Artistic merit: Tonga war dance


So what's it like to stand there as the New Zealanders/Fijians/Tongans/Western Samoans perform their pre-match war dance/aerobic exercise? And what exactly are they saying: jibberish or poetry? Tonga's motivational pre-match routine seemed a good place to start.

Their pre-game challenge, the Sipi Tau was penned by King Tama Tu'i Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in 1994, but its origins can be traced back much further. In Tonga in the pre-1800s there were no challenges before war. Indeed talking was considered a sign of weakness in battle. But in the 19th century a war dance was introduced from the neighbouring Wallis and Futuna Islands and Tonga quickly annexed it.

There have been several different Sipi Tau used by the Tongan rugby team over the years, but it is unsure when they were first used in rugby. The latest one was composed in honour of a short, successful tour of New Zealand in 1994. The Sipi Tau `Ae `Ikale Tahi - the words Ikale Tahi in the title refers to the Tongan team's name, the sea eagles - won't win too many literary awards outside of Tonga.

All together now.

`Ei E (exclamation)

I shall speak to the whole world

The sea eagle is starved

Let the foreigner and sojourner beware

Today, destroyer of souls I am, everywhere

To the half back and the backs

I have shed my human characteristics

`Ei E! `Ei E Tu! (exclamations)

Maul and loose forwards I shall mow

And crunch any fierce hearts you know

I drink the ocean and consume the fire

To death or victory my will is fine

That's how Tonga gives to her motto

To her motto, Tonga gives all.