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Haka and Aunty Muriel

 

 

Grafton Maggs offers
this light-hearted story

 

 

 

A Mumbles Contribution to World Culture. 

2012AD will be remembered for many things, not all of them good. But putting aside the dire worries of the economic world, and sapping wars which seem to have no end, a few events have warmed the heart. Especially if Welsh blood courses through ones veins.

For a start, the Welsh Rugby XV swept the board with its Grand Slam and nearer home, playing the round ball game, Swansea City FC, more than justified its newly won status as a Premier League Club. Yet to come, on a broader platform, is the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and, of course, the London Olympic Games.    

Quite a year!

To gild the Welsh lily, as it were, what better time could there be, than now, to divulge a secret, harboured in my bosom for many years. A secret once shared by but a select few and a secret which has prevented the world from knowing of a great contribution, made by Mumbles to World Culture.

With good reason I believe that I am now, the sole surviving member of that secret sharing elite and unless I put pen to paper, promptly, that confidence might well be carried to my grave and the chance to correct a widely held misconception, gone for ever.

So, let’s journey back in time, spanning an eighty year gap!  Back to the early thirties, to a Mumbles still stagnating in post war depression.

Ceremonial Rite

Yet it wasn’t all tears and it may sound bizarre but, even with a fine tooth comb raking through my childhood memory, I recall only moments of happiness and being amongst kind, no-nonsense people who commanded my respect and affection. On one such occasion I was enjoying the happiest of family events, my brother Colin’s first birthday. Immediate family was there of course, and the ranks swollen by the presence of a few more distant relatives which all added to the jollity of the occasion. No social function could have been more innocent, more humdrum, more conventional and more ordinary! Yet it saw the spawning of something which was to develop into a major, worldwide ceremonial rite, jealously guarded and conducted with  passionate fervour. Sadly, its humble origin was suppressed and a more charismatic history fabricated.

The time has come to tell the truth.

Well, there we all were, on this Sunday afternoon, gathered in the pleasant backyard of the Victoria Inn, Mumbles, to celebrate Colin’s special day. Grandpas, grandmas, uncles, aunts and cousins were there, some having travelled from afar,

 - one cousin in particular.

The sun shone. The men enjoyed a glass of Hancock’s Dark Malt and drew happily on their Woodbines. The ladies sipped sweet British sherry or, more daringly, a glass of Australian Emu wine. No female had the audacity to smoke a cigarette. Children gulped Emmanuel Thomas’ fizzy pop and held burping competitions.

 Best clothes were the order of the day. Stiff-collared, hair-oiled men sweated in their Hodge’s, or Fifty Shilling Tailors, or Montague Burton’s suits. Their partners were more brightly clad in floral patterned dresses from Peacock’s stall in the Swansea Market or, if better-heeled, from Kemp’s in Mumbles.

Aunty Mu

Always present at such functions was Aunty Muriel, better known as Aunty Mu. A childless widow, Mu lived on her own and made ends meet by doing housework for friends, mixed up with casual child caring. For such occasions as this, she abandoned her mauve turban and wrap-around housecoat to dress up in a hand knitted jumper (with a marcasite brooch) and a home made flannel skirt. Red-faced, she bustled about, greeting guests loudly, recharging teacups where applicable, and ferrying plates of sandwiches, all of which were well filled with, egg, ham, cheese, cucumber and onion, or fishpaste and watercress. She was kind, jolly, tireless and very plump. Her love for children was legendary and upon baby Colin, she doted. The men stood in groups, discussing such important things as Swansea Town AFC, the Whites, Stanley Baldwin, valve wireless sets, Georgie Gammon’s piles and “… the wife’s operation down below…”.

The women, too, gossiped and, when dealing with something of breathtaking scandal (“..that Mrs. Rees at Number Thirteen and the Milkman….”), would finish every sentence mouthing soundless words. Timing it perfectly, Aunty Mu proudly brought in the cake, baked and iced by herself, and placed it on the table before a tiring, and fractious Colin, now crammed into his high chair. She lit the candle and started singing that most embarrassing and cringe making snatch of song ever inflicted upon mankind:

  “Happy Birthday to you…! Happy Birthday to you.!”

Hesitantly and self consciously, the rest of the party joined in to give a ragged, tinny and awful rendition. Colin became even more confused, the corners of his mouth began to turn down and he started to grizzle. This was always the prelude to a deafening, outburst of tears and body racking sobs.

Here, indeed, was a very unhappy little boy.

Aunty Mu took charge. Brushing everyone aside, she sailed in making soothing, glugging noises and lifted chair and child away from the table, out of the hot sun and into the shade. She then expertly assessed the download state of his napkin. This, she discovered, was at critical, tsunami level. She whisked him away and carried out a thorough decontamination process. Colin was returned to his chair, back in the midst of his family, in a more socially acceptable state. 

All should have been well.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. He continued to grizzle.

Aunty Mu then moved on to Phase Two of her child soothing repertoire. She stood back from the chair, about seven paces, took out her false teeth and slipped them in her pocket. Then came her famous approach walk. With legs straddled and both arms raised, she stamped, step by deliberate step, towards the pram.

She started “gurning” and with tongue shooting in and out of her mouth,  she started to make grunting, “Ooga Ooga” noises. She half crouched, sticking out her massive backside and her arms reached forward, rhythmically clutching at the air.

