Talk-ED: Expressing ourselves in public

 

It is an interesting discussion that has arisen on the use of haka in general and Ka mate! Ka mate! In particular.

Valerie Adams was first to throw in the debate expressing in her recent book consternation at the actions of the Olympic Team Leader Dave Currie in unleashing a haka at 2am in the night after her victory causing some disturbance to other athletes. Her view was that it was over the top, well past a reasonable hour of the night and something of a habit that Currie had developed – the planned spontaneous haka.

That led to some interesting comment from a sports writer wondering why the All Blacks persisted with the Te Rauparaha haka rather than using the one specially written for them – Kapa o pango. This then led to a general discussion of the propensity for the haka Ka mate! Ka mate! to be done to death at the drop of a hat in versions that ranged from the moving to the grotesque, in settings that ranged from the appropriate to the absurdly inappropriate, and in styles that ranged from the respectful to the total disgusting sham.

The point was made that many schools grace sporting occasions with a haka that belongs to the school (especially the boy’s school) and that many rugby teams in the regions start and / or finish the big game with one of their haka.

The Ka mate! Ka mate! haka has become de rigueur to the current generation and one wonders why the keenness to “perform” it increases with the hour of the night and the extent of the carousing that has preceded it.  Men in black tie gear have been seen to strip off at a formal event and give all that they have got (and often all that they know). I have seen grown men in formal places and in other countries feel that such a display was something of an obligation. It is not pretty and they should all return home and wonder about the respect they are showing to a cultural event and artefact that defines New Zealand Aotearoa.

It is hard to imagine a comparable insult that could be visited upon the Pakeha.

The challenge to do something about this will only be met by what we do in schools with the oncoming generation. They learn lots of things in school and can certainly learn a haka or three. But the real difficulty is that when we are asked to behave as if we come from one country, a group of people drawn from different places has to have a default position – and the haka emerges.

What can we do to provide to young New Zealanders the means of cultural and country expression that can unite us in a public show of unity in performance?

The Australians have “Waltzing Matilda”, the English a whole sack of old numbers – “Land of Hope and Glory”, “Jerusalem” – the Scots have many a ditty and even more when the uisge (40%) flows. But what do we have?

Perhaps we should agree on ten waiata that all New Zealanders will know and be able to sing with beauty and skill. Then late at night in some foreign place, a group of New Zealanders could come together and appropriately, gracefully and correctly express wonderful sentiments and emotions in song.

Perhaps more attention could be paid to the context in which haka are appropriate, the grace and skill of the haka when performed well (c.f. Sir Apirana Ngata leading the haka in front of the wharenui at Waitangi in 1940), or go to any cultural festival such as the schools’ Polyfest, or Te Matatini.

There has to be more to us as a people than the denigration of culture and “Ten Guitars”!

 

 

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