Depth and Grace of that ‘Stupid Stomp’
Tracey Barnett ©November 2008
I have suffered for my new culture here in New Zealand. On the eve of my wedding years ago in the US to one of you people, it was decreed that we play a pre-nuptial volleyball game to settle who would bring out the recycling for the entire course of our lifetime together, the American or the Kiwi.
My Kiwi groom, who had been residing in the US for far too many years at this point, thought he would attempt a Haka to put the unwitting Americans in our place. The only thing is, he couldn’t remember half of it, nor could his blessedly squirrelly relatives and friends.
In a burst of cultural enthusiasm, number-eight-wire style, when he lost the plot halfway through, he tried to recover by chanting Maori city names, “Whaka-tane! Ngara-whahia! Mata-kana!”” Then, when finally spent, “Master-ton! Well-ing-ton! Go-oore!” It was horrible. It was beautiful. It was Kiwi.
The American team had no idea why I had to cross my legs, and run behind a bush to contain myself. Not to be outdone, I gathered my fellow patriots and tried to think of what America’s cultural gift to the world was. We ended up chanting, “Burger King! McDonald’s! Kentucky-Fried-Chicken!”
That gorgeous, badly mauled proud piece of New Zealand-ish on a faraway beach meant more to one Kiwi– thousands of kilometers from our shores– than if Gollum had given me the ring. It wasn’t disrespectful. It wasn’t theatre. It was home.
I don’t care what clueless British sports writers have to say about “the wheeze [that] has long passed its sell-by date.” Ever since that day, the Haka has quietly become a part of my history too. It has grown from something that meant nothing to me when I first saw it as a tourist in Rotorua to something today that even this new New Zealander partly owns.
Little did you know, but this country actually dodged a bullet recently. I vowed that if Sarah Palin became the next Vice President of the United States, I was going to become Daniel Carter’s replacement for the All Blacks, to balance the psychic energy of our countries. Not so much ying and yang, more like Cheech and Chong.
I would have been freakin’ fabulous, too. I would have had the full team do the Haka at grocery stores when families have to spend over $300 just to make them feel better.
Bounding onto the rugby field from my latest underwear shoot, I would have said strategic, insightful things like, “Okay Boys, put on those adorable little shorts and make one of those bunch-cluster things.”
I like when they move around with no place to go. My problem is you never actually see the ball when they keep clustering up like that. And they call this a spectator sport. They should have a chicks-cam inside the scrum. They’d double their television ratings. Which begs the question, what is actually going on in there?
I’m pretty sure the All Blacks are All Gay. No straight man ever looks that good in shorts. It’s God’s little revenge on heterosexual women for the apple thing. First he smote us with that, then He made women believe scrapbooking is an actual hobby. We’ve never recovered as a sex since.
This weekend I stood with a roomful of guests celebrating an Uncle’s 80th birthday. Unbeknownst to him, he was given a powhiri in honour of the good work he has done for years as a trustee of a Maori college.
As he stood there moved to tears, it was only when the boys from the college began the Haka that it got to me, too. There is no prize, no ribbon, no speech that is as moving as hearing the strength of that collective spirit in their chant.
In my few years here, I have only begun to understand the grace and depth of what The Guardian’s Frank Keating calls this “stupid stomp”.
It will be hard to forget the spontaneous, fierce Haka that Hone Harawira gave to the Dali Llama at the top of the stairs in the Beehive when so many of our leaders turned the other way. I can’t think of a more powerful tribute by one man to another, in any culture. Nor will the boys who had the honour of giving Sir Edmond Hillary one of his most moving send-offs ever forget what their arms and legs and hearts offered that day.
So be warned Frank Keating, there is rugby– of which I know nothing– and there is the Haka, of which I can feel far beyond my knowledge.
New Zealanders can no more erase the Haka than unravel the fabric of who we are. You’ll never make this go away.