2500+ School Pupils Perform A Haka At All Black Captain Sir John Graham’s Funeral

Funerals tend to be emotional occasions. When the recently departed was a national sporting hero, the emotions are amplified. Sir John Graham was a New Zealander who played 22 rugby tests for the All Blacks between 1958 and 1964. For three of these tests, he was captain. He later became headmaster of Auckland Grammar School (1973 to 1993).

John Graham was president of the New Zealand Rugby Union (2005 to 2007) and manager of the New Zealand cricket team (1997 to 1999). Graham was awarded a CBE in 1994, he was North & South magazine's New Zealander of the Year in 1999, and in 2009 he received the Distinguished Citizen of Auckland Award. The moving video below is from his 2017 funeral.

After the funeral, as Sir John's coffin was being carried out of St Mary's Church, Parnell, the assembled students of the school where he was headmaster first sang a waiata (a Maori song), then broke into a haka. It was the first time the full student body joined together to perform a haka in the school's 148-year history. In the context of the funeral, the number of haka participants and their school's historic link to Sir John made for an immensely moving spectacle.

Adding to the impact was the indelible link between the haka and the All Black rugby team, of which John Graham was a player and a captain. According to Wikipedia, the tradition of performing a haka before a rugby game started "with the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand rugby union team (known as the All Blacks) since 1905". According to Māori mythology, the haka is not a war dance, as is wrongly assumed, but various dances celebrating life.

The above video captures the history of the haka's association with the All Black rugby team. This association has not been unproblematic. Over the years, there was concern that the traditional significance of the haka long used by the All Blacks to the Ngāti Toa, to whom it belonged, was being lost. According to Wikipipedia, this haka had "become the most performed, the most maligned, the most abused of all haka, and was now the most globally recognised form of cultural appropriation. Specific legal challenges regarding the rights of the Ngāti Toa to be acknowledged as the authors and owners of Ka Mate were eventually settled in a Deed of Settlement between Ngāti Toa and the New Zealand Government and New Zealand Rugby Union agreed in 2009 and signed in 2012". This is the reason the the All Blacks now perform a haka that was specially commissioned for them.

Rest in peace, Sir John Graham. The school that you headed did you proud.

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