x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Peter de Villiers says haka is losing its intensity

The outspoken South Africa coach says that "people are becoming so used to the haka. It's not a novelty any more and they don't respect it".

The All Blacks perform the haka, the New Zealand team's famous war dance, before their recent Rugby World Cup match against Japan in Hamilton. Malcolm Mulholland, a Maori rugby historian, says the haka is a good way for crowds to 'appreciate an aspect of Maori culture'.
The All Blacks perform the haka, the New Zealand team's famous war dance, before their recent Rugby World Cup match against Japan in Hamilton. Malcolm Mulholland, a Maori rugby historian, says the haka is a good way for crowds to 'appreciate an aspect of Maori culture'.

New Zealand's famous haka war dance is in danger of losing its impact because it is being performed too often during this year's Rugby World Cup, Peter de Villiers, the outspoken South Africa coach, said yesterday.

But his criticism was immediately dismissed by the All Blacks, while a prominent Maori historian suggested the Springboks should ask their own indigenous people to suggest a pre-match ritual.

The eye-rolling, foot-stomping Maori challenge has been performed before Test matches by the All Blacks since 1905, becoming an integral part of the international rugby landscape.

But during the tournament, groups using social media such as Facebook to organise themselves have performed so-called "flash haka" displays in parks, shopping centres and streets across New Zealand.

International rugby teams in the country for the World Cup have also been greeted by the haka at official functions and school visits.

De Villiers said New Zealanders risked overexposing the haka as they host this year's tournament, diminishing its potency.

"For me, about the World Cup especially, there is too many haka around," he told the Dominion Post newspaper. "It is unique, to me, and is losing its intensity, but that is only me.

"People are becoming so used to it. It is not a novelty any more and they don't respect it."

However, Ma'a Nonu, the All Blacks centre, said the team performed the haka because it was part of their history, adding that they would not be swayed by De Villiers's comments.

"It's one man's opinion. We do it because we want to and it's part of our history, our tradition, we're proud of it. I don't really care what he thinks," Nonu said.

Footage of one flash mob haka, at an Auckland shopping mall this month, has attracted more than a million hits on the video sharing website YouTube.

Malcolm Mulholland, a Maori historian, said it was a wonderful way to display New Zealand's indigenous culture to the world.

"They are organised by Maori, exhibit Maori culture, are being done in a modern way and get crowds to stop what they're doing and appreciate an aspect of Maori culture," he said.

Mulholland said that rather than criticise New Zealand's haka, De Villiers should consult with South African indigenous people, such as the Zulu, about using one of their traditional war dances.

However, there were signs of haka-fatigue elsewhere, with online commentator "John" backing De Villiers in remarks posted on New Zealand's 3News website.

"It's an interesting little dance but, man, it's total overkill," he wrote. "You can't cross the road without someone doing a haka. Its just getting to be a bit of a yawn."

The haka is traditionally only performed by men, and British pop group, The Spice Girls, were labelled culturally insensitive in 1997 when they did an impromptu version during a concert in Bali.

A New Zealand bakery chain also came under fire for a 2007 commercial featuring animated gingerbread men with squeaky voices doing the haka. Opposing teams have tried various methods of responding to the All Blacks' challenge, sometimes serving only to spur on the New Zealanders with a perceived slight to the haka.

In 1989, Willie Anderson, the Ireland captain, linked arms with his teammates at Landsdowne Road and led them forward so they were eyeball to eyeball with the All Blacks, going on to lose 23-6.

Australia turned their backs to the haka during a 1996 Bledisloe Cup clash in Wellington and were downed 43-6.

In recent years, the International Rugby Board (IRB) has ruled that the team facing the haka must stay at least 10 metres (32 feet) from the halfway line.