At their practice in Ashland, Southern Oregon University football players kneel to the ground and growl, their eyes bulging, their tongues sticking out. Lineman Masi Tunoa leads the chant.
Tunoa and his family used to perform lū’aus for tourists back home in Hawaii. They also did the haka, a battle cry that originated from the indigenous people of New Zealand. It’s a powerful ritual that Polynesian cultures still perform today for ceremonies like weddings or funerals, or before a big game.
“The haka was performd by the Maori people,” Tunoa said. “It’s like a war cry. They do it to get their warriors ready for battle. I thought why not take that can get ready for a game. Get that same energy.”
Tunoa had a friend translate the haka into English so he could teach it to his team. He says each sentence has a special meaning that energizes and grounds them.
“One of the lines we say is, ‘Make us one with the lion,'” he said. “So wherever we go, whether home or away, that’s home field. No matter where we go.”
About a fifth of the SOU football players are of Polynesian descent. Head coach Charlie Hall says while the haka might get his team pumped up for a game, it has also brought them together.
“Beyond performance it’s about team culture,” he said. “It’s about sharing another people’s culture with our own team. It’s about who we are and being a better family.”
And Tunoa says that’s exactly what brought him to this team. Something about it reminded him of his family, reminded him of home.
This story is reposted from Jefferson Public Radio, and was reported by April Ehrlich
See a video of the Raiders’ haka: