It is Death! It is Life!

On that famous haka, now protected under the latest Treaty settlement…

The high school I went to used to have a haka competition each year. It would be the second competition of the year, right after the swimming.

Each house had its own haka and would perform these in front of guests from Wesley College, who would then judge the hakas.

The girls did waiatas which would also be judged.

Hobson House (not my house – I was in Maunsell) had the ‘Ka Mate! Ka Mate!’ haka, which was nowhere near as well known then as it is now. The All Blacks didn’t perform the haka at every test match: in fact they went through long patches of not performing it at all. It is only since the World Cup began that it has become compulsory.

The ‘Ka Mate!’ haka was still reasonably well known, though: certainly it was the only one of the four hakas performed which had been seen by pupils previously.

And the hakas were well rehearsed before performance.

So there was really no excuse when the guy leading the Hobson haka forgot the words, right in front of the entire school and a fairly large contingent from Wesley.

There they were, in the middle of the quad, feet stamping the asphalt and hands slapping their thighs and bellies loudly and fiercely.

While the guy out the front went ‘ummm…’

As the suppressed hysteria mounted, and it was clear the guy wasn’t going to remember the words, one of the teachers rushed out and whispered ‘ka mate! ka mate!’ into the guy’s ear.

The haka competition was canned after 1979: the famous ‘haka party incident’ at Auckland University that year meant the school authorities got concerned the competition might be seen as disrespectful to Maori. Which it certainly wasn’t, but there were few objections from pupils. Haka practices were the closest we came to old-fashioned square-bashing at school, and rehearsals, for 45 minutes on asphalt in February, were not pleasant.

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