It’s likely that, in future years, the great majority of New Zealanders will look back on the Ka Mate haka with a good deal of embarrassment at the naivety and sheer historical ignorance displayed by government, officials and the participants.
The All Blacks, as they have done for many years, have performed this haka before several of their tests this year.
Apart from the All Blacks, this haka is also performed regularly by New Zealand’s police and army forces.
The latest embarrassing faux pas with this haka appeared on Page A5 of the NZ Herald (August 20, 2015). In a story headlined ‘All Blacks scenting Cup success’ and featuring All Blacks Liam Messam, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu in the photo, the trio are marketing Bulgari’s ‘Man Extreme All Black 2015 editions’ of male perfumes.
The story explains the perfume bottles have the design ‘based on the facial tattoo of legendary Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha – the composer of the Ka Mate haka performed before All Black games.’
Legendary? The dictionary synonyms of the word include ‘heroic, celebrated, exalted and illustrious.’ So, from whose perspective could he be ‘legendary’? It is one thing to humour a tribe’s sentiments. But most human beings would consider the man was a monster.
You would also imagine that international companies such as Italian giant Bulgari and the All Blacks’ major sponsor, insurance leviathan AIG - normally so mindful of their public relations responsibilities - would be aghast if they actually knew what the ‘real’ Te Rauparaha had done.
But who could blame them for some confusion - because it’s all official? The Government has officially recognised Te Rauparaha as the ‘author’ of the haka and it has given copyright to his tribe. The NZRU has also regularly attributed this haka to Te Rauparaha in its match programmes.
However, some of us know that - in fact, not fiction - Te Rauparaha was responsible for massive Maori depopulation in the decades just before the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Such was the loss of life caused by him in the South Island, in particular, wiping out near-entire tribal groups in many raids, that the British declared sovereignty of that island by right of discovery rather than cession later in 1840.
Some estimates claim New Zealand’s Maori population fell from 200,000 in 1800 to fewer than 100,000 by 1840, for example.
Surely, proportionally, in world terms of human life lost by one man’s actions, that puts Te Rauparaha on a par with the likes of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Ghengis Khan.
Yet Parliament passed a law in April of last year that set out the legal rights of Ngati Toa Rangatira over the Ka Mate Ka Mate haka.
The new law also sets out a schedule of the history of Te Rauparaha and the ‘life and death’ circumstances in which he is supposed to have composed his haka. The Haka Ka Mate Attribution Bill was passed through Parliament without dissent. Amazingly, National’s Tau Henare called for greater education of New Zealand’s history.
The haka settlement was part of a wider Treaty of Waitangi settlement between the Crown and Ngati Toa, an iwi whose ‘territory’ stretched from Horowhenua to the upper South Island.
However, regardless of tribal sentiment, I fail to see what makes the actions of a pathological monster acceptable in decent, modern New Zealand society.
After all, it was just 12 years before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 that Te Rauparaha first appeared in the nightmares of southern Maoridom. After participation in the musket wars in the north, he had taken Kapiti Island (offshore of the lower North Island’s Paraparaumu Beach) as his base and now looked towards the South Island.
His annual journies of conquest make for remarkable but sickening reading. Intriguing too how the South Island’s Maori perspective is so different from that of Ngati Toa’s. To quote S. Gerard’s history, Strait of Adventure, “He carried fire and desolation and terminated his butcheries in horrid cannibal feasts, and left behind him a bloody, smoking trail of misery and tragedy.” His muskets were too powerful for the primitive weapons he encountered from tribes yet to acquire guns.
Let us revisit some of those atrocities, with all the death, enslavement and cannibalism that befell the tens of thousands of victims of such bloodshed:
- Te Rauparaha attacked and annihilated the tribes of Nelson and northern Marlborough
- In 1828, he sacked the Ngati Kura pa at Kaikoura, killing 1000 and enslaving hundreds; then destroying the Omihi pa further south
- In 1829, using subterfuge, he attacked Ngai Tahu’s Kaiapoi pa (just north of present-day Christchurch) but was eventually beaten off
- He was back in November, 1830, secreting his men aboard the vessel Elizabeth under the connivance of Captain John Stewart at Akaroa
- In 1831, he returned to the Kaiapoi pa with 800 men and laid siege for several months before it fell
- Next was the the pa on Onawe Peninsula, which Te Rauparaha overwhelmed with another ploy
- But the tide was turning. The southern tribes at Otakou (Otago) and Murihiku (Southland) had acquired muskets. Te Rauparaha narrowly escaped capture at Lake Grassmere (Marlborough) in 1833. He was chased to the Marlborough Sounds and retreated across Cook Strait. In 1834, another attempt was made against Ngati Toa and they retreated again.
Surely therefore, the Government, government departments, the NZRU and multinational companies need to do their homework. Te Rauparaha’s haka - displayed and performed as it is today as an example of national pride - could not be more unsuitable for a multi-racial society such as New Zealand’s in the 21st century!
Paul Verdon is a former journalist, historian and author of sports history books and other biographies.