Danny does the haka
MICK McCarthy, the English-born former manager of the Irish soccer team, learned the words of Amhrán na bhFiann from watching a homemade video of a man using cue cards.
I remembered this last week when I spotted a sign in the Te Papa Museum in Wellington.
It invited visitors to learn the moves of the Ka Mate haka, the traditional Maori war dance which members of the New Zealand rugby team perform before each game. If Barnsley native McCarthy could master our national anthem, surely I could handle the haka?
Having read about the history of the dance, six of us were ushered into a dark performance area and each assigned a circle in which to stand. Then we were each taught the steps by virtual instructors of our own size, shape and gender, whom we were expected to mimic. Mercifully, our hologram-teachers didn’t give us marks out of ten.
I tried to sing (or shout) along too, but didn’t get past the first two lines – “Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora” (meaning “I die, I die, I live, I live”). Learning the moves was tricky enough without worrying about the words.
It all happened very quickly … we went from individual steps to dry run to recorded performance in a few minutes. Did I disgrace myself? Yes, though hopefully no more than any of the others in the group, which included two Aussies, two South Africans and a Welshman.
But I haven’t been this embarrassed since my eight-year-old self asked Mrs Mullin what the Irish for ‘coiscín’ was. (It was what I called brown bread.)
Our performance – if one could call it that – was replayed continuously until the next group took their turn, although fortunately, only a few amused tourists saw it. My attempts to photograph my efforts for posterity produced only indistinct blobs, and I politely declined the chance to spend NZ$15 on a DVD. This is not one I’ll be showing my grandkids … some things are meant for the dustbin of history.
It’s not that the haka is impossible. Patriotic pub patrons do it, kids do it … even gingerbread men do it, if YouTube is to be believed. But then I’m not exactly fleet-footed – one reason why I didn’t carry out my promise to steal the Webb Ellis Cup.
The trophy presented to the Rugby World Cup winners was on display elsewhere in the Te Papa museum. It was being closely guarded by a Maori man, whose presence put in jeopardy my pledge to smuggle the silverware back to Ballindine, home of my match-ticket benefactors. The Maori man was far bigger than me, and probably a much better haka dancer too. Mind you, that wouldn’t be hard.
Daniel Carey, a Mayo News reporter, has taken a year out to travel the world. His addiction to the keyboard remains, however, and this column will carry his reports from life on the outside.