Kapa Haka Today

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Kapa Haka Today

The re-branding of British TV channel BBC One in April 2002 featured, among a variety of culturally diverse dance scenes, a team of Welsh rugby players performing a haka led by Māori player, Joe Hutley, of Ngati Porou and Rongowhakaata descent. Solomon comments that: "it was ironic that the BBC - 'an icon of colonialism' - should choose the haka to promote itself [...] the Western culture, having all their own stories, are starting to mine indigenous stories for their appeal. That's what I find objectionable - if they're just taking it for granted, if they're not acknowledging the guardians of that knowledge and that culture." In his defence Hutley argues that he has the right to teach his culture to anyone, responding that he agreed to do the haka segment provided the performers, producer and director understood the cultural and spiritual significance of the haka.

"We're not doing anything derogatory towards Māori culture. I refuse to get to the point where you have to go and ask someone. I'm just as entitled to it as the next person – as long as it's done correctly," Rejecting the criticism, he said the 10 English performers (along with three fellow New Zealanders) in the haka had been taught the proper protocol and "did a better haka than most New Zealanders".

This performance follows on from a 2001 British TVC for Bass Breweries' alcopop fruit drink Reef showing eight women of various nationalities clad in bikinis and sarongs doing the actions to a haka. The ad was withdrawn due to hundreds of complaints recieved by Britain's Independent Television Commission, (including from the New Zealand High Commission), though haka specialist Pita Sharples wasn't so sure about the offence caused by the use of haka in the Reef advertisement: "If they had bastardised a particular haka or had done it badly or used it in an embarrassing situation then I would be upset. But the way it's been done it's like a feather in the cap in some ways because ... we can say it originates from Māori culture."

A restaurant in the Netherlands has rebranded itself using the name 'moko'; with associated imagery based around the concept of 'face taste'. Their website features an elegantly designed (but simplistically offensive?) page complete with simulated tattoo ink running the down the face of a "buttery looking Dutch blonde". Again stirring front-page reaction in New Zealand media. Out-speaking the outspoken, Winston Peters questions the sensitivity of some Māori reaction, claiming that, "you can't copyright an entire culture".

And ta moko finds its way into an institution that might have been described as another icon of colonialism: the museum. The Skin Deep exhibition is showing at Britain's National Maritime Museum from 22nd March 30th September 2002. A historical survey, It traces the development and diversity of tattoo over the last two hundred years and "its growth as a statement of fashion and identity throughout today's society". Featuring the work of "personal engraver to the stars" Te Rangitu Netana, the exhibition has attracted notice in the UK press - from the knowing and smooth: "a retrospective of fleshy couture" (from the New Statesman review) - to post-colonial sensitivity in The Times: "a short film made in New Zealand reveals how these native cultures are now reclaiming the designs that were so long repressed: fairs and festivals are devoted to the art, and there’s even a return to the use of the traditional hammer and chisel."


In 2001 prominent campaigner for the recognition of Māori intellectual property, lawyer Maui Solomon, successfully sued Lego over its right to use Polynesian names in a new game called Bionicle, resulting in an acknowledgement from the Danish toy-makers that: "Future launches of Bionicle sets will not incorporate names from any original culture", and a concession that "The Lego company will seek to develop a code of conduct for cultural expressions of traditional knowledge". 


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This page last updated 06/07/2003 02:11:44 AM


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