Story: Traditional Māori songs – waiata tawhito

Page 4. Haka

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Haka – a type of waiata

Haka can be said to form a particularly large subclass of waiata. In 1975 Arapeta Marukitipua Awatere explored the features of different types of haka and their uses. He noted, ‘Each class and sub-class has its own convention: its own style of actions, postures, accoutrements, and presentations, and fulfils a social function in a social situation, be that situation physically actual and factual or be it, in the mytho-poetic mind, there and then, an imagined, symbolic one.’1 Awatere gave a list of five haka types distinguished according to function:

  • haka taparahi – a ceremonial dance performed without weapons
  • tūtūngārahu (also known as ngārahu, whakatūtū-waewae an whakarewarewa) – a divinatory dance performed by a war party with weapons, before elders and experienced warriors who judged from their performance whether they were ready to go into battle
  • ngeri – an exhortation to rouse a group to achieve its objective, performed without weapons
  • peruperu – the true war dance, performed with weapons when the warriors come face to face with the enemy in battle
  • puha – a kind of peruperu, which can be used to alarm and call kinsmen to arms, not on the actual battlefield but in their and homes (whereas the peruperu is used only in battle).


The peruperu, performed on the battlefield with weapons, has been described as the fiercest haka. Awatere described the peruperu as the ‘true war-dance’:

Hard conditioning makes the warriors physically and mentally fit to perform this dance which has the psychological purpose of demoralising the enemy by gestures, by posture, by controlled chanting, by conditioning to look ugly, furious to roll the fiery eye, to glare the light of battle therein, to spew the defiant tongue, to control, to distort, to snort, to fart the thunder of the war god upon the enemy, to stamp furiously, to yell raucous, hideous, blood-curdling sounds, to carry the anger, the peru, of Tuumatauenga, the ugly-faced war-god, throughout the heat of battle.2

Tribal uses of haka terms

While the terms for different haka may vary between iwi, for most tribes the nomenclature has remained constant. Awatere noted a number of tribal differences, including that for Te Arawa, the peruperu can also be known as the puha. A recited song expressing great sorrow was generally known as maemae, but also as pōkeka to Te Arawa, ngākau-maemae or kiriwera to Ngāti Porou and manawawera to Ngāi Tūhoe. The divinatory dance known as ngārahu or tū ngārahu was also called whakarewarewa (Te Arawa), whakatūwaewae (Ngāti Porou) and tūtūngārahu (Waikato).

Haka pōwhiri

Haka pōwhiri are haka performed during a welcome. While these are performed across the country, the haka pōwhiri performed by the women of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a-Apanui appear to have no counterpart elsewhere.

  1. Arapeta Awatere, ‘Review of Mitcalfe, Barry. Maori poetry: the singing word.’ Journal of the Polynesian Society 84, no. 4 (1975), p. 513. Back
  2. ‘Review of Mitcalfe, Barry,’ p. 514. Back
How to cite this page:

Rawinia Higgins and Arini Loader, 'Traditional Māori songs – waiata tawhito - Haka', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Rawinia Higgins and Arini Loader, published 22 Oct 2014