek Lardelli, he or she would have heard that “Playing rugby at this level, with this intensity, is the cutting edge of sport”. The ‘across the throat’ action symbolises the intensity of first class rugby and the consequences of defeat.

Yesterday, Aotearoa celebrated Race Relations Day. The theme for this year is turangawaewae, our home. What better way to celebrate turangawaewae than through celebrating, and seeking to understand the haka as a national icon, the source of pride and belonging?

The significance of the haka overseas, whether it is overdone, whether it has passed its ‘use-by-date’ is a theme which this House needs to give some consideration to. Is it time to replace our haka with something akin to the national chant across the Tasman, Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie, oi oi oi?

The first haka in an overseas representative rugby match was performed by the New Zealand Native Team to tour Britain in 1888.

Then in 1908 an Aboriginal war cry performed by the Wallabies, the Springboks came up with a Zulu war dance until 1928; the Fijians chant the "cibi"; Tonga the "kailao" and Manu Samoa perform their own le manu Samoa.

And in embracing the uniqueness of indigenous identity is not just the domain of sports team. For I know many New Zealanders, who, when travelling overseas, have burst into haka, or sung Pokarekare ana at the top of their lungs, claiming Aotearoa - New Zealand is my home and why not?

Indeed, Tourism NZ has identified Māori culture and branding to sell New Zealand uniqueness. We should be proud of haka, to understand it, and to celebrate it as an art-form of intense passion from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Henare Teowai, an acknowledged master of the art of haka was asked on his death-bed, "What is the art of performing haka?". He replied: "Kia korero te katoa o te tinana." (The whole body should speak).

Last Saturday night, the twelve spontaneous haka that the Sevens team erupted into on their victory lap displayed their expression of honour and pride to its fullest extent - in fact so much so, that captain Tafai Ioasa lost his voice, while Tamati Ellison broke his medal! Haka can be a dangerous sport!

Since the age of seven I have been performing haka, composing, and tutoring. The ultimate for me is always in performing in Te Matatini, the biannual National Maori cultural competitions - the coming together of tribes, of people, of iwi, of culture clubs, of kapa haka, of thousands.

And I’m also in there, boots and all, lapping up the Kapa Haka Super 12 competition, where performers are encouraged to be as innovative as possible while enhancing the traditional aspects of kapa haka.

We must cherish our haka as a traditional Māori performance art form that is unique to New Zealand.

And perhaps, in doing so, we may understand the richer stories beyond the haka. For every haka expresses a universal truth.

Our haka tell us who we are - what we thought of the Government’s action in extinguishing the foreshore and seabed, of how we honour our games swimmers, how we celebrate marriage, how we acknowledge our ancestors, how we welcome people to the marae, how we pay our final respects to those who have passed beyond the veil.

I was so enthused to see the Pakeha boys of our national swimming team, clearly owning the haka, as they celebrated and honoured, with great joy, the efforts of our swim team in Melbourne.

Haka is a point of identity and a point of difference - for Maori and on the world stage for all New Zealanders. It has such rich potential as a form of cultural expression, to honour, to welcome, to farewell, to acknowledge, to celebrate, to mourn, and to be.

Madam Speaker, the haka may well be part of a formula to build an united nation.


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