Funeral Haka – A Powerful Dance from the Soul

by M-Berens
New Zealand Regimental Infantry performs a Haka for one of their fallen comrades

The New Zealand Defence Force performs a Haka as the hearses containing the bodies of their fallen soldiers are repatriated.

The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have been using Haka for hundreds of years. Perhaps the most well known to most people not familiar with their history is the Haka used by the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team that’s been performed before games since 1888.

The Haka is a ritual that is both a dance and song and according to tradition it originated from Tane-rore, son of Ra who was the sun god. He was the first to perform the dance for his mother.

Haka is performed for all occasions to celebrate the emotions of a significant life event. From wars to weddings and funerals, Haka are traditionally  performed by a group of men, women participate as part of the chorus or in separate Haka. It’s a forceful dance with heavy stomping of feet, trembling hand movements, dilated eyes and protruding tongues and is generally not performed uniformly by all the participants. Maori believe the whole body should speak during a Haka to convey a particular message, whether it’s to welcome someone or to say good bye when a fellow Maori passes.

Traditional Maori believe that when death occurs the person’s spirit travels to the Pohutukawa tree which sits on the crest of Cape Reinga on the North Island which is as far as a person can go in New Zealand. The spirit never leaves the body until the person has been buried. Once arrived, the spirit slides down one of the roots of the tree into the sea before rejoining their ancestors. The Maori are a very holistic race with a great respect for the Earth.

Each Haka has its own meaning and there is generally a leader and some, like the Haka the New Zealand Defence Force uses when one of their own dies, have a very personal message. Some Haka’s meaning are made public while others like  Haka the New Zealand Defence Force uses when a soldier dies are very personal and known only to members of a particular unit.

Today Haka are still performed at funerals of Maori people to express grief while instilling strength and determination into the participants so that they are able to perform with the power and force that’s required to express the passion, vigor and identity of their race.

The NZ Defence Force video below shows the Haka performed by the 2/1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment at their base for fallen comrades Corporal Luke Tamatea, aged 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, aged 26, and Private Richard Harris, aged 21 who were killed in action in Afghanistan on August 19, 2012. It’s a very powerful Haka where the soldiers walk forcefully to meet their grief and celebrate the life of their friends.

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