My Haka

Part of 8 of in
By Michael Fraser
Art by Paul Minagawa
Jan 01, 2017 | min read
Part of 51: Smash
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We normally associate the outward expression of anger with verbal abuse and physical violence, but what does it look like when it is not just a cultural tradition, but is healthy and helpful?

Ka mate! (It is death!) Ka mate! (It is death!)

Ka ora! (It is life!) Ka ora! (It is life!)

Ka mate! (We're going to die!) Ka mate! (We're going to die!)

Ka ora! (We're going to live!) Ka ora! (We're going to live!)

Tēnei te tangata (This is the man) pū-huru-huru (so hairy)

Upane! (Together!) Ka upane! (Keep together!)

Hupane! (Up the step!) Kaupane! (A second step!)

Whiti te rā! (Out comes the sun!)

Hī! (Ahh!)

My Haka

BENT KNEES. STRAIGHT BACK. Flexed body. Ringing voice. My friend slapped his arms against his thighs and raised his arms above his head, performing a haka.

I had heard of this chant before, but seeing my normally smiley friend with a not-so-smiley demeanor definitely caught me off guard. He looked as though he was enraged, but it was also with great control. Chills shot down my spine as I witnessed the hoarseness in his voice, the strength of his actions, and the aura that I felt coming from him.

Four years later and I haven't forgotten that night when I first witnessed a haka in person. The impression it made on me inspired a mini obsession. That same night, I went home and searched YouTube for every haka I could find. Everything mainly dealt with the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, as haka is their team tradition performed before every game. I looked up tutorials and translations in order to see what exactly was drawing me in so much. I was completely fascinated with the intensity and passion that it had me yearning to learn one for myself.

learning tradition

 For the Māori people, haka is a way of communicating a story through body and soul. When a haka is performed, the people put all their might and strength in it in order to honor the message and culture. This gave me further ideas on how haka could honor the Lord, and how awesome it would be if that could be done.

For the Māori people, haka is a way of communicating a story through body and soul.

Two years later, one of my friends taught me and a group of others a haka to be performed at a close friend's wedding. I was expecting to start learning the fierceness and passion, but instead, we learned the words first — correct pronunciation and meaning before the passion and ferocity. The word "haka" is a combination of two words where "ha" means breath, and "ka" means power. 

This changed my thinking in many ways. I had just wanted to do something cool and get hyped up. But I learned that there is meaning, purpose, and breath behind every word, and intent behind every action — haka grabbed ahold of my being. 

Originally I thought the purpose was just to release steam and frustration, but it is more than just a show. From that point on with learning the haka, my perspective of it shifted: from a testosterone-driven release to a cultural tradition where righteous anger is expressed.

My perspective of it shifted: from a testosterone-driven release to a cultural tradition where righteous anger is expressed.

I was blessed to further learn this cultural war chant through the teachings and perspectives of a Polynesian man of God. He explained to us that the chant was intended to be done from one side of the battlefield to the other. The two respective armies would do their haka before the battle — expressing their willpower, strength, and determination to win — and then engage in deadly combat. This chant was where haka was born: There is a certain respect that I needed to treat the haka with in order for it to be done correctly. 

At first, the correct way seemed to include being super angry and serious, which is normally not a part of my character. But it was instilled in me that we are in a spiritual war at this very moment, and this haka was to represent my stance against the enemy. I was wondering whom we were facing that I would all of a sudden turn into the Hulk, but then my friend brought up a specific visual that I believe anyone can imagine: fighting the devil.

I am not an aggressive or violent guy, and my voice is higher-pitched than the average male. But with something as thunderous as the haka, what comes out definitely does not match what you expect my normal speaking voice to sound like. 

My Haka

Haka was the outlet I needed to express my anger at Satan for every hurt, sickness, and temptation that he has thrown at me and my loved ones. It was a type of righteous anger that I could control through the haka and it was also a stance against the evil one. 

When it was performed, the image in my head was of ripping the heads off of demons and slaying the devil for everything that he had done. The sin in our lives is something that I believe is where righteous anger comes into play, and moves me into doing this haka, which shows my willpower to stand in the gap and fight off the enemy from those I love.

One thing that helped me out of an emotional funk was attending InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Hawaiʻi's Hui Poly, a chapter of IV that focuses on seeing the redemption of all cultures and faith, specifically the Pacific Island cultures. On that journey through culture and faith, I came to a point of becoming a proud Pacific Islander man of God myself. The visualization of what it means to be a man of God came in to play through haka

It occurred to me that the haka was a cultural tradition that could also be used to strengthen one's roots in culture, in faith, and also in oneself. I am able to carry haka with me wherever I go. In my journey as a Christian, living in an island culture is a blessing, as I get to face a past — in which other gods, myths, and legends were worshipped — through dance and song.

It occurred to me that the haka was a cultural tradition that could also be used to strengthen one's roots in culture, in faith, and also in oneself.

looking forward

I'm embracing the idea that I am a warrior for Christ. To me and my brothers, the haka demonstrates that we are no longer going to let the enemy stand in our way of furthering the kingdom of God. These emotions of anger and resolve are feelings that we harness, because we know that we are not fighting a battle of flesh and blood, but against principalities. We fight through prayer for our families and loved ones; we are warriors who use the haka to exemplify Christ, letting the enemy know that he has no business with us. 

We are warriors who use the haka to exemplify Christ, letting the enemy know that he has no business with us. 

I went to New Zealand for a mission conference and was able to see Aotearoa, the place where haka began. I was blessed with another opportunity to learn the haka, but this time it was through the "Māori gate" (Māori perspective). It was through the Māori people of Kāwhia where I was able to see Aotearoa through the indigenous perspective, and it was through the Māori people of Pahiatua that I was able to meet brothers and sisters who loved their culture and loved God. They taught me a haka that praised God and announced our presence to the enemy: We are standing in unison against any attacks that the enemy has in store. I was honored to be given permission to teach this haka to others. I am now equipping the brothers I am mentoring, and discipling more warriors for Christ who will have that power to stand up against all trials and adversity.

We are standing in unison against any attacks that the enemy has in store.

Though there is an unproductive anger that can cause strife, I thank God that there is also a righteous anger that can move us to follow the convictions of the Spirit.

My Haka
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Michael Fraser

Michael Fraser lives in Waipahu, Hawai’i and is of Samoan and German descent. He is the youth director at Island Family Christian Church. He loves to worship with his djembe and takes it with him everywhere he goes saying, “You never know when you are going to jam.” He finds his identity as a man of God and a warrior for Christ.

Paul Minagawa

Paul Minagawa taught high school fine arts in Honolulu, HI, before working as an engineer at a Los Angeles chemical tech company. Historically a painter, his work now focuses on diagrammatic ink sketches melding engineering thinking and abstract concepts of selfishness, selflessness, and interaction between the church and the world. Find him online at paulminagawa.tumblr.com.

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