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Understanding Ka Mate – how a chief’s escape led to the All Blacks

Apr 5th, 2011 | By | Category: Diversity, Featured Article, Front Page Layout

Ngati Toa, true owners of Ka mate, the world’s most famous war challenge, have reached agreement with the NZ Rugby Union for its continued use by the All Blacks. JOSIE GLASSON’s video reported the occasion at Takapuwahia Marae in Porirua, and tells the story of how the haka came about:

TE Rauparaha, chief of Ngati Toarangatira, runs through the bush beside lake Taupo.

His iwi’s ancient enemies, Ngati Maniapoto and Waikato, neighbours to Ngati Toa in Kawhia, captured and killed his father Wera Wera when Te Rauparaha was a child.

Now he is running for his life after an enemy war party ambush him.

It is 1820.

Te Rauparaha reaches the settlement of chief Te Wharerangi and begs him for help.

Te Wharerangi hesitates – then ushers Te Rauparaha down into a kumara pit.

Te Wharerangi’s wife, Te Rangikoaea, places herself over the kumara pit as the war party approaches.

No man of mana would place himself below the reproductive area of a woman, so the war party do not search the kumara pit.

Te Rauparaha, in the darkness says “ka mate, ka mate” as the chanting enemies approach; he is sure he is about to die.

Then “ka ora, ka ora” as they move away from the pit and he is still alive.

Once the warriors have left to hunt for him elsewhere, Te Rauparaha ascends the earthen steps in the wall of the pit, into the light.

He chants to Te Wharerangi, a chief well known for his hairiness:

Tenei te tangata puhuru huru…. This is the hairy man
Nana nei i tiki mai…. Who fetched the Sun
Whakawhiti te ra…. And caused it to shine again
A upane! ka upane!….  One upward step! Another upward step!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra!…..  An upward step, another.. the Sun shines!!

Thus is the haka composed, the haka New Zealanders know because the All Blacks perform it before each rugby came.

Te Rauparaha and his people migrate south within a few years of his remarkable survival near Taupo.

They become the dominant iwi of the Wellington region and the northern part of the South Island under the chieftanship of Te Rauparaha.

The Ka mate haka was performed for the first time by the All Blacks in 1905.

Finally the New Zealand Rugby Union and Ngati Toarangatira are formalising the ongoing use of the haka.

At Takapuwahia marae, the NZRU and the iwi are signing a memorandum of understanding.

In 2007, concerned at misuse of the world’s most famous haka, Ngati Toa started proceedings with the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand to copyright Ka Mate.

The NZRU began private negotiations with the iwi last year, to make sure – regardless of the eventual legal status of the haka – that the union could still use Ka Mate.

Taku Parai, spokesman for Ngati Toa, says the New Zealand Rugby Union has always had a good relationship with the iwi:

“We look forward to this understanding, and we look forward to further dialogue. We’ve come a long way since the haka was first performed, with the little tinkerbell fingers and the one foot.”

Mike Eagle, chairman of the NZRU board, says the union has been privileged to be able to perform Ka Mate with Ngati Toa’s blessing.

“It is great to have this understanding, to give it some status, to recognise the significance of Ka Mate and the special relationship we share with Ngati Toa.”

Taku Parai says the only suggestion Ngati Toa has for the NZRU on this special day is, “a challenge to the All Blacks. We’d like to put out an invitation to the team to come here and learn, and to actually feel the wairua of that wonderful taonga.”

Wayne Peters, Maori Representative on the rugby union board, agrees the relationship has always been respectful.

He says it is important the long-standing use of the haka – over more than a century and particularly by Maori teams – is formalised so both parties have some certainty.

As the rugby union members and the kaumatua of Ngati Toa sign the historic agreement, the women of Ngati Toa sing the Ka Mate haka.

It is a fitting end to a ceremony that began with the men of Ngati Toa performing the haka in challenge to the arriving guests from the union.

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is a student at Whitireia studying the National Diploma in Journalism (Multimedia).
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