Haka: Kitchener gymnasium takes on the sounds of an international rugby pitch

Schools & Students

As the deep, rich tones of the conch or seashell horn signal the start, 126 black-clad grade 6 and 7 students from Lord Kitchener Elementary begin stamping their feet, rhythmically body slapping and chanting loudly in Māori, language of New Zealand’s Indigenous people. These Vancouver kids are demonstrating haka.

The haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used both on the battlefield and in times of peace to show pride, strength and unity. Today haka is performed during important Māori ceremonies to honour guests and at sporting events, most famously rugby matches featuring New Zealand’s renowned All Blacks.

“I wanted to have my students learn about Māori culture, history and cosmology,“ says Kitchener grade 7 teacher Lorenz Bruechert. “The haka was the added-on high point”. This special project came about when Bruechert invited visiting Māori scholar Tredegar Hall to speak briefly to his class. The two had met through a shared passion for paddling outrigger canoes. When it was discovered Hall could teach haka, other senior classes wanted to join in and Hall’s lessons expanded to cover several weeks.

“In our curriculum, the kids are learning about being good global citizens,” says Bruechert. “I thought this Māori unit would be in keeping with that and with continued learning about the wealth of knowledge found in Indigenous cultures. Other people have interesting cultures we don’t know anything about, but we should learn and share in that if we can. This is in line with our kids learning how to appreciate multi-culturalism here in Canada.”

Hall says that he was able to make a connection for the students between New Zealand and Canada’s Indigenous populations. “I could say we’re the First Nations of New Zealand and we’ve experienced oppression and we’re going through a revitalization as well,” he notes.

Hall smiles with pride after the students’ performance. “The cool thing about haka is it gets all these different energies going,” he adds. “These children have had a chance to hear what haka is really all about, they get what the real story is – it’s beautiful.”

Grade seven student David was one of two singled out to deliver the lead lines during the haka. “It was an honour today, very exciting,” he says. “This is the first time I even knew about Māori culture other than the Disney movie Moana.”

The other haka leader, grade six student Lucas, has already used his newfound skills with his soccer team mates. “It was really cool doing the haka in front of all those younger kids who were looking up to us,” he says.

Hall had also invited some other extra special guests to watch the students’ performance. “What an inspiring haka that was today!” declared Bernard Te Paa, a representative of the Māori All Blacks, in Vancouver for a match against team Canada. “Well done to you all. The haka comes from inside you all. Congratulations!”