'Remain resolute': Christchurch students' haka tribute has roots in earthquake

Calla Wahlquist


Moving video of school students in Christchurch performing the haka at a memorial for 50 people killed in Friday’s massacre has its roots in another recent tragedy.

The Tahu Pōtiki haka is specific to Te Waipounamu, New Zealand’s South Island. It has an ancient history but became widely used in Christchurch following the 2011 earthquakes as a way to help the community, and particularly school students, cope with a disaster that killed 185 people.

Now it is being used to show respect for those affected by another traumatic event.

Angus Hikairo Macfarlane, professor of Maori research at the University of Canterbury, said the use of culturally inclusive practices made Christchurch a more resilient city.

“Ngai Tahu is the local iwi (tribe) with a proud tradition of being resolute in the face of extremities in life and when the haka is performed within the tribal area this resoluteness is portrayed not only in the lyrics but in the movements, expressions, and the kotahitanga (unity),” Macfarlane said. “School groups have mastered this performance.”

The first line, “Otautahi, Maraka Maraka,” is a rallying call for Christchurch to rise up and remain resolute.

On Monday, a students from several local schools performed an impromptu haka at a memorial site for the victims of the mosque terrorist attack, which included a number of their classmates.

On Wednesday students at Cashmere high school, who lost two of their numbers in the massacre, performed the haka in welcome for prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

Te Hurinui Clarke, a senior lecturer at the university, said Tahu Pōtiki was named for and celebrated the ancestor of Ngai Tahu.

Related: Christchurch mosque attacks: burials begin as Ardern urges students to reject hate

“It is used in this area instead of the more widely seen haka Ka Mate for historical reasons,” he said. “Tahu Pōtiki as with many other haka can be used for a number of purposes such as celebration, acknowledging unity, raising awareness about important issues and in times of sadness.”