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Thursday, 18 December 2014 04:58 pm

Sharing Maori culture through the song and dance of kapa haka

All sorts of people practise kapa haka

KAPA HAKA is allowing people to share a stage with one another and share their culture with the world.

Kapa haka, or Maori performing arts, is the tradition of group singing and dancing.

Performed on maraes as part of the formal welcome or as entertainment, it allows groups to showcase not only their skills but their culture and heritage as well.

Wellington’s Ngati Poneke Young Maori Club has been running a kapa haka group for 76 years at Pipitea Marae.

President Bill Nathan says the club, which has more than 100 members, is there to teach and to encourage the learning of traditions.

Mr Nathan says that whether the participants are Maori or non-Maori, kapa haka builds their knowledge about themselves and the culture.

“It gives them tremendous understanding of the culture of New Zealand and Maori in particular.

“And it invites and encourages participation and knowledge.”

During Monday night practices, they learn traditional and contemporary waiatas, or songs, to be performed on the marae and at competitions.

Performances can involve about 40  people, including a kaea,  a male or female leader, and guitarists.

Mr Nathan says Monday night is not only club night but also an open night for people to come and watch the practice.

“People come here and they can’t speak a word of Maori, or they don’t know that there is a separate language and that’s fine.

“We like to share our gifts of our culture with them.”

The groups at Ngati Poneke Young Maori club are separated into the tamariki, or juniors, intermediates and seniors age groups.

Mr Nathan says that it is a generational interest with senior members getting their children involved.

“It is giving the children something that is going to be important to them and it gives a knowledge of their background.”

Sylvia Prime started her five children in kapa haka when they were young.

She says it is not only a good way to build knowledge of Maori tradition and history but also self-esteem and confidence.

One of her best memories of kapa haka was when her children entered a junior competition and their group won everything.

“They won the poi, the haka, the march on, everything. They just wiped the floor.”

Mrs Prime started attending the Hui Aranga, an Easter gathering and competition run by the Catholic Church, with her husband and children.

“The Hui Aranga started years ago. My husband use to go to it when he was 11 or 12, and they slept in tents on hay bales.”

Mrs Prime says that there were competitions and points for the choirs and kapa haka performances as well as sports competitions and religious quizzes. Mrs Prime was a part of the club Nga Karere, and although her mother is Maori, she says that before starting kapa haka she spoke little Maori.

Although she has stopped participating now, she says being involved with kapa haka groups is fun and helps bring people together.  “It’s a family thing, even though they’re not your family, people can feel so at home with you.”

Jess Bramley

Taking part in kapa haka helped Jessica Bramley learn about Maori culture.  Jess started kapa haka in high school after moving to New Zealand from England.The only experience she had had before with Maori song and dance was when her family visited New Zealand on a holiday before they moved here.

“We were in Rotorua and I got dragged up on stage to swing a poi around. Safe to say I was rubbish and embarrassed.”

Every year her high school had an inter-house kapa haka competition and Jess and a group of her friends decided to get involved.

“When I told family and friends, they couldn’t help but laugh. Here was this girl from London who was going to dedicate the next eight weeks to kapa haka.”

During those eight weeks, Jess says she learned a lot about Maori culture, including a new language and routine.  “I made friends with people I never would have been involved with, and I leared how to laugh at myself, a lot.”

About a week before her performance, Jess was told she was going to be standing in the front line on stage.  Standing next to people who had been doing kapa haka their whole lives, Jess says she put everything into her performance despite being a “bag of nerves”.

“I was absolutely buzzing when I came off stage. Whilst we were waiting for the results, an older Maori lady came up to me, took my hand and said, ‘That was the most beautiful waiata I have heard in a long time. You were  stunning’.”

Jess says she would recommend taking part in kapa haka to everyone.  “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you look like, because when you take an interest in someone else’s culture, they are beyond happy to help you understand.”

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