Alan Duff's novel Once Were Warriors and Lee Tamahori's film of the same title have had profound impact on the disenfranchised Maori race by emphasizing the importance of discipline, respect, and confidence in their own culture. A powerful symbol of the Maori culture the haka, motivates them to rise up and become better individuals, who are capable of achieving anything they believe in. The haka, the Maori dance of war, is a vigorous expression proclaiming strength and power to intimidate opposition (McLintock 2). In her article Ruth Brown states, "The description of haka evokes vividly an encrazed and ataristic urge to rise up, rise up and fight and fight !" (Brown 1). However, the film and novel emphasize the haka differently. The film discussed the impact of the haka on a single Maori individual whereas the novel interprets the haka as a point of transformation for a group of Maori. Film and novel are both based on the Hekes, a poor, disorganized Maori family living in an urban ghetto of New Zealand. The film is more effective in emphasizing the importance of the haka than the novel because the film includes visual and auditory effects that the novel writer leaves to the reader's imagination. .
Tamahori's film interprets the haka as a form of discipline for Mark " Boogie" Heke. Boogie had a history of minor criminal offenses, so he was likely to end up in jail. He was remanded to the state's welfare system because his parents Jake and Beth Heke could not control him. Fortunately, Boogie met Mr. Bennett, a Maori welfare office, who took him in to his Maori cultural school disciplining him through the haka. If the haka was not well performed by Boogie and all the Maori boys in the group, it meant a constant repetition. Mr. Bennett yelled at them saying, "I've told you fellas time and again this haka won't work until you set the first action right! You're reaching up for all these ancestral lines and you're pulling them down to your body!" (Tamahori 1994).