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The power of the haka: New Zealanders pay traditional tribute to mosque attack victims

Hundreds of high school students gathered March 18 for a candlelight vigil in Hagley Park, directly opposite the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Video: Kate Evans/The Washington Post)

It’s been performed on the red carpet and on the rugby field, at funerals and weddings. The haka is a captivating ceremonial dance of New Zealand’s Maori people, traditionally used on the battlefield but also used to mark the significance of an occasion, be it a celebration or a commemoration.

In the aftermath of Friday’s mosque shootings, which killed 50 Muslim worshipers and injured more than 40, New Zealanders came together across the country to honor the victims.

In particularly evocative haka tributes, students, bikers and other groups chanted in unison, channeling their grief, shock and sadness into a physical act that symbolized respect for the victims. Video footage of the tributes was widely shared on social media, where many hailed the haka’s power and beauty.

In one of the tribute videos shared on Twitter, students can be seen doing an impromptu haka as a tribute to their fallen classmates and other victims. Their impassioned cries and intensity serve as a reminder that the war dance is also used to symbolize national identity, solidarity and pride.

The Friday massacre stunned New Zealand, a country generally considered safe from acts of terrorism, and the rest of the world. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to change the country’s gun laws.

For those performing the dance, the haka can also be an outlet for difficult and overwhelming emotions.

In Queensland, Australia, a haka to commemorate the victims was performed over the weekend on the Gold Coast and has been viewed thousand of times online.