Monday, February 16, 2009

Ka Mate and the folk process.

From John Archer ( on the nz-folk list

I was rather astonished to find that the Waitangi Tribunal declared that Te Rauparaha composed Ka Mate, so I have dashed the following letter off to them.

 As far as I can see, Te Rauparaha evaded the avenging relatives of a group of travellers he had murdered by crouching in a pit with his head jammed into an old lady's crotch for an hour or so, and to ease his embarrassment when he was released, he simply repeated a well-known bawdy parody of Ka Mate.

Dear Tribunal members,

May I enquire as to what evidence you based your decision that “Ka Mate” was composed by Te Rauparaha? I have searched for evidence of this for seven years, but all sources I have found indicate otherwise.

A search of articles about Te Rauparaha in old newspapers back to 1843 finds no mention at all of his use of, or his connection with, Ka Mate.

 However in the Daily Southern Cross 23 March 1867 noted its use by Kereopa during the trial of the Rev Volkner at Opotiki, as “a song composed that could convey two exactly different meanings.”

 And in 1901 it was performed at Rotorua by Tairawhiti men at the welcome for Prince Albert as “an an ancient and universal war ngeri used to welcome illustrious guests.” (Wanganui Herald and  Lyttelton Times, June 1901)

Margaret Orbell (Maori Poetry 1967) noted the ancient usage of the Ka Mate haka. She said "te tangata puhuruhuru" (the hairy person) symbolised unified strength. Brave warriors are the "hairs on the legs" of a strong chief. She also explained that "Whiti te ra" (the sun shining) symbolised light, life, peace.

E H Schnackenburg of Kawhaia (J. Poly. Soc. 1948) was told that this haka formerly celebrated the triumph of Maui in capturing the sun, as an allegorical story telling how brave men could work together with a strong, ingenious leader to ensure peaceful times when "sunny days" (times of peace) were too short and "dark nights" (periods of war) were too long.

Sir John Grace (Tuwharetoa, 1959) tells how, on emerging from beneath Te Rangikoaea, Te Rauparaha chanted  “Kikiki kakaka kau ana! Kei waniwania taku tara...  Ko wai te tangata kia rere ure... Ka mate, ka mate...”

James Cowan (NZ Railways Magazine 1935) describes Kikiki Kakaka as “A very old chant, long antedating Te Rauparaha's period. It goes back several ancient song of reunion and felicitation, often chanted at occasions of peace-making and such gatherings as marriage feasts."

Kikiki Kakaka was indeed very appropriate for wedding feasts, as it is a very factual account of a the sequence of emotions exerienced by a young lad in his first encounter with an amorous woman. (“I’m stuttering, trembling, naked! I’m brushed by your crotch... forbidden secrets are revealed... I’m trapped by your snare... who is this man with a thrusting penis? I’m investigating the hot moist depths... I’m dying! I’m dying! No, I’m really alive, a virile man who can make the sun shine for both of us.”)

Arthur Thompson (The Story of New Zealand, 1859) explains that “Singing, or the haka, was the amusement of village maidens and young lads on fine evenings... Most songs were accompanied with action...” And Arapete Awatere (1973) explained that "Most songs were composed as a group effort... Songs were reworked because the melody and symbolism of the words were liked, and to make the song appropriate to the new context."

It would appear that this is what occured when a group of flirtatious “village maidens” amused themselves by taking the old Ka Mate words and reworked their meaning into a bawdy sexual context by adding them to other sexually descriptive verses with which they teased bashful young men.

This old chant would have come to Te Rauparaha’s mind when he was trembling with fear in a kumara pit with old Te Rangikoaea’s crotch brushing his head. And I suggest that this is what he chanted when he was released from “the hot, moist depths.”

A song as complex and clever as Kakaka Kikiki would have taken a group of people a week or more to compose. A terrified, exhausted, humiliated and half-suffocated fugitive would have been unable to compose this off-the-cuff.

I have had most of the above information on my Ka Mate webpage for the past 7 years, and this page has been visited by approximately 400,000 people, but no one has sent me any claim or evidence of composition by Te Rauparaha.

Ngati Toa can rightfully claim ownership of the new meaning attached to Kikiki / Ka Mate, but I have found no evidence, either documentary or contexual, that Te Rauparaha was its composer. Instead, all the evidence points to Ka Mate being an ancient and universal haka with vivid symbolism conveying great wisdom.

Your recent decision has downgraded Ka Mate from a national literary taonga to a pathetic story of how a mass murderer on the run escaped justice.

Here's my two penneth worh - For years I've been led to understand that here in the south Ngai Tahu simply won't have anything to do with the Ka Mate haka because of its association with Te Rauparaha. They will never forget the atrocities he committed around the Mainland.
Bearing this in mind how can New Zealanders see this haka as something to unify the nation - particularly on sporting occasions, when not all Maori can agree on its use, let alone even think of unification.
The ABs deserve our support and thanks for coming up with something new andmeaningful to them!

Phil Garland 

I've been waiting for the media to raise this question about the origins
of the haka, but it doesn't seem to be happening. Just had a couple of
comments to add to John and Phil's.

First, the case appears to develop a kind of indigenous copyright concept,
one that doesn't expire 50 years after the (supposed) composer's death.
This sets a rather interesting precedent: could decendants of non-maori
composers now also claim similar

Second, has any other Maori iwi claimed ownership of "Ka mate" over the
time in which the Te Rauparaha authorship has been widely believed? If
not, this could indicate tacit acceptance of the Ngati Toa association.
Such a hybrid "Maori copyright" concept doesn't fit tidily into Western
legal frameworks, but nonetheless is perhaps acceptable to other Maori

Third, agreed: Te Rauparaha sounds like a very frightening person. I grew
up on the Kapiti Coast and he was still spoken of with a bit of dread;
later I read some of the details of the musket wars, the torturing,
war-mongering etc. But Ngati Toa can thank him for saving their iwi from
extermination. When the tribe's original lands in Kawhia Harbour were
invaded by overwhelming Waikato forces, he successfully led them on a
fairly desperate journey down the North Island to relative safety in the
Horowhenua. Of course, in doing so he displaced others (Rangitane,
Muaupoko) from their lands - but he is by means exceptional in this
regard. Yes, he did some terrible things - but he seems to have mostly had
his tribe's interests at heart.

M D Brown