Warrior Dance: Maori Haka Peruperu from New Zealand

Modern weaponry has changed what it means to be a warrior. Showy technical skills are little use against bullets and rocket propelled grenades. I think most of us remember this poor guy from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Video via Patrick Roe via YouTube.

There was a time, however, when there was room for performance before fighting. Exhibiting elegance or skill might garner respect from an opponent; exhibiting frenzy and strength might scare them out of wanting to fight you. This pageantry has been largely dismissed as battle tactic, although it still appears in ceremonial settings.

Haka party waiting to perform for the Duke of York, 1901
Haka party waiting to perform for the Duke of York, 1901

The Maori people of New Zealand have a tradition called haka peruperu, or dance of war. Each tribe has its own haka (dances) that have been passed down for centuries, serving as challenges and war cries in preparation for battle. The goal of battle was to kill all of the opposing force so that there were no survivors to exact revenge. Haka performance was designed to intimidate the opponent and give him a last chance to back out before slaughter ensued, all the while building teamwork, cohesion and focus among fighters. Unorganized and out of synch performances were bad omens. It was imperative that every single participant move with the group as anything else would shake the warriors confidence and set them up for failure. Practicing these forms was a bonding ritual which also helped decide who lived and who died.

The haka peruperu consists of a series of postures, vigorous movements and rhythmic shouting. It is performed mostly by men, although women may take part in a limited fashion in some instances. There are other forms of haka entirely for women, some for mixed groups, and some for children. In peruperu, the focus is on being as terrifying as possible. Eyes are opened wide and tongues flash rapidly in a movement which recalls that of a snake preparing to strike. Men leap and squat, beating their hands on their chests and thighs and stamping their feet, using their bodies as musical instruments. Chanting, grunting and screaming are all employed to amplify the effect.

© Tazerty with CCLicense
© Tazerty with CCLicense

Today, haka peruperu are performed by New Zealand sports teams before (and sometimes after) matches, by the armed forces of New Zealand in military ceremonies such as funerals, and by traditional groups performing in communities and for foreign dignitaries.

3 thoughts on “Warrior Dance: Maori Haka Peruperu from New Zealand

  1. Pingback: Most Popular Articles of 2013 | synkroniciti

    • katmcdaniel Post authorReply

      Hi Ryan! I wish I knew the language… I’m not sure what they are saying. It is my understanding that the poses and the theatricality are intended to transcend and amplify language, which makes them effective even if your opponent does not speak your tongue. I don’t know if they have a set script or if they improvise or a bit of both. Thanks for watching!

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