A Māori tribe has condemned the use of a popular haka by anti-vaccine protesters in New Zealand.
The Ka Mate haka is famous because it is performed by the national rugby team, the All Blacks, which has special permission to perform the ceremonial war dance before its matches.
It recounts the story of Te Rauparaha, once a war leader of the Ngāti Toa tribe, which now holds the legal custodianship of that haka.
“Ngāti Toa condemns the use of the Ka Mate haka to push and promote anti-Covid-19 vaccination messages,” its chief executive officer, Helmut Modlik, said in a statement.
“Many of our tupuna [ancestors] lost their lives in previous pandemics and our iwi [tribe] suffered greatly. We are absolutely clear that the COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection we have available to us, and we are committed to supporting our whānau [family] to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Demonstrators have performed the Ka Mate haka at several rallies against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns in recent weeks.
The Ngāti Toa tribe said it was issuing the statement after hearing that Brian Tamaki, a prominent right-wing activist and founder of fundamentalist Christian movement Destiny Church, had been using it and planned to teach it to protesters before future rallies, New Zealand’s Newshub reported.
Images from one anti-vaccine protest in Wellington, the nation’s capital, showed supporters waving Trump flags.
Historically, pandemics have disproportionately impacted New Zealand’s Māori communities. The 1918 flu pandemic killed Māori at a rate seven times that of the wider population. During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, Māori were three times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly three times more likely to die.
The coronavirus pandemic has again hit the country’s indigenous population disproportionately, with Māori, who make up about 16.7% of the population, found to be at much greater risk of hospitalization following infection with COVID-19.
New Zealand adopted a strict approach to pandemic management, enforcing lockdowns to stifle outbreaks as they arise. The country is now transitioning from a zero-case strategy to one of living with the virus, after fully vaccinating 82% of its eligible population and administering at least one dose to 91%.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has set a target of fully vaccinating 90% of those eligible before ending lockdowns.