Walter Sisulu University captain Litha Nkula has explained why the team performs the All Blacks’ haka before their Varsity Shield matches.
‘Ka Mate’ is a Maori haka composed by Te Rauparaha, war leader of the Ngati Toa tribe of New Zealand’s North Island, in 1820 as a celebration of life over death after his fortunate escape from enemies.
The haka was first performed by the ‘Original’ All Blacks in 1905 on their first tour of Britain. These days, the All Blacks either perform ‘Ka Mate’ or ‘Kapa o Pango’, which is a haka unique to the national team.
On Monday, FNB WSU – nicknamed the ‘All Blacks’ – performed a combination of the two before their opening FNB Varsity Shield match against the Durban University of Technology at Loftus Versfeld. The video of it went viral and prompted a backlash from many on social media, who accused FNB WSU of ‘cultural appropriation’.
Nkula says WSU, who entered the Varsity Shield competition in 2017, had admired the All Blacks since they won the 2015 World Cup by playing an attractive brand of rugby.
‘When I arrived at WSU, our late coach Sipho Metula told us stories about how this team got to mobilise and use New Zealand rugby players as icons within the team.’
Former player Yanga Wani first proposed the idea of performing a haka as a way to motivate the team, but it was originally done as a post-match celebration.
‘The players wanted to bring in the haka because they admired the way the All Blacks play,’ Nkula told VarsityCup.co.za. ‘The players took the initiative to try and understand why the All Blacks do it.
‘We chose the haka because of the style of rugby that we play. We hold ourselves to the standard of New Zealand rugby, we want to play like them. The haka entertains us but also brings that seriousness before a game.
‘It has become part of our culture. We explain to new players that come in why it is done and how it influences us as a team. That’s why we feel that we can’t play without it; it’s part of our team culture, even though we adopted it from New Zealand.’
Nkula makes it clear that they mean no disrespect to the All Blacks by performing their haka.
‘We’re doing it in a respectful manner and trying to bring confidence to our players. We would have done something else but because of the way that it has influenced us as a team, it’s not something we want to change.’
Nkula says WSU have not focused on the social-media backlash.
‘We do listen to what people out there say, but we don’t see ourselves stopping the haka unless New Zealand says it’s disrespectful.’
In response to those who ask why the Eastern Cape university doesn’t do a traditional South African war dance, Nkula says: ‘It’s not that we don’t do anything from our traditions or cultures; we also sing Amagwijo before a game, during practice, and on our way to the game. The haka is just influential to us.’
On Tuesday, a New Zealand Rugby spokesman told Newshub that despite its intellectual property being imitated, as long as the haka is performed with respect and understanding, as in the case with WSU, there is no issue.
Photo: Catherine Kotze/Varsity Cup