The Haka

Contrary to popular belief, the Tall Blacks haka is not a war dance. Former Tall Black, Paora Winitana, says there are many reasons why New Zealanders haka – to celebrate, to acknowledge, to give thanks, at tangi (funerals). So what is the Tall Blacks haka saying exactly? Paora Winitana explains…

“When you see the haka for the first time you might think ‘wow, these guys are coming to kill us, to take over’, and there are many haka in New Zealand that are purely focused on that kind of message, but not Tu Kaha.

“The objective of the Tall Blacks’ haka Tu Kaha is purely to help us all stand strong, not only as Tall Blacks or as basketball players, but as a people, as New Zealanders. One of the lines is ‘Tuturu whakamaua kia tina,’ which means ‘we honour the past, the present, the future’. This is us acknowledging everybody who has gone before us, those who will surely follow after and the acceptance of the responsibility we have now to prepare the way forward. We are not standing strong because it’s the 12 guys you see standing against you, we are standing strong because it’s you against every Tall Black and all New Zealanders.

“Tu Kaha also tells the Tall Blacks’ secret to success through the story of Tane and his sacred journey to the highest Heaven in search for the ‘three baskets of knowledge’. We talk about the winds of Tāwhirimāte. In our culture he’s the guardian of the winds, and he bring Hurunuku and hururangi – his two strongest forces, to try and stop Tane from being successful. Tu Kaha teaches us that Tane used the strongest forces to overcome the strongest adversity to be victorious.

“We know that New Zealand basketball is not considered a powerhouse on the world stage like the Americans, or the Spaniards, Argentinians, the Australians or European nations, but we are New Zealand, and like the Kahikatea tree, we don’t have the individual superstars that you see in the NBA – that’s not our style. The Tall Blacks way is ‘kotahitanga’ working as one – our true Mana (strength/authority) is relying not so much on our physical strength, but more so our mental toughness, our fortitude and resilience, our ruthlessness and relentlessness as the people of New Zealand to never fear, but fight to the end.

“In Tu Kaha the question is asked ‘He aha tatau e tu tonu ai?’ which translates to ‘how is it that we can stand against you, our opponent, the strongest storm’. Then we give the reply, ‘He pakiaka, toi Ariki, toi Uru tapu,’ which means our strength is in our roots, this is the vine that we hold fast to that connects us to a higher power, our uniqueness as a culture – this separates us from any other country.

“For us the message of Tu Kaha, to stand strong together, makes up who we are as New Zealanders. So when we send out Tu Kaha at the start of each battle, we want all Kiwis to stand with us, because it is the people who have gone before us, who are with us now, and those who will come when we have left – that gives us our true mana and strength. So that’s what we mean we say the Tall Blacks stand for all New Zealanders through the message of Tu Kaha, and we hope that New Zealanders will stand with us too.

“Together we are strong, together we can overcome all challenges.”