January 01, 2010

Maori war chant in Invictus

I went to see the movie Invictus today. These reviews sum it up nicely:


By Todd McCarthy"Invictus" is a very good story very well told. Shortly after Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison and became president of South Africa in 1994, he seized upon using a rugby World Cup the following year as an opportunity to rally the entire nation--blacks and whites--behind the far-fetched prospect of the home team winning it all. Inspirational on the face of it, Clint Eastwood's film has a predictable trajectory, but every scene brims with surprising details that accumulate into a rich fabric of history, cultural impressions and emotion.And:As he takes office, Mandela allows that his greatest challenge will be successfully relaxing the tension between black aspirations and white fears. Pic adroitly avoids becoming mired in the minutiae of political score-settling by summing up racial suspicions through the prism of the new president's security detail. Mandela's longtime black bodyguards are shocked when their "Comrade President" forces them to work with some intimidating Afrikaners, experienced toughs who until very recently were no doubt striking terror into the hearts of the black population.

Directed by Eastwood with straightforward confidence, the film is marbled with innumerable instances of Mandela disarming his presumed opponents while giving pause to those among his natural constituency who might be looking for some payback rather than intelligent restraint. Freeman, a beautiful fit for the part even if he doesn't go all the way with the accent, takes a little while to shake off the man's saintlike image, and admittedly, the role of such a hallowed contemporary figure does not invite too much complexity, inner exploration or actorly elaboration. That said, Freeman is a constant delight; gradually, one comes to grasp Mandela's political calculations, certitudes and risks, the troubled personal life he keeps mostly out of sight, and his extraordinary talent for bringing people around to his point of view.
Invictus--Film Review

By Kirk HoneycuttThe film, based upon the book "Playing the Enemy" by John Carlin, has an understandably narrow focus of 1995 South Africa. Mandela is seen only in the context of a sudden rugby convert. He signs papers and greets international delegations between matches. Francois is glimpsed with a family and wife--or girlfriend, even this is unclear--but he exists solely to play his sport.

The film enters neither of their lives. It's a film about a nation's psyche, not its individuals. Where you would love a vigorous portrayal of two larger-than-life personalities, the film tiptoes through polite scenes where everyone speaks and acts with political correctness.

Likewise, the actors stick close to the surface. Freeman gives you a folksy yet sagacious leader. He ambles rather than walks and peers at people with sly wisdom gleaming in his eyes. He doesn't try to plumb the depths of a one-time rebel or a man struggling to keep both his nation and family together.
The Native aspect:

Invictus (film)The actors playing the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, had to learn the traditional Maori war chant, the Haka, which is performed at every game to intimidate rival teams. Out of a sense of verisimilitude and respect, the crew contacted the New Zealand Rugby Association to make sure the Haka would be done correctly. They sent over a Haka expert named Inia Maxwell, who assisted in Haka/rugby training and was present when the Haka was filmed so that it was portrayed accurately.

Historical inaccuracies

The All Black Haka, the war dance performed before the start of a match, is always led by a senior Maori player except when no Maori are available. In the film, the leader appears to be New Zealand European (Pakeha).
Comment:  The Maori war chants are supposed to have the same as an Indian nickname, logo, and mascot. Namely, to convince opponents that your team is mighty, fierce, and dangerous and you should be afraid.

Since the New Zealand team has Maori players on it and a Maori leads the chant, it passes the smell test. I presume some Maori tribe or organization has sanctioned it. If whites were in charge of it, and were doing it without approval, I'd criticize them.

I guess the Maori take pride in being considered warriors--i.e., savages. I wouldn't feel the same way if I were them. But if that's what turns them on, so be it.

The South Africans seemed to think the war chant was working. They felt intimidated by it. And the New Zealand team did make the finals by chanting. But then they lost, so the chant ultimately failed them.

Anyway, Invictus is a feel-good movie about the races coming together. Rob's rating: 8.5 of 10.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


Anonymous said...

Of course you wouldn't feel the same way as "one of them" if they(like we are as Native men) were proud to be warriors or regarded as such. This is because you're white and generally have expressed a white POV in this area. But why is it so "savage" to you to be brave and fight back for your people? However, i do agree with you that if the white man took this chanting ritual as one of their own. It is detestable. But don't be surprised if the thievin' white man has already stolen those Moari chants on HS/college football teams etc. Or a silly imitation of one. Soley for winning games and making moolah($$$). Without respect for cultural significance. Its sad that the Moari leaders and their Rights organizations are not too critical of its usage in sports teams which could eventually be abused and disrespected.


m. said...

"I guess the Maori take pride in being considered warriors--i.e., savages. I wouldn't feel the same way if I were them. But if that's what turns them on, so be it."

Rob, with all due respect - you are seriously wrong, here. Peoples of the Pacific have ALL *always* been fierce and considered themselves warriors, it has nothing to do with colonization or stereotypes. These chants are one of many protocols that they take great pride in, and it has kept them STRONG in the face of colonization! I suggest you read about it. Pacific cultures adopting the haka or siva tau as a pre-game intimidation tactic shares ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN COMMON WITH ANTI-INDIAN MASCOTS OR NATIVE 'WARRIOR' STEREOTYPES. Trust me, it is the Maori of Aotearoa and Cook Islands, as well as Samoans, who have always been in charge, here. These aren't war whoops before a football game, I can tell you that much.

Rob said...

Why is it so "savage" to be brave and fight back for one's people? Ask all the Natives who protest being stereotyped as half-naked warriors, braves, and other synonyms for "savages."

If that isn't sufficient, see how Sitting Bull Defines "Warrior" and Billy Mills Defines "Warrior." Hint: It isn't through fighting (back) physically.

Re "Peoples of the Pacific *always* been fierce and considered themselves warriors": Many Indian tribes have always considered themselves warriors too. But unless those Pacific islanders were unique in the annals of history, they also had art, culture, religion, and other aspects of human existence. People who call themselves warriors and nothing else are stereotyping themselves unless that's literally all they are.

So adopting a Maori war chant as an intimidation tactic has nothing to do with adopting Indian nicknames, logos, and mascots as intimidation tactics? Nothing except they're both intimidation tactics based on indigenous warrior cultures, you mean. Which seems like a huge point in common to me.

Putting your opinion in capital letters doesn't change the fact that it's an opinion, M. If you want to justify your position, find us some Maoris to explain why their intimidation techniques have nothing in common with Indian mascot intimidation techniques. Until then, I'll continue to claim they do have something in common.

Perhaps you're saying the haka is different because it's authentic and Indian mascots aren't. But I didn't question the haka's authenticity. All I said was that it serves the same purpose as Indian nicknames, logos, and mascots: to intimidate opponents.

dmarks said...

"People who call themselves warriors and nothing else are stereotyping themselves unless that's literally all they are."

That would make them rather unique... to all be savage warriors as M said.

Rob said...

Right, DMarks. Do the women, children, and elders all chant that they're warriors? Somehow I doubt it.

Rob said...


NZ tribe requests Ka Mate ownership

New Zealand's North Island maori tribe could soon have exclusive ownership of key phases used in the world's most famous war dance.

Ngati Toa's attempts to trademark the Ka Mate Ka Mate haka that's used by the All Blacks had previously failed.

The tribe has now applied to the Intellectual Property Office to trademark certain phases.