How to dance haka

The Haka Dance of War From New Zealand


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New Zealand

6 minutes read

The All Blacks do the Haka during the England versus New Zealand autumn international rugby union match at Twickenham Stadium on November 16th 2013 in London (Photo by Tom Jenkins)

Haka dance is a Maori war dance from New Zealand. Haka is a ceremonial dance said to be performed as a part of battle preparations. The Maoris are an indigenous community of New Zealand and this ‘war dance’ is said to have been essentially developed to be performed before a battle. There are different types of Haka, and they include ka mate, kapa o pango, whakatu waewae, tutu ngarahu and peruperu. This Maori dance style is renowned for energetic dance movements as well as for loud and aggressive chanting by the performers. The Haka is performed by a group and displays the ‘pride’ and ‘solidarity’ of the tribe.

What is the Haka dance?

The Haka dance is very peculiar in the way the group members chant loudly with aggressive body stances like foot stomping, chest beating, swaying and thigh slapping. The dancers literally stick out the tongues and make rhythmic shouts with wide bulging eyes. To the uninitiated, it may seem a bit daunting and intimidating.

The Haka of New Zealand is now performed in social events, felicitation ceremonies, sports, weddings and even funerals.

The Haka is an ancient type of Mori war dance which is traditionally used on the battlefield and when groups come together in peace.

The basic actions include foot-stamping, tongue protrusions, and rhythmic body movements to accompany a chant. The History of Haka poetically describes the ancestors in the tribe’s history. Performance requires strict discipline. It is a character-building exercise for the performers to connect themselves with their past and their present.

Video: Welcome to New Zealand | TIP 005: HAKA by YouTube channel ‘How To Dad‘

History/origin of the Haka Dance:

According to the cultural history of New Zealand and the Maori community, this dance was originally conceived to be performed before battle by warriors so as to essentially intimidate the enemy. However, over the years this dance has been performed mainly as a social dance in functions such as welcome ceremonies rather than before a war.

Today, Haka dance captures the power of the language, music, and wairua of te ao Māori. It’s an important component of the Māori world. Haka is more than a cultural performance; it is inked to the rituals that evolved out of the rituals that we have on marae, including pōwhiri, whaikorero, and waiata.”

Furthermore, this dance has also been popularized over the years by the New Zealand Rugby Union team known as the “All Blacks” who perform it prior to every international match they play. Apparently, the origin of this dance is closely linked to a Maori myth related to a sun god named Tama-nui-te-ra worshipped by the community. It is said that this sun god had a wife and son named Hine-raumati and Tane-rore respectively. Now, according to the Maori community, one day the son supposedly danced for his mother. It was this dance performed by Tan-rore that was then used by the community as a foundation to develop this dance now known as “Haka”.

Different forms of Haka dance

Some of the forms of Haka dance where the style is performed well with or without weapons are:

a. The Tutungaruhu (performed with long weapons by a war party who jumps from side to side)

b. Ngeri ( no moves performed without weapons to face the enemy)

c. Peruperu (performed with weapons, men leap off the ground up and down, face to-face with the enemy).

d. Haka Taparahi (performed without weapons)

These are a few examples of the different forms of Haka dance.

The Benefits Of Haka Dance

What should be pursued is the uniformity of movement and message. The message should be paramount, Haka dance was always connected with war, but in today’s world, physical war has become politically oriented.

This style has become a means to convey messages, whether they be social, political, or environmental issues, to have an audible voice which can be heard throughout the globe. This alerts people that there is an issue, which is also followed by a solution or thought of encouragement.

Nowadays, Haka is used for Mori ceremonies and celebrations as a way to honour guests and to show the importance of the occasion. This is almost seen in gatherings and occasions.

The head is alert like a tekoteko, the arms are stretched out like a maihi, and the chest is erect like a whare. 

The importance of Haka dance

The Maori use Haka to help their people find themselves, particularly those Maori who have grown up in cities and have lost touch with their traditional upbringing. Through Haka, they found a source to find the connection.

“I have had many youths come through my doors over the last 25 years.” Many of these kids are affiliated with gangs and kicked out of schools,” says the founder of The Haka Tapeta Wehi Experience. The change in these kids is quite unbelievable. “Haka is a tool. Kids get to learn about Whakapapa (genealogy), Tikanga (Maori lore), Tipuna (ancestors), Atua Maori (Maori gods) and most importantly, it reconnects them to themselves. Identity is the essence of any kid. It helps our youth throughout the right direction to face challenges that may lie ahead.

Video on Haka Dance History:


Costumes used in the Haka Dance

While the Haka dance is perceived as a ceremonial battle dance performed by men, it is actually performed by both men and women across a variety of ceremonies in the Maori culture. The traditional “Kapa Haka” costume is mainly used in this dance style. However, this costume varies according to the gender as follows:

For men:

The Kapa Haka costume may include a tāniko tātua (belt), Piupiu skirt (flax skirt) and a headband. Tāniko is a Maori weaving technique with coloured yarn involving ‘twinings’. The material used in the tāniko is muka fiber prepared using the New Zealand flax.

For women:

The Kapa Haka costume can include elastic shoulder straps, a Piupiu skirt (flax skirt), tāniko bodice (a top made of coloured yarn weaving) and a headband. Some women members may also wear the korowai (cloak).

