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Haka as a form of protest

25 March, 2024

Interview by Sofia Roger Williams, adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Professional Teaching Fellow of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland, Paora Sharples, says students at Freyberg High School and the rugby union team, Hurricanes Poua, should not be discouraged from using the haka to express political dissent.

Earlier this month, the women’s Super Rugby Aupiki team, Hurricanes Poua, rewrote their starting season haka to call out the coalition government, with the kaitāraki (leader) chanting "karetao o te Kāwana kakiwhero", meaning “puppets of this redneck government”.

In response, Hurricanes CEO Avan Lee said he was “disappointed,” and that the Hurricanes franchise would apologise to the government.

Professional Teaching Fellow of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland and expert in traditional and contemporary Māori performing arts and language, Paora Sharples, told The Wire that it is typical for the haka to be a “vehicle of political expression”.

“The very nature of the haka is to be controversial, so to deny or forbid that aspect of it is to deny its true makeup, purpose, and intent.”

Students at Freyberg High School in New Plymouth also performed the haka ‘Ka Mate’ to ACT Party leader David Seymour during his recent visit to the school.

A video showing one student holding a tino rangatiratanga flag spit on the ground by Seymour's feet has sparked debate, with the school’s principal, Graeme Williams, calling the action "totally unacceptable".

Spitting, otherwise known as tuwha, is characteristic of the haka, and is done to express distress towards a kaupapa, person or event. 

Sharples highlighted that in Aotearoa's past, people were spat on for the colour of their skin and that Māori were fired from employment for speaking te reo. 

Sharples says recent haka protests are representative of the sentiment felt by Māori towards the coalition government’s policies, particularly on co-governance and Te Tiriti.

He says we should uplift the new generation of rangatahi who continue to advocate for their rights.

“It is about working together, working with our tikanga, our customs, and moving forward together.”

“This is our history. This is who we are and we are fully evolving.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air