BLOG: UA's 'haka' should be altered, not ended

Posted at 12:30 PM, Oct 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-03 15:30:10-04

On Friday, after days of complaints and online protests, The University of Arizona announced it would end its football team’s six-year tradition by discontinuing its pregame “haka" -- a dance that originated as an ancestral war cry from the M?ori people in New Zealand and became popularized by the country’s All Blacks rugby team.

On Wednesday, Cal State University professor and New Zealand native Dr. Christina Campbell created a petition to have UA put a stop to the dance. It didn’t take long for hundreds to sign it.

Campbell’s primary objection was a particular phrase used during the routine: “Ka Mate,” a Maori expression that means “’tis death.”

"It's a mess and it's an affront to me as a Kiwi that they're doing this, especially that it's Ka Mate," Campbell said.

"It was really disappointing, not only that they're doing it but that they clearly don't know what they're doing."

It’s certainly fair for Dr. Campbell to take offense to any errors or disrespect, intentional or not, injected into the dance.

But If UA’s version of the haka truly is “a mess” – and frankly, this professor would know better than most of us would – that seems like an opportunity to correct the dance, rather than put a stop to it.

After all, the haka began in Tucson in 2009 by a group of players of Polynesian descent as a way to honor their heritage as well as rev up their teammates before games.

In a haka how-to video in 2014 conducted by several Wildcats of Polynesian origin (including current Wildcats starting QB Anu Solomon), UA defensive lineman and Hawaii native Sani Fuimaono explained that the dance isn’t intended to scare opponents, but rather, to bring the team together.

“The haka is basically calling upon who’s gonna be the next leader. Who’s gonna stand up?” Fuimaono said.

“And basically as a team, we unite together as one. We call upon our ancestors and unite as one.”

There’s clearly no intent of disrespect or mockery in Fuimaono’s words, nor in the dance itself. With that in mind, this situation seems like a terrific opportunity for Dr. Campbell and others to educate dozens of young men on how to pay proper respect to their ancestors.

After Friday’s announcement, UA athletics director Greg Byrne said on Twitter that the Wildcats will create “their own” version of the haka. If so, it’s great that this tradition will apparently live on – hopefully with plenty of input from people like Dr. Campbell who are familiar with how the dance should be executed.

These young men clearly intend to pay respect to a distant culture with their version of the haka. If they’re not accomplishing that goal, Dr. Campbell, come to Tucson and show them how to do it the right way rather than attempting to silence the routine.

Doing so would allow UA to carry on its tradition and pay proper respect to a culture that originated halfway around the world. In the world of higher learning where international cultural studies have become such an important fixture, wouldn’t this be the better path?