When the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team descending on Chitown for a test match with the USA Eagles a large number of Kiwis living abroad in the USA and Canada gathered. Walking around the Chicago Loop, an adventurer could hear many men and women speaking with the softer, prettier antipodean accent.
This was a historic occasion as the All Blacks had not played in the USA since 1980. It became an opportunity for All Blacks sponsor AIG to introduce Americans to some traditions in rugby and New Zealand culture. The most obvious is the haka. This is the war cry and dance that the Maori developed to intimidate their opponents. In modern New Zealand it is a living part of the culture. My favorite haka performance is the one my son and his fellow People to People travellers did for us in the Sacramento Airport upon returning from New Zealand in 2003. AIG’s #DoTheHaka video shows you how to perform Ka Mate.
The All Blacks first performed the haka as part of the pre-match rituals in 1905. While other teams do a haka before the match (youth teams, Polynesian teams) it is most strongly identified with the All Blacks. Read here for a history of Ka Mate on the All Blacks website.
Why does the haka strike fear into opponents? Could it be the sheer size of the All Blacks players? Other teams are also made up of big guys. More likely it is the intensity of the performance and the impact of the entire team doing it in unison. This is a group of guys who are bonded and demonstrating how they are going to play as a unit on the field. I am thinking that if you are the USA Eagles on November 1 at 2:50 p.m. you are thinking “Oh crap. I am in for it now.”
The Field Museum, Chicago’s natural history museum, put together a special exhibit to celebrate the haka and New Zealand culture. The Field Museum is right next to Soldier Field so I swung in there and used my rugby ticket for a discount. ($13 admission) The ticket sales person pointed upstairs and said it was by the Marai. I trooped off and spent a while wondering through the labyrinth of the Pacific exhibit until I found the Maori meeting house.
The first time I visited the Field Museum I found their aged exhibits charming and retro. On this visit, especially with a new exhibit done in much the same style, I found it underwhelming. Wondering why they did not reach out to Auckland Museum for assistance. In fact, in my mind I was comparing this exhibit to one the Auckland Museum might do and finding the whole presentation lacking in spirit and content.
The haka in modern culture is a fun, living thing that includes flash mob hakas, school hakas, and so much more. The best way to appreciate the haka is to see it live. I dare you not to get chills.
The next best thing is to see the All Blacks haka from the game on November 1.