Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Ka Mate haka

It's time for the Rugby World Cup championship match, which will take place on Sunday, October 23, at 9 pm in New Zealand (1 am California time) between the All-Blacks of New Zealand and the national team of France, sometimes referred to as les bleus. The World Cup is only held every four years, and this year's matchup finds the same two nations competing as those that met in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

The All-Blacks will of course perform their famous haka immediately before the match. The haka is a traditional Maori ritual dance with chanting, conveying the ultimate resolve in the face of a challenger or enemy. It features ferocious facial expressions including opening the eyes wide and sticking out the tongue, as well as deep stances, the slapping of the thighs and chest, and stamping the feet.

This website cites a quotation from Alan Armstrong's 1964 book Maori Games and Hakas: Instructions, Words and Actions describing the haka in this way:
The Haka is a composition played by many instruments. Hands, feet, legs, body, voice, tongue, and eyes all play their part in blending together to convey in their fullness the challenge, welcome, exultation, defiance or contempt of the words. It is disciplined, yet emotional.
In an article on his website Ancient Celtic New Zealand, Martin Doutré makes some extremely interesting observations about the similarities between the stylized facial expressions and deep stances of the haka and the Egyptian god Bes, a lion-headed god who was a protector of gateways, doorways, and especially of mothers, women and children. Surviving statuary indicates that Bes was short, bow-legged, and often depicted with wide bulging eyes and a protruding tongue.

Mr. Doutré explains the similarities:
The dancer, to this day, assumes a squat or bow-legged position and stomps the ground with all the force he can muster, slapping the thighs, rolling bulged out eyes, chanting ferociously while grimacing and poking-out the tongue. The fearsome display is designed to let any challenger know that there will be no quarter given and that unwarranted incursion will be met with ferocity unto death. This was the role of Bes, the unflinching, uncompromising protector of women and children. The male hakas of yesteryear, within living memory, were commenced low, at ground level, on one knee to accentuate the diminutive size of the dwarf god or to imitate his portrayed design on the Hei-Tiki pendant. In recent years the haka form that New Zealanders and the rest of the world have become most acquainted with is the one performed by the All Blacks football team.
Now, the fact that it is a little lion-headed god who was considered the guardian of portals and gates and of women and children is quite interesting as well. It is a historical fact that sculptured lions are found guarding gateways and doorways from very ancient times -- and not only in the Old World but even it seems in the Americas, where lions with manes were supposedly unknown!

In Sacred Science: the King of Pharaonic Theocracy, the profound R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz (1887 - 1961) theorizes as to the reason that lions have been gate-guardians since ancient times:
Examining the various essential themes, we note that during the entire historical period of Egypt, the sun was situated in Leo for the heliacal rising of Sirius. This is why the ancients, as early as the Fifth Dynasty, fashioned the temple gargoyles in the form of a lion head, a fact that seems to confirm their knowledge of the zodiac. 92.
(For an explanation of the concept of the "heliacal rising of Sirius" see this previous post). Now, this observation of de Lubicz is extremely interesting in light of the actual words expressed in the haka, which can be seen subtitles provided in the video above. In the haka performed in the video (from the All Blacks prior to a match in 2004) the chanted words are given in the video as follows:
Listen up with your ears!
Prepare yourself!
Hands on hips, bend the knees!
Slap the hands against the thighs!
Stamp the feet as hard as you can!
As hard as you can.
I die! I die! I live! I live!
This is the hairy man
Who fetched the Sun
And caused it to shine again.
One upward step!
Another upward step!
An upward step, another . . . the Sun shines!
Rise / Dawn.
These words certainly seem to indicate that this particular haka, often referred to as the Ka Mate ("I die") has celestial meaning under the surface. The website linked above which discusses the origins of the Ka Mate explains it as the memorialization of an actual Maori event involving a chieftain in the early 1800s escaping from his enemies by hiding in a kumara pit (here's the link again).

While that explanation is certainly possible, it doesn't really explain the elements of the chant that clearly refer to the rising sun. The sun is very prominent in the haka, which ends dramatically with the sun's rising or dawning. The fact that Schwaller de Lubicz believed that the sun's rising in Leo on the date of the heliacal rising of Sirius is connected with the concept of lions (or lion-headed gargoyles, which certainly describes Bes) guarding gates, and the fact that Martin Doutré believes that the protective activity of Bes is connected with the motions and expressions of the haka, would appear to indicate that these solar references in the Ka Mate chant may well have something to do with celestial symbolism.

There is also the striking line in the haka which says, "This is the hairy man / Who fetched the Sun / And caused it to shine again." The story that this refers to the Maori chieftain's rescuer, who helped save the chieftain's life by hiding him in a kumara pit, seems a little strained as an explanation for a hairy man who fetches the sun and causes it to shine again.

It seems especially unsatisfactory in light of the fact that there are very powerful mythological traditions of a "hairy man" or a "hairy twin" found throughout the world and stretching back to very ancient times. For some discussion of these, see the previous post entitled "Gemini, Canis Minor and the Hairy Twin." That discussion notes that the "hairy man" appears in the epic of Gilgamesh (Enkidu is the hairy man), in the book of Genesis (Esau), and in the mythology of Japan and of the Cherokee people of North America.

Note that the hairy man is associated with the constellation Gemini (the Twins) as discussed in that post, and that this constellation is very close to the constellation of Leo the Lion that we have seen may somehow be connected to the haka. They will actually be higher in the sky above the head of the Lion when the sun is rising in Leo, which could be the explanation for this concept of the Hairy Man fetching the sun.

Arguing against this explanation is the fact that Cancer the Crab is actually directly next to the Lion and precedes it in the sky, but it is much fainter than the Twins. However, as we have seen from the painting known as "The Panel of the Wounded Man" in the Cave of Lascoux, if that panel is actually a celestial diagram (and I believe it is very likely that it is), it depicts the stars of Leo (in the tail of the Rhino), then the leaning man (the "Wounded Man") drawn using two parallel lines who depicts the constellation Gemini, then the charging Bull who represents Taurus. Cancer is not present. There is a significant bird on a pole in that diagram-- this could perhaps be connected with the star Procyon, but it is not in the correct location to be Cancer.

Therefore, it would seem that we can use this painting as supporting evidence for our theory that the Hairy Man who "fetches the sun and makes it rise" is connected with the Hairy Twin who is associated with the constellation Gemini, especially if the haka really has a connection to the sun rising in the constellation Leo.

Even if you do not buy this possible explanation, it is pretty clear that there is a lot in the haka that is worth careful study and consideration. It certainly appears to contain ancient knowledge and celestial references that were known by the Maori of previous centuries. Whether it also contains evidence that this knowledge is connected to the ancient knowledge of the Egyptians (knowledge which might also have been preserved by the Cherokee, the Japanese, and other cultures around the world) is a matter for debate. We should probably not be too quick to dismiss the possibility.