 

          “Ooga1 Ooga!............Ooga! Ooga!” , she went.

        Colin was transfixed and went dead quiet.

           “Ooga! Ooga!............Ooga! Ooga!”

Then, as Aunty Mu drew near, he started screaming with terror and slid down the chair away from this terrifying creature descending upon him.

My mother ran to the rescue, picked him up, cooed soothing sounds and tried to caress him back into a peaceful state. To no avail!     He went on yelling.    The party was now over for Colin.

It took about four days to shut him up.

Unfazed, Aunty Mu put her teeth back in, her legs back together and rejoined the celebrations, she picked up a glass of Emu, shrugged her shoulders and, with a mouthful of Shippam’s Salmon and Shrimp Paste sandwich, spluttered,

                             “Weeel! You can’t win ‘em all!”

Present, and observing all this, was quiet Cousin Walter. After his return from the mud of Flanders, Walter had shaken off the grime of Europe, and left for a fresh, clean start in New Zealand. He had settled quickly, and happily, in Christchurch, and practised his trade. He married, he made a home. He loved everything about his life in this friendly, young country.

Family business had necessitated his return to Mumbles and Colin’s party had coincided with his visit. Needless to say, he was given a very warm reception and encouraged to talk. He spoke with a quiet pride of his prowess there and stressed that he had never regretted the decision made in 1918 and, although delighted to visit his roots, he was looking forward to returning, down under. Within a few weeks of the party, Walter was on the high seas for that long return voyage to his family in Christchurch and once home, routine was quickly re-established and he was back, toiling with saw and plane, in his beloved workshop.

One of Walter’s interests was helping to train a local junior rugby side, the “Christchurch Blockers”. Sadly, the team was in the doldrums and currently wallowing at the bottom of the league. The playing record was appalling and on the pitch, there was little aggression, or spirit.  Despair reigned at all levels.

 Walter suffered with his team and knew that unless a miracle happened, the club’s days were numbered. Then, out of the blue, came enlightenment! In the early hours of the morning, Walter suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, frightening the life out of Mildred and nearly giving her a heart attack,  

“I think I’ve got it!!”

In actual fact, Walter had no idea just what he really had got!  He was thoughtful over breakfast, said little and during the day at work, was totally preoccupied. That evening at the Blockers clubhouse, he spoke to the team committee. Would they go along with an idea he had?  He explained and asked for their indulgence. It sounded crazy but, out of desperation, these hard native New Zealanders agreed to go along with his plan. After all there was nothing to lose! Perhaps this crazy Welshman could turn it all round!

Walter went into the club lounge, got the team around him and explained his plan. At first the reaction was one of incredulity but he persisted! He asked for co operation and eventually they agreed. Every night they practised and by the following Saturday, they were ready to implement,

Walter’s Plan

In his wildest dreams, it never occurred to Walter, that what he was to introduce on the pitch that coming Saturday would have such far reaching effect……

The following Saturday afternoon, Christchurch Blockers ran out on to the park to face visiting team, Kaiapoi Krunchers. The Krunchers were a formidable side being in the top three of the Southern Island Division. Their confidence was manifest in the casual attitude and strutting posture.     

They were due for a surprise.

The first shock for the visitors was to see the Christchurch side congregate in a group at the centre of the park, instead of the usual positioning for the kick off. The Blockers then went into their rehearsed routine.

They glared ferociously and advanced slowly and aggressively upon the Krunchers.

Faces were pulled, tongues stuck out, legs were straddled and arms were wildly waved as they advanced.

            “OOga!… OOga!  They shouted.  “OOga!”…OOga!”

                             Just like Aunty Mu!

The Kaiapoi Krunchers had never seen anything like this in their lives!Such aggression! Such fearless savagery! It struck home! They backed off!   The Krunchers were knocked well and truly off balance! They felt fear.

That afternoon, the Blockers revved up by their own pre match performance, played above themselves and pulled off not only their first victory for two seasons, but a resounding one!                           

                     33 points to 3!

                       And, it developed from there!

Every match was preceded by this ritual. They continued to win and the reputation of the Blockers was restored, indeed, enhanced!

There was now pride and there was fearlessness!  Their fame spread along with their pre match ritual. Other teams were quick to note and decided, not just to stand by, but to follow suit. And so it spread to the highest level in the land. To the mighty Kiwis, the All Black International Team itself.

 

 

The Haka, (as it came to be known) had arrived!

It became part of the magnificent sporting culture of New Zealand and to be loved and respected by every Rugby playing nation in the world.

 With passing time, its true origin has become obscured and it became accepted that its roots lie in the ancient and glorious culture of the Maori.

Not so!   It was Aunty Mu who started it all,… in Mumbles… in the Vic back yard.!

A great Mumbles contribution to World Culture.

    …………………………………………………………………

  Footnote:

Colin never fully recovered from the Aunty Mu Phase 2 Encounter. It left an indelible scar upon his young brain and, to this very day in spite of counselling, he always dives behind the settee when the All Blacks are performing their pre-match Haka on TV.  Such was the lasting effect upon him that he grew up to become a Dentist. There were others upon whom the “Phase 2 Mu Factor” had a far more damaging affect.    They grew up to become politicians and secret cocoa drinkers.

What happened to those human beings who were subjected to a “Phase 3 Mu Factor”, is a closely guarded secret, locked up in the bowels of MI6.