Q: What’s making you happy today? A: Haka flashmobs

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted September 22, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Rugby fever is insane over here in New Zealand. I can’t go anywhere without being bombarded with flags and rugby balls. :P

    The only thing that upsets me is that our women’s team are the current world champions, and they get zero coverage over here. Some people don’t even know that we have a female rugby team. Like in America, women’s sport gets very little coverage unless it’s netball or tennis (and even then I have to watch constant pervy shots at their bodies rather than the actual tennis…)

    • Posted September 22, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      They are? I don’t even know what our women’s teams name is.

  2. Posted September 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I LOVE watching Maoris perform the Haka. As you said, it saddens me that Australia doesn’t embrace Australian Indigenous customs on the same level as New Zealand, but at least in recent years Aboriginal dance culture has gained more mainstream exposure through companies like the Bangarra Dance co.

    Great idea for a column, always nice to have a bit of positivity!

  3. Posted September 22, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    I am guessing the Haka reference in Friday Night Lights came from the actual Texas state football champions around that time, Trinity High School from Euless, TX. The school has a relatively high number of Samoan and Tongan students on the football team and have traditionally performed the Haka before each football game.

  4. Posted September 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    We had the USA rugby team visit our school last week (girls faces as they walked in: 8D ) and our school performed our haka for them. They looked terrified, poor boys (haha) but trust me, our haka had nothing to do with rugby.

  5. Posted September 24, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Just an FYI. The Tongan and Samoan Rugby teams perform (really cool) war dances called the Sipi Tau and Siva Tau respectively (these are the names for the Rugby World Cup dances anyway). Haka is a way of cooking (boiling?) in Tongan language, not sure about Samoan. Haka is a Maori term. I’m sure someone with more Pacific Islands knowledge could give a more information on this.

    As an Australian, I like how New Zealand seems to be much better at embracing (but hopefully not appropriating) Maori culture than Australia is at embracing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

    I am also loving that I can watch Rugby World Cup matches live at reasonable times.

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