The Maori tribe that owns the rights to the “Ka Mate” haka told anti-vaccine protesters on Monday that it was inappropriate to use the famous ritual during protests in New Zealand.
The Ngati Toa, a tribe or iwi in Maori, are recognized by New Zealand law as the cultural guardian of the Ka Mate haka, which has featured prominently in recent protests against coronavirus restrictions.
“Ngati Toa condemns the use of the Ka Mate haka to push and promote anti-Covid-19 vaccination messages,” the tribe, based just outside Wellington, said in a statement.
“We insist that the protesters stop using our taonga (cultural treasure) immediately.”
Maori haka comes in many forms, but Ka Mate, which has been practiced by the All Blacks rugby team ahead of test matches for over a century, is by far the most well-known.
The ritual of stomping and rolling the eyes is firmly entrenched in New Zealand culture and is often used at important social events such as weddings or funerals.
Ka Mate is the haka of Ngati Toa, composed by warrior chief Te Rauparaha around 1820 to celebrate his escape from the war group of a rival tribe.
Parliament passed a law in 2014 recognizing the Ngati Toa as guardians of the haka, although the legislation does not include penalties for abuse. The tribe has already spoken out against the commercialization of the haka and satirical or disrespectful versions of the ritual.
Ngati Toa chief executive Helmut Modlik criticized anti-vaccine protesters for putting individual wishes above the common good.
“Many of our tupuna (ancestors) have lost their lives in previous pandemics and our iwi has suffered a lot,” he said.
“We are absolutely clear that the Covid-19 vaccine is the best protection we have, and we are committed to helping our whanau (family) get vaccinated as soon as possible. “
New Zealand has adopted a strong response to Covid-19, including strict closures and tight border restrictions. The country has recorded just 33 deaths from the virus among its population of five million.
Protests escalated, however, amid the implementation of “no jab, no job” policies, drawing several thousand protesters to major cities.
Many of those performing the haka during the protests are Maori, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said indigenous youth in particular face a barrage of disinformation.
“We are struggling to reach some of our young Maori,” she told TVNZ.
“I have to say that the disinformation that reigns is intense (…) if they deliberately spread disinformation, they put people at risk,” she said.