More than 61,000 fans stuffed New Zealand’s Eden Park stadium on October 23 for the Rugby World Cup Final between the home nation and France. With the kickoff imminent, the Frenchman, assembled in a wedge formation, arms linked, marched to the halfway line from their end. And then it began.
Hi aue, hi! Ko Aotearoa e ngunguru nei! Au, au, aue ha! (“This is our land that rumbles! And it’s my time! It’s my moment!”) Urged on by halfback Peri Weepu as he raced back and forth, the New Zealand players, massed on their end of the pitch, cried out their Kapa o Pango Haka, a Maori war cry. The French, slowly, reached their mark, breaking into a line stretching the width of the field.
In response, Weepu, Maori, furiously led his side in the striking of battle poses, the men contorting their faces in gruesome expressions, taunting their opponents. The crowd erupted and the chanting grew bolder, more menacing.
I ahaha! Ka tu te ihiihi, Ki runga ki te rangi e tu iho nei, tu iho nei, hi! (“Our dominance, our supremacy will triumph!”) Weepu pushed on in a near frenzy, slapping shoulders, leading the singing, all the while never taking his eyes off the French, who waited, anxiously. In a crescendo came the Kapa o Pango’s finale: Kapa o Pango, aue hi! Ponga ra! Kapa o Pango, aue hi, HA! (All Blacks! Silver fern! All Blacks, HA!) With that, it was time to kick off.
New Zealand’s vaunted national rugby team first competed in 1884, when the nation was still an English colony. The squad is known as the All Blacks, a reference attributed to London Daily Mail rugby writer J.A. Buttery. Following a 1905 New Zealand rugby tour of the U.K, Buttery commented that he “began referring to the team as All Blacks because of the colour of their uniform. The only colour not black was the Silver Fern on the left breast and the white of their boot laces.” A less commonly held explanation for the team’s name is attributed to a typographic error in a 1905 Daily Mail headline: “All Blacks” was printed, instead of “All Backs.” Either way, the effect of the uniform is similar to that of the famed Oakland Raiders Black & Silver—intimidating.
But it’s the squad’s performance of haka before matches that separates them from all others. For most non-Maori, this is the extent of their knowledge of the Haka, which is the generic name for all Maori dance. The All Blacks website explains that “according to Maori ethos, Tama-nui-to-ra, the Sun God, had two wives, Hine-raumati, the Summer maid, and Hine takurua, the Winter maid. The child born to him and Hine-raumati was Tane-rore, who is credited with the origin of the dance. Tane-rore is the trembling of the air as seen on the hot days of summer, and represented by the quivering of the hands in the dance.” The haka is an expression of the “passion, vigour and identity” of the Maori.
The first All Blacks performance of Haka traces to their first international match in1884, and the intensity and precision in its execution reflects the New Zealanders approach to the game. The All Blacks juggernaut is part of the southern hemisphere’s triumverate, including Australia and South Africa, which have dominated international rugby for years. The Kiwis, as New Zealanders are called, won the inaugural World Cup, staged every four years, in 1987 and have never finished lower than 4th. In the Tri-Nations Cup, an annual clash between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the All Blacks have 10 championships since the first tournament, held in 1997.
Historically, the All Blacks have performed the Ka Mate Haka, which was written by Te Rauparaha as a war cry in 1820. Ka Mate opens: Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora! (“I die! I die! I live! I live!”) With lyrics steeped in Maori lore, it reveals how the “hairy man” fetched the Sun, causing it to shine again. It closes with: A upa … ne! ka upa … ne! A upane kaupane whiti te ra! (“One upward step! Another upward step! An upward step, another.. the Sun shines!”), followed by a rousing exclamation, Hii! as the men ready for battle.
In 2005, a new haka was written by Derek Lardelli of Ngati Porou for the All Blacks, Kapa o Pango. This haka celebrates the land of New Zealand, the silver fern and its “warriors in black.” The silver fern, endemic to New Zealand, is an iconic symbol of the nation. Kapa o Pango also mixes in some Polynesian elements to the Maori tradition, which is appropriate as the side includes several Pacific Islanders, including from Samoa. The All Blacks revealed the new haka on August 29, 2005 before a test versus South Africa at Carisbrook, Dunedin. The All Blacks prevailed 31-27. Both Ka Mata and Kapa o Pango are performed today, with the latter usually performed before special matches.
Which takes us back to October 23, the World Cup Final versus France.
After being knocked out of the 2007 tournament by France, which was held in that country, the All Blacks sought revenge. Especially on home soil. In a tight, thrilling match, New Zealand had its day, prevailing 8-7, earning their second World Cup title, tying Australia and South Africa for the most ever.
As an ecstatic 61,000 Kiwis celebrated the win, cries of Kapa O Pango, Aue Hi! punctured the air.