TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Two cultural traditions collided on the ball field at the world championship of women’s softball when Taiwan met New Zealand in Japan Friday, Aug. 3.
The incident began when the New Zealand team took to the field to perform the haka dance. The haka ritual is a traditional Maori dance and chant, which can serve as both a war cry, and a challenge in Maori culture.
Following the haka, the players on the Taiwanese team responded with a traditional ritual of their own, by casting handfuls of salt onto the ground in front of them. The salt represents a ward against evil or malicious energy, and is considered to cleanse the spiritual area according to some folk beliefs.
The New Zealand team was perplexed and caught off guard by the actions of the Taiwanese team, with some members of the squad reportedly assuming the Taiwanese athletes were casting dirt as an insult at the New Zealand team.
In response, Stuff.co.nz reports that the New Zealand team performed the haka ritual for a second time, advancing across the field and approaching very close to the dugout of the Taiwanese team, in what was certainly a threatening display.
News reports have referred to the incident as a "cultural misunderstanding.” After the incident, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) issued official warnings to both teams for misconduct citing "the White Sox for crossing the centerline and Chinese Taipei for their response".
The WBSC also sent out a message to alert all teams that the New Zealand team would be permitted to perform the haka ritual at the beginning of each match in the tournament.
Stuff.co.nz quoted New Zealand Captain Ellie Cooper explaining the significance of the haka dance:
"Our White Sox Haka represents pride, strength, and a sacred representation of our ancestors and our people. Through the Haka we learn about the Maori language and our cultural heritage. We Haka as a unified sisterhood of Aotearoa [New Zealand] with a great respect for the opponent we are about to face on our battlefield. It is important to us because it unifies our team, gives us strength, and shows our opponents that we are here for a purpose."
However, it must be noted that the haka dance, as a symbolic ritual which channels the sacred spirit of the Maori and their ancestors, is a cultural act that is rooted in a religious worldview.
Likewise, the practice of casting salt to offer oneself protection from spirits or individuals who seek to do one harm, is also a genuine cultural practice rooted in a religious worldview.
The intention of a traditional war haka is to invoke the spirit of one’s ancestors and to intimidate one’s opponents, although there are a variety of haka (a Polynesian word for "dance") used for many different occasions, including welcoming guests, and as a form of story telling.
The response of the Taiwanese team may have been effective, considering Team Taiwan defeated the New Zealand White Sox with a final score of seven to four in the match.
Video footage of the incident, available below, was shared publicly on Facebook by New Zealander Courtney Gettins with the caption “Fire me up!!!! Please don’t throw no dirt at these kiwis or you’ll get this!! On to the next game tomorrow!! #upthekiwis”
Team Taiwan went on to lose their following match seven to zero to the United States on Saturday, Aug. 4