The translation of the haka

The rugby World Cup has started, and watching the All Black perform their famous Haka, I started thinking about how you don’t need to understand Maori to know exactly what they’re singing about. Their facial expressions and body language say it all. See for yourself:

Scary. Impressive. Awesome. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be watching them while knowing that you’re about to have a good old scrap with them. Surely I thought, it must mean something like this:

By the blood of our ancestors!
We are powerful!
We are invincible!
We are not scared of you
and you will surrender
before the brave warriors that we are!
Look at the size of our arms!
And of our legs!
Come and tackle us if you dare!
Be very scared!
Be terrified!
Grrr!

So I went on the official All Blacks website to see what it actually means, and these are the lyrics of the haka:

Ringa pakia
Uma tiraha!
Turi whatia!
Hope whai ake!
Waewae takahia kia kino!
Ka Mate! Ka Mate!
Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Tenei te ta ngata puhuru huru!
Nana nei i tiki mai!
Whakawhiti te ra!
A upane ka upane!
A upane kaupane whiti te ra!
Hi!!

And this is the translation:

Slap the hands against the thighs!
Puff out the chest!
Bend the knees!
Let the hip follow!
Stamp the feet as hard as you can!
It is death! It is death!
It is life! It is life!
This is the hairy person
Who caused the sun to shine!
Keep abreast! Keep abreast!
The rank! Hold fast!
Into the sun that shines!

"Bend the knees"? "Let the hip follow"?! "This is the hairy person who caused the sun to shine"??! It sounds like a mix between the birdie song and ABBA! I must admit, now that I know the words, the awe I’ve felt time and time again before an All Black game will probably be replaced by giggles, as I watch this group of (hairy) men slapping their thighs and stamping their feet while shouting that they’re slapping their thighs and stamping their feet. This is one translation I could have done without; some things are meant to remain shrouded in mystery.
Polite notice: could any reader that might feel like gloating about France v Argentina in the comments try and refrain from doing so? I blame the stupid new kit.

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:42+00:00 September 10th, 2007|Culture|10 Comments

About the Author:

Celine
I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.

10 Comments

  1. Amanda September 10, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Reminds me a bit of the scene in Braveheart where they’re all lined up opposite each other before the battle. I half expected to see Mel come riding out with his face painted blue!!

  2. Lesley September 10, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    In the competition for worst new strip, I think Scotland wins hands down.

  3. Jeronimo September 10, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Oh my! Céline, you should have added an “Spoiler” note before this entry. Please somebody tell me the translation from Maori just sucks.

  4. MM September 10, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    It’s a great video.
    I suppose it wouldn’t help you much if I said that the German women’s football team just beat the Argentinians by 11 to 0?

  5. céline September 11, 2007 at 8:02 am

    Jeronimo, sorry, but the world has to know.
    MM: no it doesn’t! France didn’t even qualify for the women’s World Cup!

  6. Bela September 11, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Blech! Testosterone gone mad.

  7. Nathalie Reis September 11, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    I had the immense pleasure to see the All Blacks in real flesh just a week before their first match. They had just arrived in Europe and had a 2-day stopover in Corsica (where I was at the time and also where I was born)before flying to Marseille. Their plane had landed in the evening and to get rid of their jet lag they were just running a few kilometers along the beach and my goodness, were they impressive guys!! They fitted perfectly in the scenery….
    As for our rugby performance, no comment (unable to make any…)

  8. Kimberley September 11, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    This haka describes a famous warrior chief’s escape from his enemies. There’s a fuller explanation here: http://www.haka.co.nz/haka.php (scroll down) which I hope will make you feel better about knowing the translation. 🙂
    No gloating over the French from me, I appreciate their sportsmanlike attitude towards the All Blacks too much. Why are the Kiwis so popular in France? It’s quite striking the way they and the fans are welcomed.

  9. céline September 12, 2007 at 10:18 am

    "Te Wharerangi was a man of very noticeable hairy habit" – sorry, the hairy thing is still funny.
    Why are the Kiwis so popular in France? Funnily enough, in rugby the French respect and like all other nations, apart from the English, of course, who are hated by pretty much everyone.

  10. Kimberley September 12, 2007 at 10:46 am

    I concede the hairy thing is kinda funny. 🙂 I’m so used to it that I just don’t think about it, I guess.
    Btw, I’ve posted agreement to your comment on my blog. Sorry about the commenting system, I wish Livejournal would make it easier for non-LJers.

Comments are closed.