Photo: patrimonio designs ltd/Shuttestock

The Meaning Behind the Haka, New Zealand’s Mesmerizing Maori Dance

Culture New Zealand
Photo: patrimonio designs ltd/Shuttestock
Matador Creators
Apr 3, 2023

The haka is a traditional dance of the Maori people of New Zealand. It is best known for being performed by the national rugby team, but it has been an important part of Maori culture for centuries. To an outside observer it may look intimidating, but there’s a beautiful tradition behind the haka dance that’s worth learning even if you aren’t planning a trip to New Zealand.

@matadornetwork There’s something truly mesmerizing about the haka—an ancient #Māori cultural dance traditionally used to challenge an enemy. There are different types of haka with various meanings and may be performed for visiting dignitaries or to honor local heroes, but they are used to celebrate great occasions or achievements within a group. Learning and performing the #Hakadance is more than just a way to show appreciation – it's an amazing tradition steeped in meaning. It is a symbol of strength, unity, and courage that has been passed down for generations. Share this with someone who needs to see this beautiful traditional dance! 🎥 @papa.and.pepe #haka #thehaka #culturadance #traditionaldance #maoritiktok ♬ original sound – Matador Network

The haka is thought to have originated in Polynesia, with the earliest known form being performed in 1250 A.D. Over time, it evolved into a type of war dance that was used as both a form of entertainment and a way of intimidating enemies on the battlefield. Today, it continues to be used in warfare and also as a ceremonial dance at weddings, sporting events, and other important gatherings.

The movements and facial expressions used in the haka are intended to convey strength and courage. They often include stomping feet, slapping hands against chests, thrusting tongues outward, and shouting loudly. Each movement has its own meaning within the context of Maori culture—foot stamping is meant to show strength, while tongue thrusting is symbolic of defiance—but all converge to create an overall feeling of power when performed as part of a group. The intensity of the performance varies depending on the occasion; while some performances are more subdued, others are frantic and full of energy.

To learn how to perform a haka yourself, there are plenty of opportunities available throughout New Zealand. Classes and workshops are available where visitors can learn from local experts in Maori culture. If you’d prefer something more intimate or tailored towards your own interests, private workshops can also be arranged with local guides, who specialize in teaching visitors about this traditional form of dance and storytelling.

What did you think of this story?

More on

New Zealand

The 6 Best Luxury Resorts in New Zealand

The 15 Most Scenic, Colorful, and Photo-Worthy Skateparks in the World

New Zealand Wants To Make Smoking Illegal

The 7 Top Stargazing Locations in New Zealand

Why Raglan Is New Zealand's Coolest Tiny Surf Town

20 Years Later, Here's How 'The Lord of the Rings' Has Changed New Zealand

Matador Network Creators' Choice Awards: Favorite Adventure Destination

Matador 2022 Travel Awards: Sustainable Destination

10 of the World's Tallest Bungee Jumps With the Most Insane Views

A New Direct Flight From New York City To New Zealand Will Be the Fourth Longest in the World

More on


The Most Famous Archeological Site in the World Dominates This European Capital City

The 7 Best Historical, Artsy, and Quirky Museums in Berlin

How To Visit the Ruins and Jungles of Chiapas, Mexico's Southernmost State

11 Boston Museums for Travelers of All Ages

These 10 Nevada Spots Will Blow Your Kids' Minds

The House Where Frida Kahlo Was Born (and Died) Is Now an Extraordinary Museum

Parades, Man-Made Beaches, and Light Shows: The Best Events of the Summer in Paris

This Is France’s Most Famous and Mysterious Island That You Can Visit

8 Can't-Miss Museums in Munich, Germany To Visit in 2023

The 7 Best Festivals in Munich To Attend in 2023

5 Towns You Need To Visit in Puglia, Italy

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners. For more information read our privacy policy.