Living History: What I’ve Learned from the Māori Haka

MacKenzie Marino is a student at Westminster College. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Palmerston North, New Zealand. 

I arrived in New Zealand for the ISA’s Bridging Cultures Program with mixed expectations.  The activities sounded interesting enough – visiting Hobbiton and Rotorua, walking around Auckland, and…learning a haka?  I had no idea what a haka even was, as I’m not really a rugby fan.  I didn’t know much about the Māori in general; that’s part of what drew me to study in New Zealand.

Before jumping into the actual haka, however, we took a moment to appreciate the nature around us.  Barefoot, we tromped into the grass, and we all joined arms and reflected.  We reflected on the footprints we have left on this world, and the footprints our forebears left before us.  To the Māori (from what I’ve gathered, at least), life is a path that is already laid out for us.  We simply have yet to walk it.

It was an incredible experience – both intellectually and spiritually.  The story behind the particular haka that we learned  was of a leader who was saved by a woman who hid him in a food-smoking pit.  Hakas are usually war cries, and this one was written by Te Rauparaha as he emerged from the pit that he was hiding in.  Saying the words that he once said, it felt like I was engaging in both the history and the culture of New Zealand.

We connected not just to our own spirits, but to the spirits of our ancestors.  The sensation is truly difficult to put into words, but I felt it. I felt the grass beneath my toes and the wind on my neck. I saw the footprints I have left, and those that my mother and father left before me.  It’s a moment I wouldn’t trade for the world – it was as if I had a spiritual awakening, and I’ve started to view the world a little differently now.

If you ever get the chance to visit New Zealand, I would definitely recommend taking a haka class.  If you allow yourself to open up to the experience, you’ll understand.  Maybe you’ll start to hear the birds singing over the sound of cars zooming past.  Maybe you’ll start to avoid killing insects that otherwise you would.

Of course – that’s all up to you.  I fully embraced the lesson of the haka, and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to immerse myself in the history and culture of New Zealand in such a special way.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits. 

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