Haka, The Dance of War, Is Performed at Weddings, Funerals and by Beyonce

Take a look at how this traditional performance, which uses powerful postures, is sending mighty messages without words.

One of the most dramatic examples of how we use body language is the traditional Māori performing art called the Kapa Haka. It's a dance that uses all parts of the body — the hands, arms, feet, voice, eyes and even the tongue — to express a range of emotions.

The term comes from to the words "kapa", which means to form a line, and "haka", which means dance. It is performed for a variety of reasons ranging from welcoming distinguished guests and at ceremonies to preparing for a battle.

We searched YouTube to find some of the most magnificent and emotional Haka performances out there.

In competition:

The New Zealand All Black’s rugby team, which is featured in The Nature of Things documentary Body Language Decoded, has one of the most well-known Haka performances. Before each international match, the team opens the competition with the "Ka mate, Ka mate" Haka. Composed around 1820, the “Ka mate, Ka mate” tells the story of the deceptive way Māori chief Ngati Toa Chieftain Te Rauparaha outsmarted his enemies.

The dance starts with the All Blacks facing their opponents and performing what Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, calls the “powerful postures.” “It’s kind of beautiful and intimidating at the same time,” she says.

However, the important thing to understand about the dance, said Cuddy, is that it isn't meant to intimidate, but prepare the performer for the challenge ahead. 

The All Black’s aren’t the only team to start off competition with the “Ka mate, Ka mate.” The tradition dates back to 1888, when it was first used by the New Zealand Native team.

To honour a guest:

The Haka is also used to welcome a distinguished guest. After Beyonce’s show in Auckland, the local crew honoured her with a performance. She joined right in.

At a wedding:

This surprise Haka performance brought the bride to tears. Although women don’t traditionally take part in the dance, an exception is made for weddings. Bridesmaids, along with the bride and a few guests joined in the performance.

At a funeral:

After one of their teachers passed away, all the students from the Palmerston North Boy's High School in New Zealand honoured him at the funeral by performing a Haka.

As the hearse carrying their teacher arrived, the stomping and screaming began. After performing the dance in unison, the teenagers fell silent and separated to let the hearse through.

In solidarity:

A group of people in New Zealand performed a Haka on the beach to show support for those protesting against the Dakota Access oil pipeline at Standing Rock.

Learn more about how we use body language in the The Nature of Things documentary Body Language Decoded.

Available on CBC Gem

Body Language Decoded

Nature of Things