August 14, 2006 | by  |
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A Throat-Slittin’ Good Time!

What were odds that I’d find myself sitting next to my lecturer at the All Blacks v Springboks test at the Cake Tin last month?

About 37,000:1, I’d say, roughly the same odds as winning $50,000 on Instant Kiwi. Ugh, how demoralising! Fate was chucking curve balls, and I got Doug Van Belle over 50,000 delicious dollars. Unbelievable, (not that you weren’t entertaining, sir; the way your hearty American accent reigned out over the stands as you invited the referee to, “Go back to France, asshole”, could well have been the funniest insult I’ve ever heard levied at a Rugby game).

So, with my quota of uncanniness filled for the evening, I decided to sit back, take in a little Ka Mate, watch Scott Hamilton fluke his way through a try or two, marvel at Daniel Carter’s gorgeous… kicking ability… and celebrate a well-earned victory to the good guys, but the boys in black had other ideas.

In what can only be described as the strangest ascension of sound I’ve ever heard in all my days as a Cake Tin attendee, the 37,000-strong crowd erupted into a psychotic fervour as Piri Wepu eyeballed the stony-faced Springboks and began bellowing the opening lines of Kapa o Pango, aka, ‘The New Haka’, aka, “Yes, the throat-slitting one you’ve probably heard a lot of people bitch about recently.” And, so too, did the news media begin bellowing out their latest condemnations.

Indeed, the very crux of the backlash against Kapa o Pango stems entirely from the last incy wincy piece of choreography – the throat slitting gesture. Originally touted by the NZRU as symbolising, “the cutting edge of sport”, the gesture is now becoming increasingly synonymous with all that is evil in New Zealand society. Amongst the plethora of problems pinned on the new haka, some particularly odd examples have come to the fore. These include:

* The lack of arrests in the Kahui Twins tragedy;

* Winston Peter’s bout of Dengue Fever;

* The existence of Ian Staples on New Zealand television screens;

* How ridiculously catchy that Gnarls Barkley song is;

* Israel punking Lebanon, etc, etc.

Excuse me for that brief foray into what Mr. T would call the “absoludicrous,’ but the barrage of criticism levelled at Kapa o Pango, one would argue, is almost as absurd. Critics have condemned the Kapa o Pango for demonising the traditional values of the haka by including the throatslitting gesture. Even Wallabies coach John “Knuckles” Connoly stepped into the scuffle in the week leading up to the second Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane. Collony’s less than celebratory remarks about Kapa o Pango were categorically dismissed by AB’s coach Graham Henry, who invited his transtasman counterpart to pay closer attention to issues in his “own backyard” than in his neighbour’s. Sage words from the head of the Henry Cartel.

So, how exactly should we keep an eye on our backyard? The problem with discussing Kapa o Pango is that the very discussion of a haka often tip-toes down the line between sport and cultural representation.

The performance of a haka before a sporting fixture, (not just by New Zealand national sporting outfits), is recognised as a formal challenge, a symbolic declaration of war that can only be squashed through laying siege to its performers on the scoreboard.

If we accept without question the All Blacks’ assertion that the throat-slitting gesture carries with it no murderous connotations, (apart from saying, “It’s clobbering time!”) then surely we can accept that as true, and rationalise it as being but a small offshoot to the experience of watching the All Blacks play Rugby?

That said, there is the very real issue of cultural representation. If the All Blacks are to be seen as living symbols of New Zealand culture, (whatever you may define that as), and that their performance of either haka represents the cultural diversity of the Land of the Long White Cloud, then could it be argued that the addition of a throat-slitting gesture may cheapen the significance of the haka by pinning its significance entirely on that gesture. 100+ years of culture shortened to a thumb across the throat – is it worth that?

Then again, that’s all we’re dealing with – a thumb across the throat. As far as I can tell, the 58 seconds that proceeded this has been well received. I have yet to come across a news article condemning the All Blacks for lifting their legs at the start, or indeed the way they raise their arms during the middle, (a potential sore point for the Arm Raising Society of America, but they were unavailable for comment at the time of writing).

The ire of many is centred entirely around a simple gesture that has been dismissed by all involved as being but the conclusion of the previous 58 seconds of challenge, a challenge universally understood to mean the following 80 minutes of football.

Two seconds of irrelevance, and yet, what are the odds that we’ll ever see a consensus on it?

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