Netball: Haka may be next weapon

By Michael Burgess

Delhi hero Maria Tutaia would be behind the haka if the team wanted it. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Delhi hero Maria Tutaia would be behind the haka if the team wanted it. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It is not beyond the realms of possibility the Silver Ferns will bring a strong New Zealand sporting weapon into play at the world championships in July: the haka.

There are no outright plans but the players have talked about it and - perhaps if they win in Singapore in July - the haka could move from the football field to the boards.

It is not as if the haka is a male-only event these days. The Black Ferns have become experts. The Football Ferns have started to do it regularly.

"It has been spoken about in team meetings and the like," says Delhi hero Maria Tutaia. "Who knows - we might bust one out one day [and] surprise a nation. It's a team call. If the team does it, then I am all for it."

Says wing defence Joline Henry."It would be pretty exciting and scary, wouldn't it? I don't know how it would be perceived. I don't know whether the Australian Diamonds would pack themselves at the thought of it - or have a bit of a giggle. Watch this space."

The Ferns have learnt the Ka Mate haka and been involved in welcomes and responses as part of the wider New Zealand team at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and Delhi.

"They loved learning it and practising it," says Henry of her team-mates, "and they were really good at it. There were questions - I think Irene [van Dyk] was probably one of the most inquisitive and unorthodox looking when she was doing it."

Under the tutelage of Maori cultural expert Ray Ropata, the Ferns had several sessions before Delhi where they were instructed in the protocol of various waiata and haka traditions.

"Everybody bought into it," says Ferns coach Ruth Aitken. "The players have really enjoyed it and doing the haka could be the natural progression. When it is done in the right spirit, it is fantastic - though maybe there would be an issue with us being in dresses. It is not quite the same as the rugby and football girls."

Henry doubts the team would perform Ka Mate but were open to developing their own, as the All Blacks did with Kapa O Pango.

It may be greeted with surprise now but New Zealand's national netball team once performed the haka regularly. From 1960 to 1963, the Ferns did the haka many times overseas - and even once at home. June Mariu (nee Waititi) was skipper, and her late brother John, for whom the West Auckland marae Hoani Waititi is named, was acknowledged as one of the foremost experts in Maori culture and protocol. He also taught them Maori action songs and poi dances.

At the time of the 1960 Australian tour, New Zealand had not played a test since 1948, and before that 1938, so the side were determined to make their mark, performing the haka before matches in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Former coach and captain Lois Muir remembers the cultural routines were solidified on the long sea journey to the Northern Hemisphere in 1963, ahead of the world championships in England. On the six-week trip via the Panama Canal the team performed in the concert nights on board.

"I think we were half the ship's entertainment," laughs Muir. "We did rhythmic tricks with balls and two of the girls were good with the long poi."

For Muir, there was no question of not travelling without the haka: "We wouldn't have felt right going on tour without some Maori culture and it was great for team building. Training was limited on board. The ship's crew put up a goal for us - but with a backboard - and we used to practise on the first class deck when the passengers were having their siesta."

In the UK, their performances were in demand before matches and also at mayoral receptions. These were the days when they wore black stockings, and a full woollen black tunic over a white blouse to play in.

"We were ready to make a mark and we wanted to recognise our heritage," says Muir. "We were very proud of it and it was part of us. I guess it united us and we felt good before the game but I don't know if it would be acceptable now."

Mariu reflects: "We were quite proud of ourselves. [John] was a good tutor and the standard wasn't too bad."

They were also more innocent times. As part of the tournament in Eastbourne, each nation had to put on a show at one of their dinners. The teams would also usually eat together - having breakfast, lunch and dinner with their opponents.

After the world championships, the team performed the haka once more, before a challenge match against a Canterbury selection at Hagley Park. It was never attempted again, though during Muir's 15-year reign as coach from 1974 to 1988 she insisted on the team always have something "up their sleeves", whether it was singing, action songs or poi dances.

Trevor Shailer, cultural adviser for the New Zealand Olympic Committee says: "In recent times, haka has been seen as a male-only bastion, but women have been doing the haka for years. It is down to the protocol of the particular tribe; it is not just the one book we read from."

The Black Ferns have long performed the haka before matches and managed a stirring rendition after their most recent World Cup triumph last year. They were granted special permission from Ngati Porou to perform Ka Panapana and have developed it over the years.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Football Ferns responded to a welcome into the athletes' village with a haka of their own. With defender Kristy Hill the main inspiration, the team did the haka before games at the 2009 and 2010 Cyprus Cups, as well as the 2009 Peace Queen Cup in South Korea. Both tournaments are staged away from the glare of the Fifa machine, as Sepp Blatter and his merry men tend to frown upon any kind of "cultural display" before matches.

In the netball arena, the haka was most famously performed before the 1999 world championships final in Christchurch, by several of the players' partners and family. Fired up by the occasion, Dallas Seymour, Jeff Wilson and Chris Mene, among others, did a haka minutes before the start.

While it is perceived as being confrontational, Shailer points out that the haka can have many different meanings and functions.

"It is not just a war dance; it is about getting yourself ready and it can also be used as a celebration, a welcome or to acknowledge success. It is essentially a tool to allow our athletes to express themselves on the world stage - but they need to understand why they are doing it."

There have been accusations of over-use at times, particularly in Melbourne at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, when the New Zealand supporters and team even performed a haka in honour of a bronze medal in a swimming relay.

The actions were heavily criticised for taking the spotlight away from the winner and certainly the sight of a shirtless chef de mission Dave Currie is unfortunately one that lives long in the memory.

- Herald on Sunday

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