Even the most humble kiwi can be reduced to a goose-bumped, watery-eyed, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-necked patriot when watching the All Blacks doing the haka. There is something about seeing our team doing us proud with their passionate rendition of Ka Mate, which has even been known to captivate Aussies, Brits and South Africans.
Though some haka are war dances, they are more often a challenge to the opposition – a way of showing the enemy your strength and dominance. They can also be performed to honour or welcome people too, so they’re not all meant to be scary.
We can thank the All Blacks for bringing the haka to the international stage. Aside from honouring cultural tradition, there are biological reasons for performing it too. Supporters of the Wallabies and Springboks have pointed out (rather annoyingly!) that it gives the All Blacks an unfair advantage. How so?
Psychologically, it puts them in a position to intimidate the other team. They show the whites of their eyes, and make aggressive movements and stick out their tongues. Though this may sound ridiculous and not the least bit intimidating, if you had a 120kg guy built of pure muscle yelling in your face, then you would probably not be laughing.
Photo from here
This gives the All Blacks the upper hand right from kick off – they have already told the other team who is boss, and the movement, crouching and jumping also help their muscles to warm up while the other team is obliged to stand still and watch.
Performing the haka triggers the release of the hormones testosterone and adrenaline into the blood stream, which triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. Their reactions become quicker, muscles poised to act, eyes widened to improve vision, and heart rate stepped up a notch, preparing them both psychologically and physically for the game. – Take note Lance Armstrong, no need for drugs when you can do the haka.
So yes (I can’t believe I’m saying this), the All Blacks definitely gain an advantage from it.
Some American football teams have picked up on using the haka as part of their pre-match preparation too. Though the cultural meaning of the haka surely has no significance for them whatsoever, they are obviously getting some benefit out of it. They aren’t allowed to perform it on the field (this violates field rules), so they do it in the changing rooms instead.
Photo from here
The idea of a team performing the haka on the other side of the world, with no knowledge of its cultural significance, yelling at no one but a brick wall is a bit stoopid. But obviously the biological benefits are enough to get them suitably fired up, so good for them.