The idea for this post, which I hope will become something of a series, is lovingly ripped off from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. PCHH, which is beyond-fantastic listening – intelligent, funny, informed pop culture commentary done by a group of people who clearly enjoy each other’s company – runs a segment on every show called “What’s Making You Happy This Week?”
The Rugby World Cup, as our Australian and British readers are doubtless aware, is happening right now in New Zealand (Americans, the USA is playing Australia at 4:30am ET tomorrow! Australia is going to win! You should watch anyway!).
On my way back from Sydney to the States earlier this week, I flew through Auckland, and let me tell you, World Cup Fever is palpable. The airport was full of passengers wearing various team gear and all the stores were showing their support for the formidable NZ side, the All Blacks.
As an Australian, it’s unacceptable for me to say this, but I love the All Blacks. More specifically, I love the relationship the team seems to have with the nation it represents. I love the way the country gets behind the team – in a small country that nonetheless manages to dominate international rugby, the All Blacks are national heroes. Seriously, check out how excited these school kids are to get a visit from team captain Richie McCaw.
The other thing I love about the All Blacks is their use of the Haka, the Maori war dance, before games. Americans unfamiliar with rugby might recognize the Haka from the movie Invictus, in which Nelson Mandela worries that the South African team might be too intimidated by the dance to play well, or from “Friday Night Lights,” in which Billy Riggins teaches the dance to the East Dillon Lions. The Rugby World Cup site has a further explanation of the All Blacks Haka, as well as the Hakas performed by the Samoan and Tongan teams.
There is certainly a larger conversation to be had about the politics of players, and especially white players, performing the Haka (and about fictional West Texas football teams appropriating it). However, it cannot be denied that the Haka has become integral to and iconic of New Zealand rugby. And, as New Zealand rugby has become so important to New Zealand national identity, so too has the Haka. As someone who comes from a country where indigenous customs are often ignored or belittled, it’s great to see Kiwis embrace this Maori custom, even if it’s a very small part of the native culture.
Like I said, I love the way New Zealand loves its rugby, its team, and its team’s customs. Which is why I love this video of a Haka flashmob in Auckland earlier this month.