UK nurses' COVID-19 haka slammed as cultural appropriation

The video on Twitter now has over 620,000 views.
The video on Twitter now has over 620,000 views. Photo credit: Twitter/ Tavistock Day Case Theatre

British health care staff performing a haka to show their "passion and drive to beat coronavirus" have been slammed for cultural appropriation.

The Tavistock Day Case Theatre in England posted a video of their staff performing a modified version of Ka Mate to their Twitter account on Saturday.

Staff can be seen wearing their medical scrubs with white headbands and black face paint while attempting the haka.

At the end of the video, one woman screams a chant about COVID-19: "This is the message we wish to affirm, you'll never beat us we hate you, you germ".

"Together we'll triumph with the strength from within. Mankind will destroy you, mankind will win."

The video, which has now had over 620,000 views, has been criticised for cultural appropriation.

Māori cultural advisor Karaitiana Taiuru says the haka is "absolutely offensive and degrading".

"There is no reasonable excuse why any semi-educated person with access to the internet, from anywhere in the world, to not know that mocking another person's culture is offensive," Taiuru says.

"This is blatant cultural abuse that is verging on being racist.

"There appears to be a fixation with many people in the UK with Māori culture and what appears to be an inherited colonial perceived right to appropriate Māori culture with marketing of food and beverages and more so in particular to mocking the Haka. 

It is distasteful and disrespectful to the descendants of Ngāti Toa and to all Māori." 

He also suggested it could be a breach of the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act of 2014 which acknowledges the haka's significance as a taonga of Ngāti Toa Rangatira.

Taiuru also says what the workers are wearing is also cultural appropriation.

"Some of the nurses are re-enacting "blackface" with black lines on their face," he said.

"What appears to be headbands is reminiscent of the culturally appropriated Māori dolls and a cultural stereotype that all Māori wear headbands and have facial tattoos."

He says the surgical unit needs to delete the post and apologise.

Twitter users have also hit out at the video calling it "cringeworthy" and "embarrassing".

"I'm from New Zealand. I'm also a nurse here. Would never disrespect the haka or Māori culture like this. There's a lot of ways to feel empowered while working during this pandemic, this isn't it," one commenter wrote.

Another said: "First of all we are Māori. Haka is something incredibly sacred to us and this performance may have been well-intended but it makes a mockery of haka. I found it disturbing to watch. I hope the nurses stay safe but also hope they don't repeat that performance".

The nurses have also been criticised for taking the time to put the video together during the pandemic with many commenters saying they have had surgeries and appointments cancelled because medical centres are too busy.

Others commented that they were spitting, close together and not wearing appropriate PPE which goes against guidelines.