Music involved in the Haka

No musical instrument or ensemble is actually used in this unique “war” dance. Usually, the performers make use of strong chanting while performing.

Training, availability and the technique involved in the Haka:

In terms of technique, this war dance basically involves the use of extremely vigorous body movements. Furthermore, the performers also stamp their feet in rhythm with the accompanying chanting. As for training centers/schools, there are practically none around the world since this “war” dance was mainly performed by the Maori community in New Zealand. In the past few decades, the dance has gained popularity due to the performance by the ‘All Blacks’ Rugby team of New Zealand. This has led to many well performed Haka dances recorded and put up on YouTube. If someone or a group wants to learn and perform the Haka, there are a few online videos available as tutorials.

Best Haka Dance Videos

The Greatest Haka everOriginal Maori Haka DanceKapa Haka | NPRMāori All Blacks perform their haka against IrelandThe Best Haka of all time?! #RWC2021

image credit

Views: 1,227



The Maori Haka: Its Meaning & History

© Tourism NZ

What is the Meaning of the Haka?

If you have heard anything about the New Zealand culture, no doubt you will have heard about the Haka. This captivating chant seen at many important New Zealand events, most famously before a rugby match against the All Blacks, has made the world more intrigued by the Maori culture. Of course, a great way to learn more is to come and experience the Maori culture for yourself in New Zealand. But to give you more context about the importance of the Haka and what the Haka means to the Maori people, we have put together this quick guide to the Maori Haka.

The Maori culture goes way beyond the Haka though, so we recommend you immerse yourself either by attending a cultural show, experiencing a hangi meal, learn about greenstone carving and more!

Where Did the Haka Come From?

Because Maori history has been passed down through songs and the spoken word, there’s not a clear story on where the haka first came from. However, there are a couple of common stories associated with the haka.

The Haka in Maori Legend

There are many Maori legends to suggest where the Haka came from, but one common legend is that of the sun god, Tama-te-nui-ra. His summer maid, Hine-raumati, made the air seem to dance and quiver on hot days. This is reflected in the quivering motion that haka performers do with their hands.

The Haka Meaning – Haka Translation

There is not really a haka translation per se but the word itself cand be found in other Polynesian culture meaning “dance”. So when it comes to what does the haka mean, it all comes down to the haka dance meaning itself and we will elaborate on this below.

The Haka is Maori History

One early rendition of the haka being used was by chief Tinirau and the women in his tribe. He wanted revenge on a tohunga (priest) called Kae who was responsible for killing Tinirau’s pet whale. He sent his tribes’ women to hunt Kae down but all they knew about him was that he had crooked teeth. Upon arriving at their opposing tribe, they performed the haka to make the men smile and reveal Kae’s teeth, thus his identity.

Learn more about the Maori history in this quick guide.

© NZPocketGuide. com

The Different Types of Haka

While there are far more haka than the one listed below, here are a few of the main types of Maori haka.

Peruperu Haka

The Peruperu is a type of haka performed as a “war dance”, as it was traditionally performed before a battle. It is characterised by leaps where the legs are pressed under the body and weapons are usually used. The sticking out of the tongue and bulging eyes are meant to intimidate the opponents, as well as invoke the God of War.

Ngeri Haka

The Ngeri haka has a different purpose to motivate both performers and warriors. It’s usually performed without weapons and movements are freer as a sign of the performers expressing themselves.

Manawa wera haka

This haka is usually performed at funerals or after somebody’s death. Again, no weapons are used and the movement is freer.

To learn more about how to pronounce Maori words, take a look at our te reo Maori guide.

© NZPocketGuide. com

Who Can Perform the Haka?

Long answer short; anyone can perform the haka as long as it is done with seriousness and respect. Traditionally, both males and females perform the haka, but there are certain haka involving only women and the same goes for the men.

Of course, traditionally, only the Maori performed the Haka but since New Zealand had a mixed population of Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealanders) are involved in performing haka. In fact, they even teach the haka in New Zealand schools.

© Alasdair Massie on Wikipedia

The All Blacks Haka

The most famous haka heard internationally is the Ka Mate Haka. This is the haka performed by the national New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks. The main body of the chant goes like this:

Ka Mate Haka

Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!

English translation of the Ka Mate Haka

‘Tis death! ‘Tis death! (or: I may die) Tis life! Tis life! (or: I may live)
Tis death! Tis death! Tis life! Tis life!
This is the man
Who brought the sun and caused it to shine
A step upward, another step upward!
A step upward, another… the sun shines!

© NZPocketGuide. com

The History of the Ka Mate Haka

The Ka Mate Haka was composed in 1820 by a war leader of the Ngati Toa iwi (tribe) called Te Rauparaha. He was fleeing his enemies from the Ngati Maniapoto iwi and the Waikato. He was given refuge on the shores of Lake Rotoaira at a site called Opotaka. He hid in a kumara pit. It was here that he was said to utter the words “Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora”, continuing to compose the lyrics to the Ka Mate haka until his pursuers never found him and when Te Rauparaha emerged from the pit and was befriended by the tribe at Opotaka.

Te Rauparaha’s haka was a celebration of life over death, rather than a war dance.


You can visit the very site and even the kumara pits where the Ka Mate Haka was born at Opotaka on the road between Turangi and the Tongariro National Park on the North Island. The site is well sing-posted off State Highway 47 about 13km (8 miles) from Turangi.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

Contact Robin via our contact page

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