Got Haka?

For the record, I wasn’t there. I don’t know anyone who was involved in the incident nor do I claim to be an expert in the haka. I don’t even do it well. What I do know and understand is that it has deep cultural significance for Tangata Whenua (Maori ) and that significance spans the spectrum of Polynesia. If you haven’t seen the Ka Mate Haka or Te Rauparaha Haka that is commonly performed by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team than you probably haven’t been exposed to Polynesians for even a short amount of time. (Note: On other occasions the All Blacks have also performed the Kapa o Pango haka as a pre-match ritual).

I would imagine that somewhere in the Ozarks or Appalachia or in the Amazon jungle there might be a lack of local knowledge about Polynesians and the haka. But in the State of Utah where there is an obvious and very large (pun) Polynesian and Pacific Islander presence and where the haka is performed by nearly every football team that has at least one kid with an ounce of Polynesian ancestry – you would think they might know a little something about the haka.

But in the north-east corner of Utah, in the town of Roosevelt, a mere two and half hour drive from Utah’s culturally diverse capital of Salt Lake City, it appears the town’s law enforcement and high school officials have absolutely no tolerance for the haka.

“Haka? I spit on the haka! To me, the haka is just a bunch of phlegm in my lungs that I need to cough up and spit out,” I can hear the town Sherrif saying if he were actually interviewed for his comments. I envision that any Hollywood filmmaker looking for a town to film a documentary on cultural insensitivity would find a perfect backdrop and a whole lot of extra’s in Roosevelt. Need a bunch of cops to rough up some coloreds? Try looking in the general direction of Roosevelt, Utah.

Why? Well because when they were faced with an opportunity to respect or disregard something that is foreign, irrelevant and extraneous to the microcosm that is their town, they chose to enlighten the “stupid coconut headed islanders” about small town politics.

Here’s the gist of the story – Islander dudes want to lift the spirits of their football team who are losing the game. So islander dudes stand in the exit and perform the haka. School officials demand that Islander dudes move…in the middle of the haka. Islander dudes are still in the middle of their haka and don’t want to mess up their groove so they continue to ‘do the haka’. Big strong racially insensitive police mens get annoyed because islander dudes are blocking the exit with their stupid gyrations and mumbo-jumbo chanting. So, stupid islanders get pepper-sprayed for being stupid-exit-blocking-haka-performing-islanders-without-a-flash-mob-permit by big strong culturally insensitive police mens who don’t like stupid gyrations and mumbo-jumbo chanting.

In the latest twist (another pun) the Roosevelt police did their own internal investigation into the matter (kind of like ma and pa investigating allegations of incest against uncle Vern) and came out today saying that they were within their policies to use force against the coconut-heads. Additionally, the Roosevelt police will invest in training for their officers to address cultural and diversity customs. Where exactly do you purchase a coconut-head-cultural-and-diversity-custom training? Are they available at your local WalMart or at a CVS Pharmacy?

I give this much to the Roosevelt police – those luau performing, hip shaking islanders should have asked permission in advance to do the haka according to policy. Because they knew that their team was going to lose and they knew in advance that they were going to need a pick-me-up-haka it shouldn’t have been too much to ask, right? Also, who performs a haka in an exit? I mean, in the event of an emergency haka attack, how will the remaining twelve spectators in the stand for that game exit from the stadium?

On the flip side, have you ever known or a seen an hour-long haka? At the very most you’re looking at a maximum of five minutes of cultural awkwardness before you can say, “Whew, glad that’s over. For a minute there I thought those bastards were gonna eat our BBQ, violate our women and sell our kids on the slave market.” Yes, they were blocking an exit, but did you have to wait until they got into the haka to tell them to move?

And did the Roosevelt police really need to pepper-spray these guys? Yes, we are big, intimidating people but there was no malicious intent in their actions, especially considering they were performing the haka towards their team and not taunting the other team.

Citing policy and stating that they will look into training was a masterful ploy to divert attention from what was an obvious exaggeration and misuse of police force. Well played Roosevelt. Well played! This basically feels like Roosevelt is sweeping this little incident aside claiming lack of training thinking it will go away because after all, we’re just a bunch coconut heads. But this lack of action on the part of police, city and school officials just amplifies your arrogance and ignorance.

To assist you in your training needs, I’ve attached a video of the Kapa o Pango being performed by the All Blacks. Next time we’ll ask these young men to perform a boot-scootin-boogey so you don’t feel uncomfortable.

20 thoughts on “Got Haka?

  1. Love love love this haka – how about we teach this haka to our little Lehi Junior football team. The All Blacks know where its at when it comes to doing the haka. Love the wit in this blog. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to go grafitti the walls. I resorted to getting all pumped up by watching the haka link – and that is how WE ROLL.

