If Ngati Toa say Te Rauparaha was the composer of Ka Mate, it would be impolite to ask for proof

The Herald has done Alf a big favour today, by publishing (here) the words to a haka along with the translation.

Not just any old haka, let it be emphasised.

This is a widely known haka, because it is the haka most often performed and made famous by the All Blacks.

Why the All Blacks would want to belligerently shout the words before test matches is something of a mystery to Alf, because as you can see from the translation, the words are…

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, they are banal, and you have to track down attempts like the one here to explain them.

At least, they are banal when translated into English, but – fair to say – they may not be banal in their native language.

Here (for what it’s worth) is the translation –

I die, I die

I live, I live

I die, I die

I live, I live

This is the hairy man

Who caused the sun to shine again for me

Up the ladder, Up the ladder

Up to the top

The sun shines!


Come to think of it, those words – In English, anyway – are something more than banal.

They are absolute bollocks.

But that is a matter of opinion, it must be said, and Alf must confess he never was a great judge of good poetry.

For example, he happens to think the poetry (here) is good stuff.

Unlike the words of the haka above, anyway, the sentiments being communicated can be easily comprehended by anyone with a modicum of brainpower.

Fellow citizens of Bonnie Dundee

Are ye aware how the magistrates have treated me?

Nay, do not stare or make a fuss

When I tell ye they have boycotted me from appearing in Royal Circus,

Which in my opinion is a great shame,

And a dishonour to the city’s name(…)

That gem was penned by one William Topaz McGonagall, a Scottish weaver, doggerel poet and actor.

He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of or concern for his peers’ opinions of his work.

He wrote about 200 poems, including his infamous “The Tay Bridge Disaster”, which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature.

Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work; contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall’s skill as a comic music hall character, and his readings may be considered a form of performance art.

In other words, he wrote crap, but in Alf’s view, it is great crap.

Let’s learn a bit more about him –

He found lucrative work performing his poetry at a local circus. He read his poems while the crowd was permitted to pelt him with eggs, flour, herrings, potatoes and stale bread. For this, he received fifteen shillings a night.

McGonagall seemed happy with this arrangement, but the events became so raucous that the city magistrates were forced to put a ban on them. McGonagall was outraged and wrote a poem in response entitled Lines in Protest to the Dundee Magistrate.

Yep. That’s the poem you read a bit earlier.

McGonagal’s masterpiece, of course, was The Tay Bridge Disaster (here), written after a railway catastrophe in Scotland.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

And so on.

The important thing is that we can understand what the poet is saying, no matter what we might think of the quality of the verse.

Furthermore, and Alf considers this important, we have ample evidence that McConagall actually wrote this stuff.

Not so the authorship of Ka Mate, yet Chris Finlayson has blissfully overcome any scepticism he or any of us might harbour to sign a $70 million final settlement between Ngati Toa and the Crown.

The deal (as the Herald tells us here) covers the use of the Ka Mate haka.

The settlement with the iwi, whose rohe (tribal area) stretches from Horowhenua in the lower North Island to almost all of the upper South Island, was signed during a ceremony at Parliament.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson told about 300 iwi leaders and members the settlement “recognises the great span of your rohe in 1840 and how much was then lost in a short span of time following the signing of the Treaty”.

The iwi will receive financial redress of $70.6 million, including opportunities to purchase and lease back Crown properties and a right of first refusal over surplus Crown properties.

And the haka?

The Crown will also introduce legislation providing Ngati Toa rangatira with a right of attribution for the Ka Mate haka, requiring Te Rauparaha, who composed it, to be acknowledged whenever it is used in a commercial setting.

As you can see from the Herald report, its journalists have disengaged their faculties for asking questions and do not doubt that Te Rauparaha “composed” it.

To do that, presumably, would be to question the reliability of Maori history, which is an oral history.

The problem with an oral history, as anyone who has played Chinese whispers would know, is that information passed verbally from one person to another soon becomes seriously distorted.

But the Herald will be aware it would be seriously racist to suggest that information passed down from one Ngati Toa generation to the next might be similarly distorted.

Accordingly Ngati Toa are given them the benefit of what should be a profound doubt.

And Te Rauparaha goes down on our law books as a composer.

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