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Nurses Apologize After Their Performance Of Traditional Haka Is Slammed As Cultural Appropriation

@DayTheatre / Twitter

A group of nurses in the United Kingdom were called out online for mimicking a haka—the ceremonial chant and movements sacred to the Māori people.

The original video has since been taken down, but not before they got an earful.


It started last week when the Tavistock Hospital staff posted the video to their Twitter account.

The nurses in the video can be seen wearing headbands and face paint while performing, slapping their thighs in unison while chanting.

One of the nurses comes up and recites a little poem.

"This is the message we wish to affirm: you'll never beat us - we hate you, you germ."
"Together we'll triumph with the strength from within. Mankind will destroy you, mankind will win."

Many found the dance a perfect example of cultural appropriation.

Unlike the definition from right wing pundits who whinge about it, cultural appropriation is not just equal cultural exchange. The term refers to the theft or unauthorized use of traditional art, iconography, ceremony, appearance, etc... from marginalized cultures without any understanding of what they mean or any direct interaction with the culture it is stolen from.

In many cases, those cultures had their ability to speak their own language, perform their own rituals, preserve their own traditions outlawed and vilified to destroy their culture during colonization. Their descendants now taking those same traditions they fought—and in some cases were imprisoned, tortured or died—to preserve for their own use is a slap in the face.

Haka is not "just a dance."

The haka is an ancient Māori ritual, part warrior display of pride, strength and unity and part spiritual prayer. Those who properly do haka consult their elders and spiritual leaders.

The nurses thought they could mimic the look and sound and moves of a traditional haka without any knowledge or understanding for what they were copying.




Shortly after the video was uploaded, it was taken down.

The hospital seems to have received the message.

They posted an apology for the video.


The current pandemic has presented new opportunities for cultural insensitivity. Just recently, an artist and a director for Lululemon promoted a racist t-shirt.

By contrast, these nurses probably meant well, but that doesn't absolve them of the offense.

The term cultural appropriation is purely a definition of the act and is not a judgement call on whether the act is done in a positive or negative way. However, when members of the dominant culture adopt the customs of a marginalized group without consulting them, or understanding their culture or what they are stealing, that form of cultural appropriation is seen as an oppressive act.

It can strip meaning and purpose of the minority culture's traditions. It can belittle a people and paint elements of that culture with a simple brush that reduces their intricacies to something trivialized by outsiders making its preservation more difficult.

Most importantly, it can take something that has deep, personal often sacred significance to the marginalized culture and turn it into a farce.

Despite all these possibilities, there are those who always defend cultural appropriation and the "rights" of those who do it.



Critiques of cultural appropriation doesn't mean you cannot share in another person's culture.

It just means you need to listen to minority groups before you copy what you don't understand.

And in this case, Māori cultural advisor Karaitiana Taiuru was not impressed with the original video from the nurses.

He said of the haka:

"[It was] distasteful and disrespectful to the descendants of Ngāti Toa and to all Māori."
"There appears to be a fixation with many people in the UK with Māori culture and what appears to be an inherited colonial perceived right to appropriate Māori culture with the marketing of food and beverages,"

Please, before you get upset about "oversensitive snowflakes getting mad over nothing" listen to Māori people.

The haka is theirs.





Māori expert Tania Ka'ai in a statement to Newshub called the mock up of a haka:

"[B]latant cultural abuse that is verging on being racist."
"Haka are not about being simply angry at the world. They are a fierce display of a tribe's pride, strength and unity."
"This is an example of the dominant Western culture trivializing an aspect of Māori culture and abusing our language which has struggled to survive since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840."

The 1980s documentary New Zealand Maori Culture Traditions and History is available here.