Dance Macabre

By Keating, Frank | The Spectator, November 5, 2005 | Go to article overview

Dance Macabre


Keating, Frank, The Spectator


Having cruelly blackwashed the combined British Isles Lions tourists just four months ago, New Zealand's athletic young rugby sadists are back in the old country intent on inflicting further pain with a Grand Slam against the four 'home' nations on successive weekends, beginning today in a defiantly hyped-up Cardiff. It is a centenary show: on almost the same Taff patch in December 1905 Wales famously, disputedly, inflicted the solitary defeat on the fabled first All Black 'Originals' -- a 3-0 whisker of a victory which has lodged enduringly in Welsh legend because in the following 100 years, club and country, New Zealand and Welsh XVs have played each other 73 times -- and the Welsh have won on a paltry seven occasions.

As it did a century ago, New Zealand's Maori war dance, the haka, will sound overture to the tumult. The haka was prelude to the first rugby international I ever saw, 52 winters ago when the Douai 1st XV slithered up the A4 to Twickenham in the snow, and I vividly remember being doubly chilled by its menace and intent, an emotion at once dispelled when the opposing England team and, to a man, the whole throng in the old stadium stood to applaud in welcoming glad good humour. I sense a different, harsher edge to the haka now; nastier and more bloodthirsty, with different versions being offered to suit better, of course, the over-the-top television close-ups. Money-men are even arguing about copyright. The war-cry words of the original -- Kamate kamate ka ora ka ora -- translate into 'It is death. It is death. We are the strong ones who make the sun shine', so heaven knows how much more intimidating any new lyrics might be. But dare to call time on their haka, and even bright Kiwis become insecure and tediously colonial about their folkloric birthright and all that jazz. …

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