The All Blacks rugby union team and Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) have become odd bedfellows in a cross-cultural battle over the intellectual property rights to a Maori war ritual.
The haka has been performed by the New Zealand All Blacks before matches since 1905 and features irreverently in a bawdy RSC performance of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
The ownership of the haka by the Maori tribe Ngati Toa was recently acknowledged in a multimillion dollar land rights settlement with the New Zealand government, giving the tribe a footing to stop commercial or “insensitive use.”
The RSC production, in which the haka is performed by a group of men leaving a strip club after a stag night, has angered the tribe which says the depiction is “inappropriate.”
“That certainly isn’t an appropriate use of the haka,” tribal member Matiu Rei told a British newspaper. “If it was just for effect and used in a gratuitous manner, which it sounds like it was, then I would be very disappointed.”
The legal ramifications of the New Zealand government’s acknowledgment of Ngati Toa’s ownership of the haka are still being debated in New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the settlement would not mean ordinary New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Rugby Union, would have to pay to perform the haka.
Another tribal member, Te Ariki Wi Neera, has been quoted saying Ngati Toa was in discussions with the government over the rights conferred in the settlement, and it might try to trademark the haka if it was not satisfied with terms of the recent settlement.
The tribe has tried several times in the past to win trademark rights but has been denied, most recently in 2006, by New Zealand’s Intellectual Property Office.
Recent reports have said that if a trademark is granted, the tribe could claim up to NZ$1.5 million (US$770,000) from the New Zealand Rugby Union in compensation for the All Blacks’ use of the haka, particularly as a marketing tool.
“They act as though they have a right to it and have never approached us, so that’s disappointing,” Wi Neera was quoted as saying. “The All Blacks perform it fantastically. It’s just when it starts selling the All Blacks brand and all the other sponsors that go along with it, that we want to have a talk to them about it.”