The Haka

The image I chose to examine represents a popular tradition within international rugby circles. Looking at the image with an untrained eye, one first notices the contrast in colors between the vivid green that is prominent at the top and bottom of the image with the black and white dominated center of the image. The central position of the contrasting colors draws the eye towards the figures in the image that contrast with the vivid green. The figures that the eye is drawn to appear to be humans in two distinct groups. In the foreground is a group of eleven human-like figures (and two figures that look like human arms on the side of the image) of relatively similar height. All the figures in this group except for the third human from the left of the image has long-sleeved clothing and all except for the fifth human from the left have the same clothing on their lower-body. The figures seem to be pictured from behind at above eye-level because of the position of the other group of human-like figures in the background. If the photograph were taken from eye-level then the viewer would likely not be able to see the second group of humans unless they were abnormally tall. There is a lot of bodily contact amongst the group of humans in the foreground, with each figure seeming to grab the figure adjacent to them.

 The second group of fourteen human-like figures is depicted to be facing both the camera and the other group of humans. The clothing of the figures seems identical from what is depicted in the image. All of the fourteen figures seem to be in a squatting position with eleven of the fourteen having their arms raised laterally with their hands towards the sky. Twelve of the fourteen figures have their mouths open and many have facial expressions that include wide eyes and furrowed eyebrows. The expressions on the face of this group of humans seems to indicate that the figures are in the midst of movement, because none display a relaxed expression or position, unlike the members of the group in the foreground that seem to be standing in a relaxed position.

Drawing from my observations of this image I will now discuss the larger meaning conveyed through this image. The two groups of humans in the center of the image appear to be the athletic teams of France (foreground) and another team on a field. The uniformity in appearance within both groups indicates that they are teams of some sort. The green background also helps indicate that these are sports teams because sports are often played on well-manicured grass fields. The French team is embracing one another in the photo, and most team members are wearing what looks like pre-game jackets. This gives the team the look of a collective unit that is only slightly detracted from by the two players wearing slightly different colors. The other team on the other hand is depicted in matching all black uniforms performing the same hand motion with an intense demeanor on their faces indicated by their open eyes and mouths, and furrowed eyebrows. Also because all members of the black team are squatting, they are in a more aggressive position than the opposing team. Each team is simultaneously perpetuating a stereotype in this image that relates to the masculine ideology that largely dominates the sport of rugby.

The essay by Hugo Benavides, “Football and the Nation: Producing American Culture” outlines football’s relationship to nationalism, heroism, and militarism in American culture. Rugby has a similar relationship to these ideals in New Zealand, where the team in black is from. In the image, the New Zealand national rugby team is doing the  “haka,” a dance that has become a pregame tradition for the team before its international competitions. The haka was originally created as a war dance that soldiers would perform before going into battle. Now the rugby team performs the haka in front of their opponents before games. The parallel between militarism and the sport is linked in a similar way that it is linked to American football. The haka has also come to represent a sense of nationalism within New Zealand by bringing a cultural tradition that is no longer necessary in the modern age of warfare to the international stage. The French team is showing masculinity in a way that outside of the context of the sport would seem possibly homosexual. However, within the context of the sport, the members of the French team are embracing one another in the name of masculine unity in the face of hardship.



“Pre-game New Zealand vs. France Rugby Match,” Photograph. October 12th 2011. “All Blacks must keep making song and dance over the haka.” Feb.2014. Web.

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1 Response to The Haka

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    The haka is not just related to any version of war and militarization. It is specifically an appropriation of a Māori tradition. This is noteable because it brings in a distinct element that is different than the cultural references that Oates discusses. How would you analyze this dfiference? I’d hearing more from the beginning about the relationship between masculinity, militarization, and sport, so that you had more time to develop the details throughout. This is a great intersection of the sport of rugby to explore further, particularly given its connection to indigenous populations. I wonder how further investigation would compare the appropriation of this dance with mascots such as the Redskins in the U.S.? (See my previous blog post…)

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