By Mayuk Saha
Haka in case you did not know, is a Maori war dance. I refrain from calling it ‘the’ war dance because there are variations of the Haka: people all over the globe who enjoy rugby/football and have watched the great New Zealand team play will have definitely seen them perform at least one variation, the ‘kama-te kama-te kaora’ haka. This is the military version, performed for and by great warriors to intimidate the enemy. The gestures are exaggerated and are basically meant as an insult to the enemy. The likes of it have been performed at rugby matches, in the deserts of Africa by the Maori regiment during World War II, and during the funerals of leaders or great athletes like Jonah Lomu.
But there are other variations of the dance as well, which are part of the present assimilative culture of New Zealand. They are done often as a mark of respect; for example, recently a schoolteacher was given a haka farewell by his students in the country and that video was viral too.
We are here to discuss one such beautiful video that has been doing the rounds of social media for some time now. So much so that even the BBC decided to interview the couple whose marriage it is from: Aaliya and Benjamin Armstrong. They are a young Maori married couple from Auckland; Ben’s older brother led a haka along with his best man to show his respect and love for Ben. The entire thing was caught on video by a cousin.
What is more, the bridesmaids joined in. Now here is where cultural interpretation comes in. For the rest of world, the haka is a military dance designed to intimidate the enemy. But in every cultural act, there are nuances and variations to meanings; things that are more likely to be lost in translation.
And this was such a case too.
A number of netizens criticised the act as a subtle jab at Ben, that he was being intimidated through the act. But, that is further away from the truth than anything else.
This is because even in the act itself, both Ben and his bride join in and are moved to tears themselves. It is a great honour to be at the receiving end of certain haka dances; like I said earlier, greats like Jonah Lomu and Sir Apirana Ngata were given hakas as a mark of respect.
It must have been quite the experience for the young couple to receive such a great gift at the beginning of their new lives. It is no wonder that both were extremely emotional about it. The meanings of their emotions however have to be, to some extent, lost on us. And that is the beauty of cultural exchange.
Many years ago, when the great sage Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad reached the shores of America and preached the mantra of peace and “Hare Krishna”, there were millions who did not understand him, because of the distance between the two cultures; but did that stop the world from accepting the message of love? No.
It is the same in this case too. The world must accept the fact that some meanings are meant to be lost to a few; it does not mean that we cannot share in the joy and pleasure of things of cultures.