Maori are threatening legal action against anyone who tries to make money from the All Black haka without their permission. The precedent-setting move could affect the widespread use of the haka by those commercial organisations who use it to market their products.
Ngati Toa, the descendants of warrior chief Te Rauparaha who wrote the haka, say no one but the All Blacks has permission to use it. If it was used, Ngati Toa warned they could take legal action.
Although the All Blacks have Ngati Toa's permission, these latest threats could strain relations with the New Zealand Rugby Union, which has never conceded Maori ownership of the haka.
The iwi's attempt to trademark the Ka Mate haka is expected to go to a hearing after a six-year battle with the Intellectual Property Office. Iwi chief executive Matiu Rei said the union would try to take ownership of the haka if it could, and some iwi members were increasingly angry at other unauthorised commercial uses.
One "positive step" was negotiations with an international computer game manufacturer to use the haka in a new PlayStation rugby game in exchange for providing iwi scholarships. But other unapproved commercial uses, such as haka performances by strippers at the White House in Auckland, have been described by angry iwi representatives as "totally inappropriate".
Ngati Toa's patent lawyer, Peter Verboeket, said the only authorised commercial use of the haka was by the All Blacks, who have performed it for 100 years. "The iwi is only trying to secure rights where the use is commercial, or for specific services in New Zealand."
In a May 4 letter obtained under the Official Information Act, Mr Verboeket warns that Ngati Toa and the NZRU would have a case under the Fair Trading Act or under common law if any business used the haka without authorisation.
Ngati Toa will need to address any examples of "alleged unauthorised widespread use", the letter says.
NZRU deputy chief executive Steve Tew said the union's lawyers would be looking at the letter this week. "We have never claimed ownership of the haka." Associate Commerce Minister Judith Tizard last night warned the NZRU against trying to control use of the haka.
Ngati Toa's warrior chief Te Rauparaha is believed to have written his famous haka in 1821 after a narrow escape from his Ngati Te Aho enemies.
He was sent to Rotoaira chief Te Wharerangi for protection after an unsuccessful attack at the foot of Mt Tongariro, says Sir John Grace's history Tuwharetoa.
Te Rauparaha hid in a kumara pit while Te Wharerangi's wife sat over the entrance, providing a tapu that was meant to protect him from his pursuers' incantations.
Te Rauparaha mutters "I die" when the pursuing chief arrives, waivers as the chief Tauteka argues with Te Wharerangi, then eventually calls jubilantly "I live" when Tauteka leaves.
The first touring team to use a haka was the Maori-dominated 1888-89 Natives in its British tour of Britain, and by 1905 the Originals were using Ka Mate.
Though other hakas were used in the 1920s and 1930s, Te Rauparaha's haka has been used ever since. Some southern iwi, like Ngai Tahu, find it offensive because of the brutal treatment meted out to them by Te Rauparaha and his raiding parties.
TE RAUPARAHA'S HAKA
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuru huru
Nana nei I tiki mai
Whakawhiti te ra
A upa ne! Ka upa ne!
A upane kaupane, whiti te ra! Hi!
I die! I die! I live! I live!
This is the hairy man
Who fetched the sun
And caused it to shine again
One upward step! Another upward step!
An upward step, another. The sun shines.
- HERALD ON SUNDAY