The All Blacks and the Haka

One of these days I’m going to shower you in facts about why the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, are one of the greatest sports teams of all time. But for now I shall give some insight into the Haka.


So what is a Haka?  It is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge created by the Maori people of New Zealand.  It was often preformed by Maori warriors before going into battle to show their strength and bravery and in order to intimidate the opposition.  Different Haka were also performed for various reasons such as welcoming special guests or acknowledging great achievement and also funerals.  The Haka involves rhythmically shouting in a kind of chant, while performing vigorous movements and stamping of the feet.  Haka were performed by men, although there are Haka for women and children these days.

Maori warriors

The Haka in sport

The first sports team to perform a Haka before their international matches was the New Zealand Native rugby team when they toured between 1888-89.  The All Blacks began performing a Haka in 1905 and the tradition is still alive today; in fact the All Blacks are more passionate about it now than ever.  Several other New Zealand sports teams have performed Haka, including the Kiwis rugby league team, The Tall Blacks (basketball) and The Black Sticks (hockey), amongst others.  Even some sports teams from other countries have adopted Haka.  Several other Pacific islands have also started doing similar native war dances before their games.

Facing the Haka for any team would be an intense time, especially when its the All Blacks performing it.  The site of these solidly built men performing their war dance is a privilege and a source of inspiration or intimidation, depending how you look at it. Below is a video of the evolution of The All Blacks Haka. Notice how much more passionate the players have become about performing it over the years.


The most famous and most performed Haka by far for the All Blacks is Ka Mate.  It is believed to have first been performed by them in 1906 and has opened hundreds of test matches since.  The lyrics are as follows:

Leader: Ringa pakia! Slap the hands against the thighs!
Uma tiraha! Puff out the chest.
Turi whatia! Bend the knees!
Hope whai ake! Let the hips follow!
Waewae takahia kia kino! Stomp the feet as hard as you can!
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate I die, I die,
Team: Ka ora’ Ka ora’ I live, I live
Leader: Ka mate, ka mate I die, I die,
Team: Ka ora Ka ora “ I live, I live,
All: Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru This is the hairy man
Nāna i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā …Who caused the sun to shine again for me
A Upane! Ka Upane! Up the ladder, Up the ladder
A Upane Kaupane” Up to the top
Whiti te rā,! The sun shines!
Hī! Rise!

Tena Koe Kangaroo was performed during a 1903 tour of Australia.

Ko Niu Tireni was the Haka performed by “The Invincibles” during their unbeaten tour between 1924-1925.

Kapa o Pango – This Haka was first unexpectedly introduced in 2005 against The Springbok (South Africa).  The Haka was specially written for the All Blacks and has been performed on different occasions including in the 2011 World Cup against France.  In response, France formed a “V” and advanced towards the All Blacks.  A very intense start to such a big game.

“Kapa o Pango”
Kapa o Pango kia whakawhenua au i ahau! All Blacks, let me become one with the land
Hī aue, hī!
Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! This is our land that rumbles
Au, au, aue hā! It’s our time! It’s our moment!
Ko Kapa o Pango e ngunguru nei! This defines us as the All Blacks
Au, au, aue hā! It’s our time! It’s our moment!
I āhahā!
Ka tū te ihiihi Our dominance
Ka tū te wanawana Our supremacy will triumph
Ki runga ki te rangi e tū iho nei, tū iho nei, hī! And be placed on high
Ponga rā! Silver fern!
Kapa o Pango, aue hī! All Blacks!
Ponga rā! Silver fern!
Kapa o Pango, aue hī, hā! All Blacks!

Words chanted on field, and their literal interpretation

Taringa whakarongo! Let your ears listen
Kia rite! Kia rite! Kia mau! Hī! Get ready…! Line up…! Steady…! Yeah!
Kia whakawhenua au i ahau! Let me become one with the land
Hī aue, hī! (assertive sounds to raise adrenaline levels)
Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! New Zealand is rumbling here
Au, au, aue hā!
Ko Kapa o Pango e ngunguru nei! The Team in Black is rumbling here
Au, au, aue hā!
I āhahā!
Ka tū te Ihiihi Stand up to the fear
Ka tū te Wanawana Stand up to the terror
Ki runga ki te rangi, To the sky above!
E tū iho nei, tū iho nei, hī! Fight up there, high up there. Yeah!
Ponga rā! The shadows fall!
Kapa o Pango, aue hī! Team in Black, yeah!
Ponga rā! Darkness falls!
Kapa o Pango, aue hī, hā! Team in Black, Yeah, Ha!


The Haka hasn’t been without controversy over the years.  There have been people who criticised it for being an unsporting attempt to intimidate the opposition before a match begins.  Most teams however accept that it is part of rugby’s heritage and face up to it, even feeling it gives them motivation to play harder.

There have been times when opposing teams ignored the Haka.  In a 1996 match the Australian team famously did a warm up drill during the Haka.

In 1989, the All Blacks performed a Haka against Ireland, the Irish formed a tight ‘V’ formation edging closer and closer to within inches of the All Blacks by the time it was done.  In the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter finals France walked within a meter of the Haka forming a line of opposition.  Similarly in a 1997 game against England, English player Richard Cockerill went toe-to-toe with his opposite player.  The referee became so concerned a fight would break out that he pushed them apart.

Richard Cokerill face off with Norm Hewitt during haka against England

Richard Cokerill face off with Norm Hewitt during haka against England

Back in 2005 the Welsh Rugby Union tried to tell the All Blacks when they should do the Haka in the lead up to the match.  The All Blacks refused and instead chose to perform the Haka in the changing room before the match.

The “Kapa o Pango” Haka created a lot of controversy because of a gesture of a thumb drawn down the throat was interpreted by many as implying throat slitting.  The real Maori interpretation is drawing breath of life into the heart and lungs.  Some called for it to be banned and it was removed for a short period before being reintroduced.

In a 2008 rugby test match against Wales, the Welsh responded to the Haka by standing on the pitch and refusing to move until the All Blacks did.  The referee Jonathan Kaplan spent two full minutes trying to get them to move.  Eventually New Zealand captain McCaw instructed his team to break off.


Following the final of the 2011 World Cup, the French national team was fined by the IRB for marching to within 10 metres of their All Black opponents during the performance of the Haka. To many, this has been viewed as an insult from the IRB. The TV host of Campbell Live, John Campbell, voluntarily offered to pay off the fine by going around the public and asking them to donate.

Performing the Haka in the black jersey is a dream for many young rugby-playing kids who look up to the men in black as their idols.  The Haka is now deeply ingrained in New Zealand rugby with over 100 years of opening games.  For many opposing teams, facing the Haka is a highlight in their playing career.  I’m sure it will continue to be a vital part of the All Blacks for years and years to come.

What do you think?

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