A video appeared on youtube this week that displays the raw power of language, dance, and collective ritual, and though it commemorates a sad event, I thought it would be a good way to end the week.
Last week three soldiers from New Zealand were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. When their bodies were returned home, their comrades greeted their hearse with a huge haka. If you’ve ever heard of the haka, it’s probably from watching the traditional dance performed by the All Blacks before each rugby match. But as the video description explains, “Haka is used by Māori (indigenous people of New Zealand) for a myriad of reasons; to challenge or express defiance or contempt, to demonstrate approval or appreciation, to encourage or to discourage, to acknowledge feats and achievements, to welcome, to farewell, as an expression of pride, happiness or sorrow. There is almost no inappropriate occasion for haka; it is an outward display of inner thoughts and emotions.”
Each unit within the New Zealand army has its own special haka that they perform together. Though it is a Māori tradition, and is performed entirely in the Māori language, every soldier, indigenous or not, participates. It is a very interesting (and, as far as I know, very rare) example of a modern nation collectively and demonstratively identifying with its indigenous heritage. As one youtube commenter said, “Not many countries show such respect to the indigenous people and adopt some of the culture into the mainstream.”
And it is a powerful way for these Kiwis to observe this tragic occasion. I think it’s safe to say that all of our hearts go out to them.