I have had the privilege of seeing the women’s Haka on many occasions from a front row seat in my role as a photographer. I have also over the years talked with the players of what it means to perform the Haka and be a part of it. This has been a story I have wanted to tell for some time given the unique
and incredible nature of the story as well as the surprising lack of coverage it has had.
The women’s Haka is not ‘the one the guys do’, it’s completely different, it is specific to the women and has a completely different meaning. The elders
were approached and asked if they could write a Haka specifically for the women and so one was born, unique to the women. The Haka speaks of those
who have gone before, their ancestors, the sense of belonging and the honour of representing their country. It is about celebration and pride. To watch
the team do the Haka is a spine tingling moment as you see the passion and emotion they put into doing it.
Jordan Webber describes doing the Haka as “emotional, giving everything you’ve got and hearing your sistas beside you doing the same....it’s really special.”
THE HAKA (as translated for Rio 2016)
“The clashing of the tides resound, it is the taste of victory that draws
us here and we honour the legacy of the champions who precede
us, the thrill travels down our spine and we feel the closeness of our
ancestors as we alight the battlefield their chiefly cloak caresses the
shoulders of this valiant team that roars in full force.
We will not submit!
Fight to the end! In order that the legacy will endure into the future!
Here we are! Seize it!
It is done!”
Selica Winiata explains what it’s like to do the Haka: “it’s hard to describe, you get to a place where you get goosebumps”.
Every player I have spoken to over the years has said pretty much the same thing about what the Haka means and what it means to do it. This is not
a derogatory thing but actually shows how imbedded it is in the culture and that it comes from the grass roots through, as opposed to a gimmick that
is rolled out for major events. There is such a deep level of meaning to the women who do the Haka, who have done it and those who aspire to do it
in the legendary black jersey. Each player without exception talks with emotion about it, you can see and hear how much it means to them.
Every now and then a player adds a little something that gives us another view of the Haka. I like how New Zealand 7’s captain Sara Goss, whilst talking
to me about the Haka, explained how the jersey, the Haka and representing New Zealand all mix into one. Sara talked about the honours board they have
in their changing room and how it showed the level of competition in the team and that it takes a special person to wear the jersey and that it’s not
easy to get one. As she continued, “when someone does get that jersey there are a lot of tears as it shows what it means.” She added, “we don’t play
in New Zealand and so we take our family name on the back of our shirts around the world with us.”
This is the same way as the players speak of taking their families and ancestors with them and that, that is part of what the Haka means to them. There
is such an incredible connection with not only their family but their ancestors and those who have gone before, but also the responsibility that they
have for those that are to come - and this is all borne out in the Haka. It’s a sense of belonging and one of gratitude and humility.
Ruby Tui sums it up by saying “It is everything we stand for, it’s the highest honour you can give, it’s one of the most emotional and strengthening things
you can do. It’s of immeasurable importance to us. If it wasn’t for our ancestors and family, our country wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a country
to play for and we wouldn’t be here.”
I don’t think you could sum it up better than that. For the players who perform it the Haka is about culture, heritage, thankfulness and a humility that
recognises that they are the chosen few in this moment, that there will be those who are to come and those that have been - and in this moment it is
their responsibility and honour to do the Haka.