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  •   Home > News > International

    Rugby World Cup: They're not all called 'haka' — the differences between Pacific war dances

    The 2019 Rugby World Cup will kick off in Japan in September, and New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji will all perform their national war dance before each match in one of rugby's best-known traditions. Here we take a look at the differences between the da

    When actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson performed a war dance in the movie Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, he was paying homage to his Samoan roots.

    So when people incorrectly referred to the dance as "haka", made famous by the New Zealand All Blacks, the highest-paid actor on Forbes' 2019 list was quick to set the record straight.

    "It's not a haka but a Siva Tau," Mr Johnson told American movie ticketer Fandango in an interview earlier this year.

    "The Siva Tau in Samoa is the Samoan version, if you will, of New Zealand's haka but they are two distinct experiences."

    It's a correction that Pacific rugby players have been making for quite some time now.

    On September 20, the 2019 Rugby World Cup will kick off in Japan and New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji will all perform their national war dance before each match in one of rugby's best-known traditions.

    The performance of these war dances are said to evoke the spirit of the ancestors, prepare the players mentally for the game ahead, and give one last warning to the opposition that the team is ready for battle.

    However, only the New Zealand team performs the "haka"; the Samoan team performs the Siva Tau, Tonga the Sipi Tau, and Fiji the Cibi.

    Ahead of the Rugby World Cup, we take a look at the history and meaning behind the different war dances:

    New Zealand's haka Ka Mate and haka Kapa O Pango

    The best-known war dance is arguably the New Zealand haka.

    The haka describes a ceremonial dance or challenge in Maori culture and the All Blacks have been performing the haka Ka Mate since Joseph Warbrick led the "New Zealand Natives" tour in 1888 and then by the "Original" All Blacks in 1905.

    Haka Ka Mate was composed by Ngati Toa tribal chieftain Te Rauparaha around 1820 as a celebration of life over death after escaping the pursuit of rival tribes.

    The opening lines "ka mate kate mate, ka ora ka ora" translate to "it is death, it is death, it is life, it is life".

    In 2005, the haka Kapa O Pango debuted before the Tri-Nations test match between New Zealand and South Africa in Dunedin, New Zealand.

    The composer of Kapa O Pango, Derek Lardelli, said this haka was designed to reflect the multicultural make-up of contemporary New Zealand, and in particular, the influence of Polynesian cultures like Samoa and Tonga as well as European cultures.

    Unlike the haka Ka Mate, Kapa O Pango is a ceremonial cry as opposed to a war dance.

    "Kapa O Pango is fundamentallywhat we call haka Taparahi, which is ceremonial and about building your spiritual, physical and intellectual capacity before doing something important," Lardelli told All Blacks media.

    Shortly after its debut, it received criticism for being violent, largely due to the action at the end, which had been described as a throat-cutting motion.

    There were even calls to ban it from the game.

    However, according to Lardelli the gesture is not a threat, and instead symbolises the ha — the breath of life — and using it to energise the body ahead of the game.

    "When the players get to that stage of the haka, their legs are burning and they're gasping for air," Lardelli said.

    "The action is actually to grab a hold of the energy that exists [in] the left [of the body]and hauling it through the vital organs — heart, lungs, air passages — so that you've revitalised yourself for the game," Lardelli said.

    Kapa O Pango sits alongside Ka Mate and is performed at the team's discretion.

    Samoa's Siva Tau

    The national rugby team of Samoa, the Manu Samoa, perform the Siva Tau.

    It was composed for the 1991 Rugby World Cup and replaced the Ma'ulu'ulu Moa, which was a slower dance and said to be less intimidating to the opposition.

    Former Manu Samoa halfback Tino Junior Poluleuligaga told the ABC the Siva Tau is an invitation to war.

    "When we perform the Siva Tau we are basically saying who we are, we're prepared for battle, and that there is no one else like the Manu Samoa," he said.

    "When I do the Siva Tau I reflect and think about my family, I'm representing them, so when I go out on the field, I go to battle for my family.

