Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Haka, powhiri 'cringing' spectacles, says historian

Paul Moon said the use of the haka on the sports field had turned it into an entertainment spectacle. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Moon said the use of the haka on the sports field had turned it into an entertainment spectacle. Photo / Getty Images

The performance of Maori haka and powhiri in everyday life lacks authenticity and has become a corrupted spectacle, according to a leading historian.

Paul Moon, professor of history at Auckland University, said he cringed at a powhiri he attended at a government department.

"There was not one Maori involved in the whole process, and I was sitting there watching it and thinking, there are two groups of Europeans engaging in a process about which they know very little.

"I'd hesitate to use the word 'fake', but there's certainly an element of the culture being corrupted."

The use of the haka on the sports field, he said, had turned it into an entertainment spectacle.

"If you look at some of the early footage of All Blacks performing haka, it's quite a cringing performance compared with the way it's done now," he said.

"Is it appropriate for a sports match? This is a professional team, a business, performing a haka as part of the entertainment."

Moon insisted his criticism of powhiri and haka was different from that of conservative Danish politician Marie Krarup. After visiting New Zealand this year she described the powhiri at Devonport Naval Base as a strange and uncivilised ritual, the haka as "a half-naked man in grass skirt, shouting and screaming in Maori", and the meeting house as being "decorated with God-figures with angry faces and large erect penises".

Moon said: "I think that was a case of outright rudeness. She had no idea whatsoever what was involved. I'm more concerned for authenticity, not for abolition."

Ahead of the publication this week of his new history book, Encounters - the creation of New Zealand, Moon directed his most damning criticism at Maori tourism villages such as Whakarewarewa in Rotorua.

"If someone uses felt tip pen to represent tattoos on their face, are they degrading those people who went and got those tattoos, and the reason for it?

"Especially if they wipe them off afterwards."

Read also: The seven deadly NZ myths

- Herald on Sunday

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