How the Nation of New Zealand Is Mourning

After a white supremacist gunned down nine African Americans attending a prayer service at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Barack Obama engaged the country in a moment of national mourning when he sang Amazing Grace at the memorial service.

Cultures all over the world have different ways of coming together to both grieve and celebrate the lives of those they have lost. Just a few days ago, a white supremacist attacked Muslims worshipping at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and injuring 50 more. The Māori people of that island nation have provided the people of New Zealand with traditional way of coming together to mourn their loss. It is called “haka,” and various groups have been performing it in recent days, including everyone from students to bikers. Take a look:

The word that comes to mind as I watch those videos is “fierce.” There is a reason for that, as is explained in this video.

The haka is a statement of national pride in the face of adversity and a celebration of the triumph of life over death. When performed by the people of New Zealand in the face of the recent terrorist attack, it obviously allows mourners to bundle everything from grief to rage and express themselves physically in a very powerful way.

There are obviously some issues involved with all of this when it comes to cultural appropriation. But it is fascinating to see that the majority culture in New Zealand has appropriated such a fierce statement of rebellion from the Māori people. Students from a school affected by the recent attack even performed a haka for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when she visited.

By contrast, the United States attempted in the past to wipe out native cultures, fueled primarily by a fear of that kind of ferocity. To this day, nothing threatens many white people more than a fierce (i.e., angry) black or brown person.

It is incredibly moving to watch the people of New Zealand incorporate the haka into their mourning process. There might be some things for all of us to learn from their practice.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.