From Ka Mate to Siva Tau, the hakas of the Rugby World Cup

Tokyo (AFP) –


Most people know the famous All Black "haka", the terrifying war dance performed before kick-off designed to strike fear into the hearts of opponents foolish enough to challenge New Zealand at rugby.

But the 2019 World Cup in Japan will feature no fewer than four war dances, with Pacific Islanders Fiji, Samoa and Tonga also in the mix.

Here is AFP's guide to the pre-match ritual that thrills fans and petrifies rivals:

- Haka: The ultimate challenge -

It is one of the great sights in sport: the All Blacks thumping their chests, stomping their feet and sticking out their tongues as they perform the traditional Maori war dance in the middle of the pitch.

There are two versions -- the traditional Ka Mate, which they first performed in 1905, and the Kapa O Pango, a version specially commissioned for the team that was introduced a century later.

Almost as fascinating as the haka is how other teams react to it.

Ireland famously advanced towards the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road in 1989 until the teams' skippers were eyeball-to-eyeball, while David Campese pointedly ignored it before Australia beat New Zealand in the 1991 World Cup semi-final.

In 2011, France formed a flying-V and marched into the All Blacks' half before the World Cup final -- earning them a fine as punishment.

The haka is no stranger to controversy. The throat-slitting gesture sometimes included as part of the dance drew ire after a match against the British Lions as it came immediately after the London terror attacks when some of the victims had their throats slashed.

In 2006, the All Blacks performed it in the dressing room after a furious row with the Welsh who wanted it done between the anthems rather than before kick-off.

The haka has also suffered some unwanted imitations, most famously by the Spice Girls. Although the dance is supposed to be male-only, the female group performed it in Bali, drawing accusations of "bastardising" Maori culture.

- Fiji: We'll uproot you -

The origins of the Fijian "Cibi" dance (pronounced thimbi) stretch back to brutal inter-island wars. Once performed by warriors from the Fiji kingdom of Bau to gird themselves for battle, the island's rugby players started using it in 1939.

"Your defence is just waiting... to crumble when I prick it," the Fiji players chanted, as they motion with imaginary spears.

Its use on the field started when Fiji toured New Zealand and the island's leader felt they should have something to counter the haka. It was an auspicious idea as Fiji came back undefeated from the tour.

However, they changed dances in 2012 to the more aggressive "Bole" dance as the "Cibi" was seen as more of a celebration than preparation for battle.

Advancing towards the opponent, beating their chests and climaxing with a fierce jump in the air, the words of the dance threaten to "uproot" enemies.

- Tonga: Not that friendly -

Tonga was once known as the "Friendly Islands" but their "Sipi Tau" war dance is anything but.

Closer in style to the haka, the "Sipi Tau" contains the warning "let the foreigner and sojourner beware -- today, destroyer of souls I am".

But unlike the haka, which follows a set script, the words of the "Sipi Tau" can be changed to suit the occasion.

During the 2015 World Cup, some 54,000 fans at Newcastle United's football ground were treated to the spine-tingling sight of New Zealand and Tonga performing a haka face-off.

World Cup rules dictated that Tonga, as the designated 'Team A' for the match, would go first and 'Team B' New Zealand could choose when to respond.

But Tonga had no sooner started than the All Blacks adopted their signature squat to launch their "Ka Mate" haka and the crowd erupted as the two South Pacific nations challenged each other to war.

- Samoa: 'Completely prepared' -

Samoa's passionate "Siva Tau" is a challenge, a declaration of superiority and a warning to opponents.

"Here I come completely prepared -- My strength is at its peak -- Make way and move aside," chant the Samoans, whose team name, Manu Samoa, recalls a legendary Samoan warrior.

The dance involves slapping the knees, motioning as if throwing a spear and culminates in a raised-forearm challenge to the opponent.