Thursday 14 December 2017 / 05:57 AM

HEY BULLDOG! DON’T ATTACK WHAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND

I’m not in the habit of writing rebuttals, but it’s not often you come across a piece as ignorant as Dean Ritchie’s piece yesterday entitled ‘Throat-slitting Haka is Disgusting’.

“I felt sick watching the Kiwis’ haka before last Friday’s Test against Australia,” Ritchie opened his diatribe for Sporting News.

“A throat-slitting gesture. For goodness sake, what’s next?”

It’s ironic that with a nickname like ‘Bulldog’, the veteran scribe has been kitten-soft in his reaction to the Kiwis’ traditional Maori war dance.

It’s also ironic that in being so oversensitive, Ritchie is being incredibly culturally insensitive.

But he’s also profoundly wrong.

The supposed “throat-slitting gesture” Ritchie refers to was first performed when the All Blacks unveiled their new ‘Kapa o Pango’ haka before a Test against South Africa in 2005.

It attracted controversy then, and on several occasions in ensuing seasons, as easily frightened wowsers from Australia, Britain and even New Zealand mobilised en masse.

But ‘Kapo o Pango’s’ composer, Derek Lardelli explained the action represents “drawing vital energy into the heart and lungs” – not a violent or provocative gesture – and the NZRU rubber-stamped its retention after a review in 2006.

The uninformed have periodically attempted to revive the redundant “throat-slitting” debate, such as Sydney Morning Herald’s far-right columnist Paul Sheehan in 2011, and now Ritchie has followed in his ill-conceived footsteps.

It’s disappointing a respected reporter with 30 years’ experience hasn’t bothered to do even the most minimal amount of research before going off, something he reinforces by saying, “I wonder what Maori elders would think?”

Every haka has either been passed down from Maori elders or given their blessing. I’ve never seen or heard a Maori elder speak out against ‘Kapo o Pango’.

‘Bulldog’ prefers the “old haka, performed by Kiwi legends through the decades, ended with a team jump in the air.” I wonder if he knows the first line of ‘Ka Mate’ translates to ‘’Tis death! ’tis death! (or: I may die) ’Tis life! ‘tis life! (or: I may live)’?

Ritchie concludes his article with:

“Yes, have a haka that is confrontational and aggressive.

“But throat slitting is ugly and disgusting.

“It should be banned.”

The haka is a challenge, and an expression of Maori culture and heritage; it’s not performed for narrow-minded types to decide whether or not they’re offended by it due to their skewed interpretation.

Ritchie doesn’t have to like it, but calling for it to be banned is beyond arrogance – particularly when he hasn’t bothered to find out what it means.

If someone as respected and influential in shaping people’s opinions as Ritchie is promoting this attitude, what chance does the Kangaroos’ mooted revival of an Indigenous war dance have of getting off the ground?

A ray of light amidst the ignorance: when ‘Bulldog’ tweeted his story, it got zero retweets and just three likes (despite having over 20,000 followers) – including one from someone whose description reads simply ‘Redneck’ – and attracted 28 furious responses.

[YouTube – NZ RugbyLeagueVids]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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