If you’ve seen the ‘Māori’ episode of kids show Justin Time Go, you’ll know how batshit it is. Steph Matuku breaks down the mess that is ‘Let’s Haka Dance!’
I don’t care what the experts say, telly is a great babysitter. That’s especially true in the hell zone from 5pm when my kids are tired and cranky, and I’m knackered and have to make three separate meals: one for my daughter who is going through a “only fings what are yellow, bananas don’t count” phase, one for my son who loathes everything that isn’t pasta, and one for me, which is usually chocolate biscuits furtively scoffed with the tap running to drown out the creaking of my ever-expanding undies elastic.
Thank God for the kids’ selection on Netflix – mostly entertaining, sometimes educational – but always a 5pm lifesaver.
Unless of course, you’ve sat on the remote with your ever-expanding arse and accidentally switched on Justin Time Go, Season 1, Episode 8. It’s called “Let’s Haka Dance!” the title of which should already be sending shudders down your patriotic Kiwi spine. The words haka and dance should never be uttered together, much like eat and poo, or National and awesome. It’s just wrong.
Justin Time is a kid who has to learn boring kid things – sharing, teamwork, friendship, blah blah. To do it, he travels around the world and through time with a blob called Squidgy which, by the way, is an awesome method of dealing with shit. Hate your workmates? Go overseas! Friendship gone bust? Go back to Roman times and have them torn apart by wolves! There’s a lot we can learn from Justin.
In this particular episode, Justin gets jealous of his mate who has a dope cyber-bot mask. So naturally Justin travels to New Zealand to get a mask for himself. This is because our historic tradition of mask making is internationally lauded and pretty much all we’re known for. It’s just what we do.
Anyway, Justin meets up with his mate Olive (she turns up in every adventure. She’s not a crazy psycho stalker, she’s actually a figment of Justin’s imagination who helps him solve his problems which is so deep, I can’t even), and this other guy called Tommy. Tommy is Māori and wears a little kilt over bike shorts, and a hot topknot with a bone through it. He also speaks with a jarring South African accent which kills the hotness of the topknot stone dead. He should never speak again.
Olive is about to enter the haka dance team tryouts and Justin figures he’ll give it a go. Tommy says they’ll need three things – a haka chant, haka moves and a haka face. If only I’d known this in school kapa haka, perhaps I would have made it out of the back row.
Tommy smugly puts on his purple haka dance mask which looks like it was made by frazzled parents for a last minute school gala day stall. It has a protruding tongue that clacks and waggles from side to side, and eyes that swivel around in the head like loose change in the washing machine. Thus properly attired, Tommy breaks into a stomping chorus of “Tika tonu u e! Tika tonu u e!” followed by something that is perhaps Afrikaans. (“Tika Tonu u e” is the title of an actual real, awesomely inspiring haka composed by Waimarama Puhara for his son way back in 1914 or thereabouts, and can be translated as “what is right is always right!” which is pretty bloody ironic in this case.)
Justin gets immediate haka FOMO and Tommy tells him to follow the kiwi to see the Mask Maker. Because New Zealand is renowned for their Mask Makers. It’s just who we are.
Justin, Olive and a Kiwi (she’s called Coral but I think they mean Koru), traipse through the jungle to the Mask Maker’s hut. On the way, they stomp over stepping stones in a hot pool (tika tonu, u e!) and laugh at Coral who grimaces and farts every time she eats sour purple pūkana berries. (At least, I think it’s pūkana. They rhymed it with guarana which was new and interesting).
But Tommy is all shit, ow. The Mask Maker isn’t home and his hut is just a facade which Squidgy accidentally pushes over a cliff. With no Mask Maker, how will Justin get his haka face on?
Tommy waits down on the beach for them. There’s nobody else trying out for his haka dance team. Maybe they all think it’s a stink idea. Maybe they think Tommy’s a lying dickhead. But Justin, Olive and Squidgy are still keen as. And guess what? With the farty berries that Coral the kiwi found, they can paint their faces with the juice! And every time they eat one, they can pull a haka face! Because the berries are so sour! And their tongues come out! Get it? Get it? Genius!
It’s actually not genius. It’s horrendous. Especially for my Māori kids who are watching this show with an expression usually reserved for broccoli. They’re only little but they know what a haka is and they know that this isn’t it. All the haka they’ve ever seen have been serious, spine-tingling events, performed for a genuine, valid reason, never as a mockery or a parody, and never as American entertainment for the blissfully unaware. I couldn’t let them watch the whole thing. I couldn’t let them see themselves like that.
I wanted to get hold of the writers – Daytime Emmy Award nominees Craig Young and Michael Milligan – and ask them about their writing process for this episode and if all the Māori consultants in the nearby vicinity had suddenly died or exploded or eaten too many pūkana berries or something. But as I brainstormed questions to ask, I could only come up with one. What the FUCK were you thinking??
In case you cared, Justin went home, got some paint and smeared it on his face. His mate with the dope cyber-bot mask thought Justin looked cool and immediately wanted to play with him.
This is the power of the haka mask. This is who we are.
Steph Matuku is an award-winning writer from Taranaki. In 2016, Steph won a place on the Maori Literature Trust’s writing incubator programme ‘He Papa Tupu’, and wrote her first novel, Flight of the Fantail, to be published by Huia Publishers. She has two children, a messy house and lots of books.
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