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A series of chants, grunts and stomps from some wedding guests, along with chest thumps and tongue wagging, recently drove one New Zealand bride to tears.
It also prompted her and the groom to join their loved ones in the rousing ritual.
A large group of guests, led by the best man and groom’s brother, performed a traditional Maori haka at the recent wedding of Aaliyah and Benjamin Armstrong.
The passion and emotion expressed during the dance moved the couple, who, along with the bride’s best friend and bridesmaid, joined in at the end.
“I wasn’t expecting to see so many men jump in. Just to see their love and their respect for us was quite overwhelming,” Aaliyah told TODAY.com. “That’s why we jumped in at the end to show our love and respect back.”
A video of the dance quickly racked up more than 26 million times after being posted Jan. 20 on social media.
A haka is a traditional war cry and chant originally used to intimidate tribal opponents and enemies with loud shouts, chest thumps and exaggerated facial features and movements.
In current times, it often is performed to welcome guests or at special occasions, like weddings and funerals.
At the Armstrong wedding, the group performed the tika tonu, which Aaliyah described as “an open-range” haka that often gets taught in high school.
“It’s a standard haka that most people know, so it gives people chance to step in and show their respect, whether you are young or old, whether your knowledge of this haka is strong or weak,” said Aaliyah, 21. “It’s a haka that is able to bring a lot of people together.”
The video ends with Benjamin giving a “hongi,” a traditional Maori greeting in which two people press their noses together, to a friend and his brother.
The couple, who met a year ago at a Mormon church convention, feel grateful for the attention the video has brought to their Maori culture. Both Benjamin and Aaliyah are of Maori descent, although Aaliyah said many have questioned her husband’s heritage because of his fair skin.
“He’s probably more Maori than I am,” Aaliyah said. “I’m of mixed cultures. I’ve got Samoan, Maori and European in me. I’m a fruit salad as they would say down here. But he’s got Maori on both his mom and dad’s side.”
Benjamin, 23, said he feels fortunate to be brought up with strong Moari ties. While he has been overwhelmed by all the recent attention, he’s happy to see growing interest being shown in Maori culture.
“We’re starting to see the fruits from that labor,” he said, referring to the numberous comments and messages he has received from strangers. “People from around the world, including the United States, who didn’t know about the haka have decided to learn more about the New Zealand culture, as well as the haka itself and what it means. It’s just been choice.”
The video was produced by the Auckland company, Westone Productions, which is co-owned by Aaliyah’s cousin, Heinrich Hettig. It was made as part of a wedding gift to the couple, who shared the video with their friends and family on Facebook. The video then somehow ended up on the Facebook page, “Proud to be Tongan,” where it immediately went viral.
Although Hettig said he would have liked to have been contacted by the group before it posted the video, he's happy about the massive response.
“We’re just marveling. Little old New Zealand getting a shout out from everywhere. It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said.
Like his cousin, Hettigalso is glad to see the haka, along with Maori culture, getting more exposure.
“In all honesty, we’re happy that so many people have embraced it. It’s the reaction that we’re happy about. People love it," he said. "They love the culture and diversity here. That matters more than anything."
Follow TODAY.com writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter at @eunkim.