Some haka such as the poi (ball) were performed only by women. The poi, which was attached to a long string held in the right hand, was twirled and beaten back with the left hand. Various movements were made over the shoulder, to the sides, the thighs, the knees, and the head, the poi being kept twirling in perfect time to the songs sung by the leaders. Buck states that the haka poi performed by a well trained team of young women is the most graceful of all Polynesian dances.
The Maori had a habit of composing songs and haka to mark incidents which, by European standards, would appear trivial in themselves. Elsdon Best lists haka composed for such reasons as—
Reception of native visitors;
Reception of Government officials;
An insulting remark made by a tribesman;
Ill-treatment of a woman married to a member of another tribe;
A faithless wife;
A trivial oversight in apportioning food supplies; and so on.
Perhaps the most famous haka chorus of all is that said to have been composed by the great warrior chief Te Rauparaha. Hard pressed by his pursuers, he took refuge in the pa of the hairy chief Te Wharerangi whose wife hid him in a kumara pit. When Te Rauparaha safely emerged from his shelter, he contrasted the sunlight (life) with the darkness (death) of the pit and, in a stanza which became the haka chorus to Te Ngeri a Te Rauparaha (War Chant of Te Rauparaha), he exulted in his deliverance:
Ka Mate! Ka Mate!
Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru,
Nana nei i tiki mei
I whakawhiti te ra!
Upane! Ka upane!
Whiti te ra!
(It is death! It is death!
It is life! It is life!
This is the hairy person
Who caused the sun to shine!
One upward step! Another upward step!
One last upward step! Then step forth!
Into the sun that shines!)