Millions fall in love with wedding haka

By Cherie Howie, Vaimoana Tapaleao

Both knew the haka was planned - Benjamin had asked his best man to organise it. Photo / Stacey Leah Photography
Both knew the haka was planned - Benjamin had asked his best man to organise it. Photo / Stacey Leah Photography

It was the wedding with 29 million guests - now we can reveal the story behind the heartfelt haka that has become a global internet sensation.

Auckland couple Aaliyah and Benjamin Armstrong have gone from "ordinary people living ordinary lives" to taking part in interviews with international media giants after footage of an emotional and powerful haka at their wedding nine days ago went viral this week.

The video, in which the newlyweds are overcome with emotion before joining in the haka being performed by family and friends, had been viewed more than 29 million times by last night.

The couple, who have Maori heritage, shared it with friends and family and were stunned when it went viral, Benjamin, 23, told the Herald on Sunday.

The attention that followed, including interview requests from the BBC and CNN and messages from people in Germany, Peru and Portugal, was overwhelming.

"It's been incredible to hear the stories that people have been sharing with us privately as well as openly. Of the tears they've had, the emotions.

"They've said it caused them to want to learn more about their own cultures and New Zealand culture, and to want to become better at what they're doing.

"They've been very inspired by it, from the emotion to the unity, to the hongi and the love that was shown at the end.

"A lot of people have broken down the video and the different feelings at each point."

The attention had been intense, but the power to change just one person's life made it worthwhile for the deeply religious Mormon couple.

"We're happy [to share it], after seeing what it's done for others. Coming from our background, we've always been about having those values, of trying to help others to reach whatever potential they want to reach, and even if it's in the smallest way possible, we felt, after all of the hype, that this was a way we could give back to the world. We see it as a blessing."

Benjamin and Aaliyah Armstrong on their wedding day. Photo / Stacey Leah Photography
Benjamin and Aaliyah Armstrong on their wedding day. Photo / Stacey Leah Photography

Both knew the haka was planned - Benjamin had asked his best man to organise it.

But nothing could prepare them for the depth of feeling that followed, he said.

"We really felt their wairua, their spirit, and the support they had in us in moving in this new journey of ours. If you can imagine all those words and those feelings combined into one and being present in that moment, it was an overwhelming feeling."

Benjamin always planned to join in, but Aaliyah, 21, was unsure. Her bridesmaid's decision to join the haka inspired her to also take part.

"We knew there was going to be a haka, but to see these amazing men in Ben's life get up and do their haka, for us, it was very touching and very spiritual. When my bridesmaid jumped up - we did kapa haka together - so it was a very special for me. I felt I needed to reply."

Today, the couple begin another journey - to Fiji for their honeymoon. Their cellphones, with their incessant social media notifications, will be turned off. It's time to move on from their 15 minutes of fame, Benjamin said.

"We've been humbled by the whole thing, we're trying to stay level-headed. We're riding the wave and we are going with it. We know that in a couple of days this will be history."

- Herald on Sunday

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