Moving memories: towards a cognitive ecology of the Māori haka
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 21:16 authored by McArthur Hēnare Robert Mingon
The popular misconception that the Māori haka is just a ‘traditional war dance’ is connected with the way that it is commonly performed before sporting contests, for the analogous purpose of ‘intimidating the enemy’ and ‘energizing the performers’. However, this is just one of many ways in which haka have been used by Māori throughout time. This thesis explores these other uses and aspects of haka, and investigates how the coordination dynamics of haka can give rise to different modes of expression and experience. In the introductory chapter, I develop a platform from which to consider the affective, cognitive and epistemic functions of Māori Haka. The project is positioned in the current landscape of research on cultural systems in the cognitive sciences and against the background of epistemic niche construction. I introduce and discuss the theoretical framework of Cognitive Ecology, and related ideas in the area of embodied, extended and distributed cognition. I also provide an overview of the Māori cultural and historical context and begin to describe and explore haka, in terms of its origins and forms. In Chapter 2, Moving and Feeling Together, I explore the affective aspects of haka and consider how the practice can be fruitfully understood as a material resource and activity used by Māori to express, enhance and regulate emotional experience. I discuss empirical research that is helpful for understanding how the affective aspects of haka may foster and facilitate different forms of ‘emotional bonding’. Further, in conversation with distributed and situated approaches to emotions, I consider how the coordination dynamics of a haka performance contribute to the achievement of affective states and processes that would otherwise be unavailable In Chapter 3, Being Together, I consider how haka contributes to other forms of cognitive activity. The cognitive role of gestures is examined, along with the attentional, intentional and perceptual processes at play. I then examine how these processes are utilized to express, enhance and preserve tribal identity. I discuss the notion of ‘identity-fusion’ and suggest a way in which it may help us to better understand how Māori epistemology is embodied and enacted through the practice. In Chapter 4, Remembering Together, I examine the commemorative functionality of haka. In conversation with Edward Casey’s phenomenological account of commemoration, I unpack the formal and structural features of haka which contribute to its effectiveness as a commemorative practice, and further consider how this practice may contribute to intergenerational transmission. Chapter 5 concludes the thesis with a reflection on the account developed. I consider its limitations, along with opportunities for further development and investigation, and briefly discuss the current status of haka within contemporary Māori and New Zealand society.