      1. Thank you Seti for allowing us to understand the situation better! Here in AZ we were puzzled and yet not surprised at the treatment of our Poly People… Yes that town of Roosevelt has MAJOR issues… drove through there and I will never stop at that place for gas ever! Yes they are very ignorant…but then again thats how it is if you marry your sister,brother,mother, cousin and your dog too! We are on the RISE you blind ignorant fools! We have conquer and will never leave, so if you think that your tin badge will scare us away you dumb hick…think again! We have been called coconut this and coconut that but yet you are so intimidated by our ways of life or maybe the fact your children loves them some Island Boy/Girl??? We coconuts ARENT going anywhere…. I got heaps of Pepper Spray for you too! LOL

      2. It just seems to be the way things are done in some places. Some people just don’t do well with change. It’s like a shock to their system.

  2. HHmmm. “Cultural diversity” or “Embrace MY culture NOW, dammit!” While I totally agree that pepper spray was extreme, I wasn’t there and I have never had to risk my life to save another person like the police do. Roosevelt is a culturally diverse town . . . actually an island of America surrounded by a whole other nation known as the Ute Indian Reservation. I would assume the population is about 60% Native American. How can you demand those “Rednecks” tolerate the Haka while making fun of their no nonsense approach to life? The “take no prisoners” attitude is as much a part of their heritage as the Haka is a part of your heritage — have you noticed how harsh that country is? They work their butts of to eek out a living and don’t have time for island hospitality — sorry about it. A country song I like to swing dance to says, “When the last thing we notice is the color of skin . . . we shall be free.” That also means you need to notice the color of neck last. and no, I am not from Roosevelt

    1. Interesting and valid (respected) points ANONYMOUS. Your opening statement is very interesting considering the fact that when palagi (Caucasian) “explorers” “discovered” our islands they very nearly wiped out total populations and cultures. You’ll also notice that in our short history Americans, Germans, French, Dutch and many other foreigners forced their cultures, religions and dogma upon our people then stomped on us to colonize Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, The Cooks and very nearly succeeded in making Tonga a British colony. Regardless, I don’t believe that my people are forcing our ways upon White Americans (most of us are American-born too), we just humbly and respectfully ask that you reciprocate.

      I also question your stats regarding the diversity of Roosevelt. I have many dear friends who were born and raised in Roosevelt and surrounding areas who are now living in other parts of Utah and can attest to its very limited exposure to other cultures. You mention a 60% Native American population when in fact the 2000 U.S. Census Roosevelt’s population was 4,299 with just 6% claiming Native American ancestry. In 2010 Roosevelt’s population ballooned to 5,466. So either every single one of the 1,167 people who have moved into the city during that ten year span are Native American, or someone at City Hall is flubbing ballots and mistaking everyone in the rest of those households as Native American. Could be an honest mistake.

      You’ll notice in my post that I never mention the color of our skin but rather our heritage, culture and people. The fact that we are a different color shouldn’t have even registered to you or been mentioned in your response but you assumed such because I’m an islander. If I had said that we were from Scotland, Iceland or Norway would you have immediately thought that I was a Caucasian or are you ignoring the fact that many of those countries populations are now dotted with millions of people from African countries? Do you think it makes any difference to you if you walked into a WalMart and only saw White people there? It makes little difference to me because ironically, I’m married to a Caucasian. But it makes ALL the difference to every White person in that store who turns their head to figure out why a brown skinned guy (who is minding his own business) is shopping in a store in the middle of Wasatch Front. We can talk race all you want but that’s not the point. The point is these people were snubbed, clubbed and sprayed for trying to lift the spirits of their team. Roosevelt made it something else.

      I respect Utah’s pioneer heritage. I applaud their ingenuity, their passion, their work ethic. I have never forced my beliefs, my culture or my race on anyone. I have even walked away from confrontation when people have actually cursed me and my people to my face. This is my (feeble) attempt to paint a picture of what it sometimes feels like to be me. Nothing more. I’m sorry if you feel otherwise.

      Thank you for your comments. I welcome all points of view.

    2. ANONYMOUS: I say embrace my culture NOW…cause there’s a few things you could learn.

      I love Utah but seriously, when will you ever get it Utah!

      1. Amen! Give us a chance to show you how much love we truly have in our hearts instead of assuming we’re just bad people because you saw another story in the news that paints us in a negative light. By the way, doesn’t it seem like that’s the only time they report any news about Poly’s?

      2. I couldn’t agree more. I learned the true meaning of love from our people and selflessness. Pacific Islanders not only give of themselves but they give you their best. And give WHOLEHEARTEDLY.

        Your blog is the start of shedding light on who we are as a people. Thank you!

  3. I’ve been trying to follow the progress of this story since it took place & I’m so glad you chose to blog on the matter! It deeply bothered me that these officers could not endure a tiny little haka. I heard there were babies that ended up with pepper spray on them. Im awaiting the outcome of any internal investigation. I also find it amusing that “Anonymous” thinks a tiny group of young island males is imposing their culture on him/her. Really. If that doesn’t stink of white middle class assimilation paranioa. You cannot help people who deliberately resolve to remain ignorant.

    1. Just another minute and it would have been just another night at the football game. Roosevelt overreacted. Not a great way to say “Welcome to our town”.

