Māori filmmaker Corinna Hunziker was tired of seeing viral videos containing embarrassing renditions of the Ka Mate Haka performed by foreigners for a laugh.
Hammed up renditions in recent years include the British Tavistock Day Case Theatre nurses performing a Covid-related version of Ka Mate, and the "#bollyhaka" dancers from the Czech Republic performing a mock haka with painted faces.
These and other offensive depictions have been labelled "shockers", creating frustration among Kiwis for the misappropriation of Māori culture.
A new Loading Docs short documentary HAKA haha released on nzherald.co.nz today explores the misuse of the haka. It features Hahana star John-Perry Porter Te Anini interviewing four Māori – from a cow whisperer to a florist – posing the question, 'When is it okay to haka?'
"Due to the All Blacks, the haka has gained respect around the world," Hunziker said.
"Unfortunately this has resulted in many disrespectful versions of the haka performed and shared across the internet.
"We love to see our Māori culture celebrated, but in recent years foreigners have taken to performing the haka for their own agenda and we have seen many bad renditions of the traditional Māori dance.
"I felt it was time to explore how we protect our cultural identity."
Porter Te Anini said things often went wrong when overseas people appropriated the haka because they hadn't obtained consent or done their research.
"There are some shockers out there."
Huntly kaumātua Taitimu Maipi – who protested for the removal of a statue representing "colonial invasions" last year - said there was a proper way of doing the haka.
"It tells a story. You are speaking to a past that comes alive that relates to your cause and sadly sometimes haka can be abused through lack of understanding.
"The Maori Battalion in WWII used the haka as a way to prepare themselves to go to war. It gave them strength to fight. So you must have a reason to perform the haka and when you have the right reason you perform it with heart," Maipi said.
In New Zealand, the Ka Mate Haka is protected under law through the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act 2014, which acknowledges the importance of Ka Mate to Ngāti Toa and requires attribution to the iwi. However, these laws cannot be applied overseas.
"It's a tricky question, as when we encourage tourists to learn the haka, we are giving them permission to perform it, however terrible it may be," Hunziker said.
"My intention by making the film was to show foreigners how embarrassing they appear if they don't perform the haka with the right intention, correct pronunciation or understand the meaning of the words they are performing.
"We didn't set out to discourage non-Māori from performing the haka but we do want to issue our own haka. Our challenge to foreign performers is to dig a little deeper, to work a little harder to understand the words and consider how it might feel to Māori if they perform something traditional as a joke."