Over the years I’ve marvelled at the differences in the way each of us, each person, each community, each nation, commemorates the fallen, and how those differences personalize the solemn rites for participants.
In France, names are read aloud and after each name the crowd intones ‘morts pour la France’ in English, ‘he died for France.’ In Holland, the day of commemoration for the war dead is followed by the joyful national celebration of liberty, marrying the two concepts and giving time for the full feeling of each emotion. In the U.S., families and comrades make special trips to Washington, D.C., to visit the Vietnam Memorial and make rubbings of the names of the fallen listed there.
Each of these private, public moments is touching in its own way. So too is the Maori funeral Haka by the Royal New Zealand Infanty Regiment at the Burnham Military Camp near Christchurch, New Zealand for Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Private Richard Harris, 21, and Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, medic, who died in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in August. You don’t need to speak the language to understand.
The New Zealand Defence Force describes a Haka as a posture dance, or chant with actions, and explains it is used by the Maori “for a myriad of reasons; to challenge or express defiance or contempt, to demonstrate approval or appreciation, to encourage or to discourage, to acknowledge feats and achievements, to welcome, to farewell, as an expression of pride, happiness or sorrow.”