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Theater also at center of haka row

THE All Blacks rugby team and Royal Shakespeare Company have become odd bedfellows in a cross-cultural battle over the intellectual property rights to a Maori war ritual.

The haka has been performed by the New Zealand All Blacks before matches since 1905 and features irreverently in a bawdy RSC performance of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

The ownership of the haka by the North Island Maori tribe Ngati Toa was recently acknowledged in a multimillion dollar land rights settlement with the New Zealand government, giving the tribe a footing to stop commercial or "insensitive use."

The RSC production, in which the haka is performed by a group of men leaving a strip club after a stag night, has immediately angered the tribe which says the depiction is "inappropriate."

"That certainly isn't an appropriate use of the haka," tribal member Matiu Rei told a British newspaper. "If it was just for effect and used in a gratuitous manner, which it sounds like it was, then I would be very disappointed."

The legal ramifications of the New Zealand government's acknowledgment of Ngati Toa's authorship and ownership of the haka are still being debated in New Zealand.

Cultural redress

Prime Minister John Key said the settlement would not mean ordinary New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Rugby Union, would have to pay to perform the haka. Key said the settlement was about "cultural redress, not about a financial issue."

Recent reports have said that if a trademark is granted, the tribe could claim up to 1.5 million New Zealand dollars (US$770,000) from the New Zealand Rugby Union in compensation for the All Blacks' use of the haka, particularly as a marketing tool.

Ka Mate was composed by the Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha to celebrate his escape from enemy warriors during tribal conflict in 1810. While fleeing, Te Rauparaha was sheltered by a woman who hid him in a food pit, sitting over him until the danger had passed. When he emerged, legend states, he immediately performed the haka in delight at his survival.

The All Blacks first performed the haka before matches against Scotland and Wales in Britain in 1905.


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