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There were quite a number of different types of haka performed in pre-European times, depending on the occasion. There were hakas of song and joy, and warlike hakas of "utu", performed before going into battle.

There were two types of war haka - one performed without weapons, usually to express public or private feelings, known as the "haka taparahi", and the war haka with weapons, the "peruperu". The "peruperu" was traditionally performed before going into battle. It was to invoke Tumatauenga, the god of war, and warned the enemy of the fate awaiting him. It involved fierce facial expressions and grimaces, poking out of the tongue, eye bulging, grunts and cries, and the waving of war weapons.

The Haka

This image is protected by copyright and must not be reused without the express permission of Focus New Zealand photo library.

Focus New Zealand Photo Library

Before actually going into battle, the warriors would generally assemble together. The warrior leading the "taua", or war party, would move into the centre of the men and cry :


"Tika tonu mai
Tika tonu mai
Ki ahau e noho nei
Tika tonu mai I a hei ha!"

Which means :

"Come forth this way, towards me
To this place where I now stand "Come forth this way, towards me
To this place where I now stand
Come straight this way
I a hei ha!"
Come straight this way
I a hei ha!"

At this call, the warriors would prepare for the "peruperu" haka, during which the tribal elders would make a careful inspection during the dance. If the haka was not performed in total unity, this could be taken as an omen of disaster for the battle to come.

During the actual haka before battle the dancing warriors would eyeball the enemy. Sometimes this would be to stress a particular action during the haka, such as a slicing movement with the arm to indicate the fate awaiting the enemy. The warriors very often went into battle naked, apart from a plaited flax belt around the waist, and which was used for attaching short clubs.

The haka may also be used to tell of great feats, or danced as a special welcome before a high-ranking guest. A haka can also express grievance, or, in earlier times, could be addressing a prayer to one of the ancient Māori Gods.

The haka generally accompanies each cultural performance today.

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The Taua - war party

War parties were usually composed of males, although female tribal members were not exempt from this activity.

The Māori warriors excelled in the art of ambush and surprise raids, appearing and disappearing swiftly and noiselessly into the thick New Zealand natural rainforest environment. They usually attacked at dawn. The aim was to kill all members of the enemy war party, so that no survivors would remain with the risk of "utu" (revenge).

If a lasting peace was considered with a former enemy, an inter-tribal marriage between families of aristocratic or chiefly rank was arranged to ensure the peace pact.

A war party was prepared with care, involving intricate ritual and the abstinence of certain foods and practices. The war party dedicated itself to Tumatauenga, the god of war, and special rites placed a "tapu" around the warrior.

The fighting season was generally between late November and early April, the summer months, when food and fishing was plentiful for warriors on a long war trail.

A war party led by a chief (rangatira), would be made up of around 70 warriors, which was the average compliment of a war canoe (waka taua). It was not uncommon, however, for a war canoe to carry up to 140 warriors. This was a "Te Hokwhitu a Tu".

On arrival back home, a cleansing rite was performed to lift the "tapu".


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Related Links
History of the Haka from - More Haka history plus a video of the All Blacks performing the Haka
Mā : Excellent Māori info website
Glossary of Māori words




 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.