Even those who don't know much about rugby — and WorldViews counts itself among that number — have heard and seen the "haka" of the All Blacks, New Zealand's rugby national team. Ahead of a match, the All Blacks perform this traditional Maori dance, a sequence of foot-stomping, tongue-wagging and violent gesticulation, accompanied by deep, rhythmic chanting.

The haka was on show Sunday in London, when the All Blacks defeated Argentina in their first match at the the Rugby World Cup.


It is an intimidating sight for any opponent lining up against it; on the rugby field, some sides facing New Zealand have attempted ripostes, though they rarely look all that convincing. (The video below is an exception.)

Sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup dramatize the chest-thumping nature of all nationalism. And the haka, whose origins lie in the inter-tribal wars of New Zealand's Maori people, is as vivid a metaphor you'll ever find.

Here's a BBC redaction of the Ka Mate Ka Mate haka, the dance most widely associated with the All Blacks:

Ringa pakia
(Slap the hands against the thighs)
Uma tiraha
(Puff out the chest)
Turi whatia
(Bend the knees)
Hope whai ake
(Let the hip follow)
Waewae takahia kia kino
(Stamp the feet as hard as you can)
Ka mate! Ka mate!
(It is death!, It is death!)
Ka ora! Ka ora!
(It is life!, It is life!)
Ka mate! Ka mate!
(It is death! It is death!)
Ka ora! Ka ora!
(It is life! It is life!)
Tenei Te Tangata Puhuru huru
(This is the hairy man)
Nana nei tiki mai
(Who fetched the sun)
Whakawhiti te ra
(And caused to shine again)
A upa ne ka up ane
(One upward step, another upward step)
Upane, Kaupane
(An upward step)
Whiti te ra
(The sun shines!)

There's a primordial quality to these lines. The world's mythologies are strewn with hairy men who go about doing things like fetching the sun. Why not channel that when playing the Aussies?

The 19th century French philologist Ernest Renan, one of the first real theorists of the idea of nationalism, described the "nation" as a "large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future."

The haka, in its growling intensity, captures it all: first, the solidarity of warriors — both of Maori and non-Maori descent — fighting for a common future. And then a recognition of an almost sacred past. In New Zealand, the haka is a ritual still performed at a variety of gatherings and celebrations, a connection to generations of Maori ancestors that has endured despite invasion and colonization.

And, like other powerful symbols of national identity, the haka is no stranger to commercial opportunists. Consider this rather stirring ad for headphones, which ran ahead of the current Rugby World Cup.