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October 16, 2021

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Liberty High’s ‘haka’ an inspiration on and off the field

Getting Low

Rob Miech

Members of Liberty High’s football team perform a Samoan version of the “haka,” a tribal war dance, at a recent practice.

Patriots win with war dance

The Liberty Heights football team struggled in its first five years-- winning only 10 games total. But this year, the Patriots added a traditional Samoan war dance. And that seems to have brought a transformation, resulting in a 3-1 record this season.

"Haka" Time

Liberty High assistant football coach J.T. Tauanuu instructs the Patriots through the Launch slideshow »

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Liberty High assistant football coach J.T. Tauanuu was 3 years old when he wrapped his arms around his grandfather’s right leg and hung on for dear life.

Taeao Tauanuu was one of the elder statesmen in Leloaloa, American Samoa. A Methodist minister, J.T.’s grandfather also was the president of a Methodist conference at a celebration.

He sat front row, center, when a group of men performed a Samoan version of the “haka,” a tribal war dance popularized by the New Zealand national rugby team.

J.T. sat on the ground, to the right of his grandfather, who passed away in 1982.

“All the yelling and facial expressions,” J.T. Tauanuu said, “scared me to death.”

Liberty coach Lou Markouzis doesn’t mind if that’s what foes feel when they watch and hear the Patriots perform their own haka minutes before every kickoff.

The school opened in 2003 and only won 10 games in its first five seasons. This year, after knocking off Silverado, which had been ranked fourth in the state, the Patriots are 3-1 and play at Del Sol (3-1) on Friday night.

The Liberty High football Haka (or Siva Tau)


  • Mua o, mua!
  • Mua o!
  • O mai loa tatou o…
  • Uso e, manatua le tapua’iga!
  • Manu iinei, manu iina
  • Taufaasoa le manuia
  • Tino manu’a, le afaina
  • Tau le taua ia manumalo!
  • O le a sii le taua. Sauni mai Toa!
  • A tasi le toa
  • Ua afe ni toa
  • A ao ni toa
  • Ua faula’i toa
  • Sauni aupega! Alu!
  • Lo’u loto, lo’u tino, mafaufau!
  • Tao e velo…
  • To’i e ta…
  • Pelu e sogi…
  • Pu’e mai, toso mai, maua!
  • Malo uso! Malo toa!
  • Malo tau!


  • Acclaim this day!
  • Praise!
  • Come let us go forth…
  • Brethren, remember first our patrons!
  • Blessings upon us, blessings upon them
  • Let us all partake of the blessings
  • Physical injury is of no consequence
  • For we battle until victory!
  • Prepare now for war. Warriors make ready!
  • Just one of our warriors
  • Is like a thousand warriors
  • Tally our warriors
  • And find countless warriors!
  • Prepare your weapons! Present arms!
  • My heart, my body, my mind!
  • My spear is thrown…
  • My axe is swung…
  • My sword is plunged…
  • Fine the enemy, pursue, and capture!
  • Victory brethren! Victory warriors!
  • Tis a great victory!

“The kids really enjoy that,” said Markouzis, 33. “That whole ‘haka’ thing is fantastic. It gets kids in the right frame of mind, the right state of mind. They eat it up.”

Type “haka” on YouTube and you’ll be entertained by a series of elaborate war dances by the All Blacks, the nickname -- due to its famous black uniform shorts and jerseys -- of New Zealand’s rugby team.

Look for its matches against Samoa or Tonga, and you’ll find dueling Polynesian dances, full of feet stamps, facial contortions, bulging eyes, grunts and cries, mock weapon waves and tongues sticking out.

The most popular is the “Ka Mate,” which has direct ties to the Maori of New Zealand.

Tauanuu, 43, moved to Southern California with his family at a young age. He brought his own family to Las Vegas in 2000 and began teaching the haka to his Las Vegas Island Warriors youth football program.

He instructed the Liberty freshmen last season. Markouzis saw positive results, so he allowed Tauanuu to mentor the JV and varsity this season.

During the summer, the Patriots practiced it daily, for up to an hour, in the gym before heading out to the football field.

When First Lady Laura Bush visited the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan in June, those defense troops greeted her by performing a haka.

The tongues and grunts would have surprised her, she said, had she not seen the Trinity High football team from Texas perform a version of it on television.

Tongan students inspired Portland (Ore.) Jefferson High to perform it before games, but the Oregon School Activities Association felt it intimidated opponents.

Do it with your backs to your foes, the OSAA said, or be penalized 15 yards at the start of games. Jefferson still does it, on the field, facing the other team.

Taunting hasn’t been an issue at Liberty, Markouzis believes, because the Patriots do it on the track close to inspire themselves and their fans.

“Marc Ratner, who is in charge of the Southern Nevada officials, officiated one of our games and had no issue with us,” Markouzis said. “We didn’t want any negative publicity. It’s such a positive thing for us.”

Technically, the 21-line chant and dance that Tauanuu wrote and choreographed for the Patriots is called a “Siva Tau” in Samoan. The haka has many derivatives, depending on the nation and circumstance.

At the Silverado game last week, an opposing fan of Polynesian descent applauded Tauanuu for his choice of words and to thank him for his tribute to Samoa.

“He was impressed and had a great sense of pride,” Tauanuu said. “Football is a very physical sport. The mental part can be the difference between victory and defeat.

“This speaks to that. You’re exhausted, tired and beat up. You have to keep moving. The Siva Tau reinforces that.”

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