    "It definitely gets you up and gets you excited."

    There are also rules when it comes to performing war dances before a Test match.

    "Both teams have to stand behind the 10-metre line and are not allowed to advance beyond that line," Poluleuligaga explained.

    However, he said if both teams have a war dance, then usually the away team performs their war dance first, followed by the home team.

    "It's totally up to the opposition to decide how they will respond to the war dance and most teams just bind up and face it front on," he said.

    "I have seen teams from other nations turn their back on it and some people say that's a sign of disrespect, but it's basically up to the team to decide what they want to do."

    Tonga's Sipi Tau

    Former captain of Tonga's rugby team Inoke Afeaki was there when the Sipi Tau was first performed at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

    The Sipi Tau was composed by King Tama Tu'i Tufahau Tupou IV in 1994, but its origins can be traced back much further.

    "It was quite a lengthy dance when we first started off, it took over 2 minutes to perform," Afeaki told the ABC.

    "It's now a shorter version but it's still pretty ferocious for the 30 seconds we put it on."

    Afeaki said performing the Sipi Tau evoked for him the spirit of Tonga's warrior ancestors.

    "It does prepare you for the amount of contact you're going to get yourself into and, it's also the last warning to the opposing team that it's going to be a tough day in the office," Afeaki said.

    There have been complaints questioning the performance of cultural war dances before a game, with critics saying they give a team an unfair advantage over the opposition, especially when the opposing team doesn't perform a war dance of their own.

    But Afeaki said they are part of the appeal of the game.

    "War dances are something special that have become part of the culture of the game and it's why a lot of people tune in to watch it at the start of the game," he said.

    "If people still love it and it's relevant, then they should keep doing them because these dances are obviously appealing to the fanbase."

    Fiji's Cibi

    The Cibi (pronounced thim-bi) is the war dance the national team of Fiji performs before every Test match.

    It was prepared in 1939 for Fiji's first-ever tour of New Zealand because the Fijian captain, Sir George Cakobau, wanted a war dance to match the All Blacks' haka Ka Mate.

    It must have worked because Sir George's team went on to become the only team to remain unbeaten on a full tour to New Zealand.

    Former captain of the Flying Fijians, Sale Sorovaki, grew up performing the Cibi.

    "It's one of those things that you see as a little boy and you imitate it at home or with your friends, but when you actually perform it on the world stage the feeling is surreal," Sorovaki told ABC.

    "When you perform the Cibi, you are telling the opposition that whatever you throw at me, I'm going to be ready for it and I'm going to build this wall to stop you."

    However, Sorovaki said he wasn't sure whether the Cibi caused the opposition to be intimated.

    "I couldn't really tell whether the opposition was intimidated or not, but the Cibi is part of our rugby history, our culture and our identity.

    "It showcases our culture — who we are — and I think it's a great thing to have in sport."

    In 2012, Fiji introduced the Bole, believing it to be more fitting as both a more rousing war cry and the "acceptance of challenge".

    However, the national team decided to go back to the Cibi after the 2012 Pacific Nations Rugby Cup.

    Does Australia have a war dance?

    While Australia doesn't have a war dance, the rugby team did perform a cultural dance back in 1908, according to the Australian Rugby Union website.

    Again, not wanting to be bettered by the All Blacks' haka Ka Mate, the Australian team performed an Indigenous song and dance during their England tour.

    However, then-Wallabies captain Herbert Moran thought it was a sham.

    In his autobiography, Viewless Winds, he wrote: "I refused to lead the wretched caricature of a native corroboree, and regularly hid myself among the team, a conscientious objector."

    In 1999, Australian singer John Williamson led the crowd in Waltzing Matilda as a reply to the haka before kick-off at home Tests.

    And in 2003, the Australian Rugby Union made a formal request to the International Rugby Board (IRB) for Waltzing Matilda to be sung at the 2003 World Cup, but it was ruled that only a country's national anthem could be sung and exceptions would only be made for performances deemed of cultural significance.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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