Haka explained to the Turks

A haka has been performed at a Gallipoli commemoration service for the first time in years but Turkish concerns about “offensive” gestures had to be ironed out first.


A New Zealand Defence Force contingent of men and women performed the haka on Saturday at a centenary service for the Battle of Chunuk Bair in which nearly 850 New Zealand soldiers died.

But before the haka could go ahead in front of Turkish guests, New Zealand officials had to put Turkish officials at ease that certain gestures were not in the haka and others were not intended as gestures seen as offensive in Turkey.

One of the concerns was a throat-cutting action and another was an arm-slapping move that taken the wrong way can be seen as an insulting gesture in Turkey.

Sergeant-Major Brent Pene, leader of haka party, told AAP that the haka performed on Saturday was dedicated to all soldiers who fought and died at Gallipoli, not just New Zealanders.

“First I have to acknowledge the people of Turkey, we’re really grateful, it means a lot to us,” he said.

Sgt Major Pene told AAP that there were some Turkish misconceptions about gestures in the haka.

“I think they’ve been watching the All Blacks too much”.

He said it was a case of explaining things and being mindful of how certain gestures were perceived.

“I wasn’t prepared to compromise our culture.

“We didn’t change our haka, we kept it but there were certain things that I was mindful of.”

Sgt Major Pene said a throat-cutting gesture was not part of his group’s haka.

He said the arm slapping was a case of ensuring performers were careful to get the action right so it did not appear offensive in Turkish eyes.

Performers were also taught not to look directly at Turkish officials at Saturday’s service to reduce any perception of a challenge to them.

Governor-General Jerry Mateparae, who took part in the service, told AAP there had been some Turkish sensitivities about certain haka gestures being offensive but the issue had been resolved.

New Zealand’s ambassador to Turkey, Jonathan Curr, said the haka had huge significance for New Zealanders and was a fitting way to conclude the centenary year at Gallipoli.

“What we wanted to do was ensure there was comfort on the part of our Turkish guests that this haka could be performed as a final farewell to our fallen at Chunuk Bair.

“So we’ve explained the nature of the haka and its significance and meaning so no one inadvertently takes offence.”

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