A New Zealand Māori tribe has demanded that anti-vaccine mandate advocates stop using its ceremonial dance, the “Ka Mate” haka, at protests.
The dance, which was traditionally performed before battle and is meant to show tribal pride and unity, is an intimidating display of chanting, foot-stamping, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping. It has been popularized by New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team, which performs it before the start of every test match.
The Ngati Toa, which won legal control of the Ka Mate — the tribe’s unique version of the haka — in 2009, strongly objected on Monday after demonstrators were seen performing it at recent rallies.
Taku Parai, a tribal leader, called on the protesters to stop using the Ka Mate “immediately.”
“We do not support their position and we do not want our [tribe] associated with their messages,” he said, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Last week, thousands of people, some waving Trump flags, marched or rode motorcycles to New Zealand’s Parliament to protest a government mandate for doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other health care workers to be fully vaccinated by December, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Teachers and other education workers have until January to get vaccinated, according to the mandate.
Brian Tamaki, the leader of the fundamentalist Destiny Church in New Zealand and a right-wing activist, has been a prominent figure in the anti-vaccine movement in the country.
Tamaki, himself a member of two Māori tribes, was reportedly planning to teach the Ka Mate haka to protesters for use at future demonstrations, according to Radio New Zealand.
“Our message to protesters who wish to use Ka Mate is to use a different haka,” Modlik said.
Vaccination rates among Māori people are below New Zealand’s national averages, with just 61% fully vaccinated, according to government data.
Some Māori leaders have criticized the government’s decision to end lockdowns, with the co-leader of New Zealand’s Māori Party, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, calling that move a “death warrant” for Indigenous communities.
“Many of our [ancestors] lost their lives in previous pandemics,” the tribe’s chief executive Helmut Modlik said in a statement.
“We are absolutely clear that the COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection we have available to us,” Modlik said, adding that the Ngati Toa “are committed to supporting” vaccination of its people “as soon as possible.”