  4. Sorry to offend you, Seti. While defending your heritage, you stepped a little on mine. Hopefully by now you know how absolutely non-racist I actually am. Just hoping for some acceptance on all fronts. No one knows why the police acted the way they did. Maybe it had more to do with the fact that their chief of police was shot at killed in the line of duty a few years ago than their resistence to any culture. I’m just trying to say anything can be interpreted as close-minded if we choose to go there. I posted as “ANONYMOUS” because I just wanted to blow of steam and did not think it would actually post without my information . . . never actually intended for you to read it, but wanted to defend my family and ancestors, as you defend yours. Have a great day. DeAnn Anderton

    1. Dear DeAnn – It is the exchange of thoughts and information that ultimately leads to understanding and acceptance. I really appreciate your comments and I know without a doubt that you are not racist nor did you intend to offend. I think we all do things that can be construed in a negative light and this incident in Roosevelt is one of those instances. None of us will ever know another persons intentions and I sincerely apologize that I offended your family and ancestors. I think you know me well enough that I am easily one of the most offensive people you will ever know. but I hope that my actions will not be a reflection of my people. I commend you for speaking out and consider you and your family sincere, loving and beautiful people. Thank you again for your thoughts!

      1. Love and respect your family immensely. Please remember that offensive material is often just misread good intention. The most hurtful thing about this was that many people from the Basin (my family is from Vernal — opponents to Union that night) were equally outraged. Many good and noble people live there . . . it pains me when we separate ourselves by culture, race, religion, gender, etc. rather than good and evil. Could it have been overzealous police officers, and not a lack of cultural diversity? Could it have gotten out of hand on both sides? It obviously could have been handled differently, and, again, I apologize for offending you.

  5. Not to belabor the point, but evidently the police force in Roosevelt need some serious cultural sensitivity training. Life is dynamic and everchanging, just as is the diversity of many towns & cities here in the United States. Hopefully these defenders of peace & justice, which is what I esteem the police force to represent will become acclimated to this fact.

    It’s always a difficult thing when one is dealing with “insensitivity” issues. I just wonder what kind of reaction the police would have gotten in this incident had there been (as I’ve seen plenty of in my life) Palagi (Caucasian) lads intermingled in there with those polynesian lads doing that haka! I wonder if the police would’ve pepper sprayed them at all?

    Lets hope that a little education will go a long way…

  6. Very interesting on a number of fronts. First off, I’m a big fan of the Haka, and love watching it performed. I recall a Rugby match at BYU this past year where the visiting team turned their backs on the BYU players during the Haka. That really riled the BYU players, who went on to post a VERY lopsided victory… and I’m thinking it was very lopsided in no small part because of the disrespect shown by the visiting team during the Haka.

    BTW, thanks for the video link. I watched one Haka vid after another. Great stuff!

    The other interesting thing about this article is that Roosevelt happens to be my hometown. True story. And while I left there, only returning for visits now and again, more than 40 years ago, I have many friends, and several family members, including my parents, who live there still. That said, I’ll have to admit to being embarrassed by the incident you described. Very sad, most unfortunate, really inexcusable in my book. And, I’ll have to also admit that I hadn’t heard about this until reading your post.

    And, while it is true that the former Roosevelt Police Chief was killed in the line of duty (and, btw, he was a remarkable man, and one of my own childhood friends), I suspect that the memories of that incident had little-to-nothing (heavy on the nothing) to do with the reaction of the police in this case.

    All of the above having been said, I don’t think it’s fair to paint this incident with too broad of brush strokes. I’ve noticed in my time on this blue marble, that rarely are the actions of a few reflective of the feelings of the many, and this is, I’m guessing, another one of those cases. I seriously doubt (and perhaps I should take a poll among my friends and family in Roosevelt… though I’m pretty confident that they were as outraged by what happened as you and I are… to discover their feelings on the matter), that the thinking (or more likely lack thereof) of the officers involved is reflective of the people of Roosevelt at large, any more than the outrageous and thoughtless actions of the officers involved in the Rodney King beating can be imputed to the people of LA as a whole. (I could be wrong, but I doubt it.) Neither “Roosevelt”, nor it’s populace in general committed the stupid acts. Some ill-advised (and hopefully soon to be unemployed) police officers did.

    And stupid, thoughtless, heartless acts don’t just occur in small town America. People of all cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities have been observed to be mindless on occassion. Even left-handed, or bald people can be ignorant jerks… but not necessarily all of them are.

    I’m sorry this incident happened in my hometown. But, I’d be just as outraged not matter where it happened. So, for what it’s worth, I apologize on behalf of everyone in Roosevelt… even those of us who left there long ago. I hope nothing like this ever happens there again. I’ll even pray that it doesn’t. Cross my heart.

    1. Lloyd, you echo the same sentiments (and I agree) of my friend DeAnn. Yes, the actions of a few do not reflect upon the masses and it is unfortunate that it happened. As you well know, Pacific Islanders have received many ‘black eyes’ in the media because of the callous and thoughtless actions of a few. This is a lesson learned by all, to treat everyone with kindness as well as being cautious of our words, thoughts and deeds. Thanks again for your insight. It’s always appreciated.

  7. Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people think about worries that they plainly dont know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

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