Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The haka: a modest proposal

Every time the All Blacks deign to grace us with their presence in the Northern hemisphere, the same weary controversy gets under way: has the haka had its day?  Is it an unpleasant, intimidatory piece of theatre with a dubious historical provenance, or an inalienable piece of Kiwi heritage – binding the fush-and-chuppers to the Maori history of New Zealand?

I used to believe that there were two proper responses to it.  The team could stand right on the half-way line and eyeball the All Blacks right back, trying to out-intimidate them.  A great exponent of this was Fran Cotton, who when the North of England beat the All Blacks in 1979, memorably shouted just after it “Hey – look at those fat poofs dancing!”.  Alternatively, you could just ignore it utterly and get on with doing something else – like Campese’s little games of keep-it-up.

Inevitably, any such suggestion raises a furious response from aggrieved Kiwis.  Frank Keating’s article here attracts, at a conservative estimate, seven million responses, mostly win strangulated vowels, condemning him for being a bigoted, ignorant old bastard.  The stock response is that the haka is a cultural representation of ancient (ie: 19th century) Maori military tradition, and the English are just jealous because we have nothing to match it.

So, in the spirit of compromise, I can suggest a solution, a historically accurate, culturally sensitive solution.  While the All Blacks perform their traditional war dance, complete with throat slitting and so forth, the English can form into two neat lines, front rank kneeling.  And then shoot them.

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