The Atlantic on the haka

The Atlantic reports:

As Brazil or Italy is to soccer, New Zealand is to rugby. And aside from their superior performance on the pitch, the All Blacks—as the country’s national team is known—are perhaps most famous for a special pre-game ritual.

Before each match, the All Blacks, who are set to play Namibia on September 24 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, perform “the ”—a traditional, full-body dance and accompanying chant derived from Māori culture. (The Māori are New Zealand’s indigenous people.) …

As the World Cup unfolds in England, the haka remains an incredible sight to behold. And one that, regardless of one’s national affiliations, is bound to hit you with a rush of adrenaline. The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor describes it as a“perfect act of nationalism.”

I would venture a step further: The All Blacks’ rendition of the haka is indeed a superb act of nationalism, but also a heartening example of postcolonial cohesion. (Rugby has a knack for this.) As Tharoor puts it, “the haka, in its growling intensity, captures … the solidarity of warriors—both of Māori and non-Māori descent—fighting for a common future.”

It’s also an instance of a sports team paying homage to an indigenous culture without simply appropriating it. In this way, the All Blacks stand in stark contrast to controversial U.S. franchises such as the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, and, sadly, my hometown Chicago Blackhawks—all of which incorporate imagery and nomenclature that offends many Native Americans.

It’s a good point about paying homage without it just being appropriation.

The All Blacks’ presentation of the haka is inclusive and participatory. It is, from most reports, authentically performed and assiduously studied by Māori and non-Māori players alike. And this signals, more broadly, New Zealand’s relative success at integrating colonial and indigenous societies.

Far from perfect, but better than most they conclude:

But, on balance, New Zealand’s relationship with the Māori is, relatively speaking, something to be emulated. The Māori were accorded civil rights comparably earlier than most colonized peoples around the world. They were granted rights as full British subjects and had their property rights recognized with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. This was more than 100 years before the Aboriginal people of Australia were offered full citizenship, and more than 80 years before the Indian Citizenship Act in the United States.

They also note:

Politically, the Māori have also been quite successful—again, relatively speaking. They were guaranteed four seats in New Zealand’s parliament starting in 1867, which has since grown to seven. As of the 2014 election, representation far surpasses the seven-seat minimum. There are a total of 25 sitting MPs of Māori descent, constituting 21% of the legislature.

When it comes to the political inclusion of indigenous peoples, the U.S., Canada, and Australia could learn a thing or two from their Kiwi peers. When it comes to paying homage to indigenous cultures in meaningful, respectful ways, the MLB, NFL, and the NHL should also all take note. Because New Zealand and its All Blacks have figured it out.

What I like is how several Maori words have become common words that almost all New Zealanders use – whānau for example.

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