Remembering the first Kapa o Pango

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Taringa whakarongo!

 

Captain Tana Umaga’s voice pierces the cold Dunedin night as 29,500 spectators become transfixed.

 

Kia rite! Kia rite! Kia mau!

 

Hi!

 

The All Blacks crouch as one with their arms braced across their chest.  

 

Kia whakawhenua au i ahau!

 

Hi, aue! Hi!

 

They drop to one knee and press a fist into the turf, staring intently across to their old foe South Africa.

 

Ko Aotearoa, e ngunguru nei!

 

Hi, au! Au! Aue, ha! Hi!

 

Tana Umaga stands in the middle of his crouching warriors, summoning all their collective energy.

 

Ko kapa o pango, e ngunguru nei!

 

Hi, au! Au! Aue, ha! Hi!

 

The ground shudders as the team slaps their arms in unison.  

 

I ahaha!

 

Umaga slaps the back of wing Rico Gear and the team rises as one.

 

Ka tu te ihi-ihi

 

Ka tu te wanawana

 

Ki runga i te rangi, e tu iho nei, tu iho nei, hi!

 

The thumping of hands on chest echo around the ground as the All Blacks look to the heavens.

 

Ponga ra!

 

Kapa o pango! Aue, hi!

 

Ponga ra!

 

Kapa o pango! Aue, hi!

 

The All Blacks advance towards their opponents like an unstoppable ball of energy.

 

Ha!

 

A united roar is released from the All Blacks.

 

A new era for the haka has dawned.

 

This is Kapa o Pango.

 

 

Translated simply to ‘team in black’, Kapa o Pango was written for the All Blacks by Derek Lardelli, an expert in tikanga Maori (Maori culture and customs) of the Ngati Porou iwi. Its words and actions celebrate the land of New Zealand, the silver fern and its warriors in black.

 

“We are not taking away the old haka Ka Mate. We are adding to it, we are giving it a mate – someone to sit alongside,” Tana Umaga explained in 2005.

 

“We talked about our haka and what it meant to us. We got some leading authorities in Maori culture to come in and talk to us. We talked over a lot of aspects of the haka, about what it means to some of the new players and its effectiveness. We all left there with a greater insight into the haka and how it brought us all together – all the different cultures we have within the All Blacks,” Umaga said.

 

Senior All Black Aaron Mauger was another pivotal player in the creation of Kapo o Pango.

 

“I think the important thing about the new haka is that it talks about us and our time as All Blacks.

 

“You don’t get a lot of time in the jersey, so you have to cherish every moment that you have. It’s about doing the best that you can do when you pull the jersey on. It’s about the traditions of All Blacks rugby – the black jersey, the silver fern. It’s also stuff we have researched with Toi Maori and Derek Lardelli who gave us a full understanding of who we are and what it means to us,” Mauger said.

 

For composer Derek Lardelli, it was crucial that Kapa o Pango told a personal story for the players who were going to perform it.

 

"[They] wanted a haka that said who they were, where they are from, and to create a legacy they wanted to leave for future All Blacks," Lardelli said.

 

“Kapo o Pango is about a group of young men that wanted to express themselves during haka and my job was to compose actions to that particular expression. It’s about them. It talks about ‘this is my time in the black jersey’, ‘this is my time to express myself as a player on behalf of my country’.

“And because they’ve done Ka Mate so well, it was an obvious progression for them to move into creating something that would be part of their legacy,” Lardelli said.

 

Despite concerns around a throat-slitting gesture which would ultimately be pared back from the performance, Kapa o Pango was met mostly with acclaim but also scepticism from some fans who worried its arrival would herald the end of the All Blacks traditional Ka Mate haka.

 

“Ka Mate is the foundation haka that the All Blacks have always used. Kapa o Pango is part of another dimension that we wish to add to and help Kapa o Pango and Ka Mate to come together,” Lardelli told allblacks.com. “Ka Mate is the older brother and Kapa o Pango is the younger brother, we are building a family of haka here.”

 

While there is no shortage of significance and meaning behind the creation of Kapa o Pango, neither was there in the choice of opponent to face the first performance of the All Blacks new haka.

 

It could have been easy for the All Blacks to debut Kapa o Pango during the 2005 British and Irish Lions series. It was the first time the Lions had played the All Blacks in 12 years and the media contingent following the tour was like nothing New Zealand had seen before.

 

But doing the easy thing has never been part of the All Blacks mantra.

 

This wasn’t about grabbing global headlines or pandering to the economically rich home nations. This was about personal meaning and creating a legacy.

 

South Africa, the All Blacks greatest rival, were the only option to face Kapa o Pango for the first time on 27 August 2005.

 

 

"To stand there and watch it for the first time was a privilege," Springbok captain John Smit said following the match.

 

From the fans at Carisbrook that night to those watching at rugby clubs, bars or lounges around the world, the memory of Tana Umaga leading the first performance of Kapa o Pango continues to send chills down the spine.

 

As notable as the haka was, the match also did its part to add another chapter to the rich history of the All Blacks v South Africa rivalry.

 

There was plenty riding on the high stakes encounter in chilly Dunedin. The Springboks needed a win or a draw to lift their first Tri-Nations crown in 10 years, while the All Blacks required a win to keep their own title hopes alive.

 

The match lived up to its pre-match billing. After a seesaw encounter which saw the lead swap hands seven times, All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu crashed over for a try with just four minutes remaining to secure the dramatic 31-27 victory.

 

South Africa were vanquished in the deep south but showed once again why they were the All Blacks fiercest foe.

 

Greater than the result, a legacy was established by the men in black that night.

 

After more than 100-years of attachment to Ka Mate, the players now had their very own contemporary haka to pass down to the next generation of All Blacks. It spoke to them. Who they are, where they are from and what it means to wear the All Blacks jersey.

 

Kapa o Pango was not created to replace Ka Mate. It was created to build the All Blacks family of haka and give the players a voice.

 

Ka Mate - the older brother. Kapa o Pango - the younger brother. Both sacred. Both special.

 

This story was first published published in best-selling book Facing the Haka.

 

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