A Modest Proposal for Rugby

No doubt the haka is all very well in its time and place – but that place was long ago and far away. It’s essentially a cannibal war dance designed to scare the living daylights out of those you hope to kill and eat

Australasia Counterpoints Ethnicity Heritage Sport

Reports of half-naked New Zealanders performing a haka at the last International Bridge Tournament in Reykjavik suggest it’s time to deal with this nuisance. Certainly before the November fixture at Twickenham. No doubt the haka is all very well in its time and place – but that place was long ago and far away. It’s essentially a cannibal war dance designed to scare the living daylights out of those you hope to kill and eat. They may be guests. They may be enemies. They may optimistically imagine they’re friends. Whatever – their destiny is dinner.

Formerly something for Maori only, the haka is now performed indiscriminately by New Zealanders of every size, shape, sex and description, whenever they think they can get away with it, plus rolling eyes, fearful grimaces, rude gestures, protruding tongues, bared teeth and horrible cries and yells.

True, tourist brochures advertise it as a friendly “greeting”, and scholars tell us there are haka suitable for welcoming the first cuckoo in spring. But I haven’t seen them and nor has anyone else. The only ones I’ve seen provide a terpsichorean apéritif for the anthropophagy to follow.

We should never forget the true nature and purpose of sport. Or that much of the past 1,000 years has been spent drawing the fangs of real-life homicidal combat, neutralising bloody stoushes between clans and tribes and turning deadly instincts into harmless play. The rise of Homo Ludens accompanied the rise of civil society. It converted medieval melées of contumacious knights from something only marginally less dangerous than military combat into a kind of game on a playing field. As sport evolved it ritualised territorial rivalries and gradually lowered the temperature of endemic social conflict.

Atavistically reversing this benign development and raising the temperature to tribal levels of incendiary rage is what haka at rugby matches are all about. So let’s call a halt while we can. Otherwise things will get completely out of hand, with obligatory spear-wielding Zulu war dances when South African teams visit. (Some South Africans have proposed this as counter-intimidation for dealing with New Zealanders.)

Anyway, here’s a modest proposal – à la Swift – for relief; today’s performances at rugby matches are woefully bogus, mere parodies of the full-blooded haka of the past. What you see is a bunch of muscly tattooed brutes working themselves into a dangerously tumescent state of sweaty anticipation – and then all they do is hammer a pigskin before going off to the boozer.

This is a travesty, a shabby disgrace and an affront to cultural purists. For those determined to perform their beloved war dance, we should therefore insist that the old-time haka be restored in all its glory, intimidation being followed by battle, butchery, the baking of cadavers and a rip-roaring cannibal feast.

Only a slight change in the rules is needed. This requires that the beaten are eaten. And the advantages of this will soon become apparent to both fans and rugby administrators alike. Invitations to anthropophagous teams are likely to fall away, thus sharply reducing the number of visitors from the southern hemisphere. At the same time the gross number of domestic rugby players will be gradually reduced. Seems to me it’s win-win all the way.