Immerse yourself in old adages, and you will find a cluster of quotes about ignorance.

Some say ignorance is bliss; others warn of its danger. George Orwell, in his purposefully paradoxical prose, wrote that 'ignorance is strength'.

Rarely, however, do you hear the view that ignorance is beneficial, yet in a roundabout way it could be the case for the Tall Blacks this week.

In a bizarre storyline, the Tall Blacks' haka came under fire from popular podcast host Joe Rogan, who called the haka 'stupid' in one of his recent interviews with actor Hannibal Buress.


"This is ridiculous, they're playing basketball. You're playing NBA superstars you f**king dummies... It seems stupid," said Rogan, watching a clip of the Tall Blacks' 2014 Basketball World Cup game against the United States.

"It's a performance art. The other players clapped. They're like 'good job children!'"

Rogan's comments - arguably set alight by the lighter of New Zealand's small nation syndrome - caused a backlash, with Rogan apologising for his cultural insensitivity. And then, within a day, the story dissolved in the heat of the news cycle.

However, Rogan's odd Tall Blacks tangent opened up a back door for a different conversation to cut into - namely, the curiosities, importance, and meaning of the Tall Blacks haka.

For many, the Tall Blacks haka holds a degree of mystery. The haka is not particularly well known, even to New Zealand audiences. The current haka - Tu Kaha O Pango Te Kahikatea - was only created in 2015, and due to the Tall Blacks' prior lack of home games, has largely been performed overseas in time zones unfavourable to New Zealand audiences.

So, when Rogan opines on the haka, it provides a rare opportunity to benefit from the ignorance of others, and launch a discussion about what the haka signifies, and the importance of it amongst the players, coaches and families embedded within the Tall Blacks culture.

Step in, Paora Winitana.

The former Tall Black - and co-creator of the haka - has recently been appointed as Cultural Advisor with the Tall Blacks, and wants to take these opportunities to educate and inform anyone willing to listen about the meaning and importance behind the haka.

"It's not new for us to get responses like this from different countries, players and people," Wintana explained to the Herald.

"When you get these different responses, our haka tells us how to respond to them, with our values and our standards and what's most important to us as a culture.

"The haka is a sacred part of Māori culture, it's not just something you do before a sporting event, it's done for many reasons and for many special occasions. It's got a meaning which places more priority on things that are a lot more meaningful than sport.

"Many people don't understand that, which gives us an opportunity to teach and show and share and educate."

Winitana expounds that the haka draws inspiration from Māori culture, specifically the story of Tāne, and how he overcame adversity and challenges to gain the three baskets of knowledge.

"Our haka talks about that story and how the Tall Blacks go on a journey, every year as the small nation that we are, and we overcome great odds and great challenges. We talk about how in order for us to compete, or to overcome these things, we have to rely on our current strength but also the strength of our culture, our tradition and how that propels us forward and gives us strength to overcome these great odds.

"It's truly an honour [to perform the haka], it's something which is truly sacred to us, and that's something which a lot of people don't understand."

That underlying theme - the challenge of overcoming great odds - is a symbolism that runs not only through the haka, but also throughout the history of the Tall Blacks. So often faced with the task of beating larger, better-funded nations, the Tall Blacks draw upon the symbol of the Kahikatea tree - not the tallest tree in the world, but the tallest in New Zealand - and one 'you'll never see standing alone'.

"For us [the haka is] about laying down a challenge to our opposition and letting them know we're in for a battle," Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare said before the recent Asia Cup.

"It's about not only preparing ourselves for that battle, but paying homage and paying respect to the opposition that we are about to play against."

Winitana doesn't expect overseas audiences to immediately understand that, and recalls opposition rejecting the haka during his playing career.

"In the World Championships in 2002, we did it to Russia, and as we were doing it, they were walking away. We literally had to do a 360 and follow them back to their bench because they didn't want to face it."

However, he pinpoints the USA as an example of how mutual respect can be gained from performing the haka.

"We did it to [the USA] back in 2004 before the Athens Olympics. They knew Sean Marks, and they asked Sean Marks if we could do it to them. We did it, and just like against the American team [in 2014] they applauded, and there was respect shown, from both sides."

It's possible that there will be further unfamiliarity with the haka in the next few years, with the Tall Blacks set to play in an array of Asian environments - few of which will have seen, or heard of the haka before.

"It's going to be their first experience, their first encounter with a New Zealand team and with the haka," says Winitana.

"Will there be more responses like this? Possibly. But that's just more opportunities to say 'This is what we're about; this is why we do it.' If they take time to listen and learn, they'll respect it just like we respect all other cultures.

"We can share our culture with these people, we can help, to possibly avoid situations like this going forward, but there's a lot of work to be done."