5 Feb 2017

Ngamoni Huata, queen of poi

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 5 February 2017
Ngamoni published her book 'The Rhythm and Life of Poi' in 2000.

Ngamoni published her book 'The Rhythm and Life of Poi' in 2000. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

This week in the series He Tangata Pūkenga, Te Ahi Kaa visits Ngamoni Huata at her home in Whakarewarewa.

Ngamoni Huata talks about her life in the village at Te Pakira Marae, making poi with her whanau, her no-nonsense mottos and what she'll be looking for as a judge at Te Matatini.

There are a few mottos that Ngamoni uses during this interview – "Nothing will get done if you moan about it" and another is "Just get on and do it" – simple words that Ngamoni Huata lives by.

Ngamoni says she can weave, but doesn't like to tell people that she is a weaver, and she has passion but not patience while making her cloaks, adding that when she makes a mistake she will drop the garment and come back to it later.

There are a few intricate Taniko Kakahu (cloaks) draped over a small wooden bench in her lounge, she is repairing one for her mokopuna's graduation. She has made a few cloaks over the years, some worn by Māori and Pākeha dignitaries. 

It was a skill she learned from her family who were skilled in Rongoā Māori (native medicinal plants).

Growing up in the village at Te Pakira Marae in Whakarewarewa was where she learned her craft of cutting, splitting and drying raupo – the next process was making poi.

And at the height of the tourism industry in Rotorua, she says she "lived and breathed" raupo.

Ngamoni and her sisters would go out to the swamp and harvest the raupo. They would use the residue from the skin of the raupo fibre to form the core of the poi.

It was hard work, the tourism industry meant that families in the village could make a living selling their cloak and crafts. Each whanau had their own spot in the village.  

“We had no choice because of the boom of tourism. It made it possible to have stalls along the street... each one who had stalls you knew where they sat”

Making poi for the concert groups was part of the running the village as a business.

“Today they use paper or they use foam, but when you’ve got the residue of the raupo and the harakeke you know it’s going to become heavier. When you bang it, it can hurt your hands… Have a look at the concerts today, [performing] three times in one week, and you will smash them…when I was young you used raupo”

Ngamoni Huata no Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao, Tuhoe, Ngati Rangiwewehi.

Ngamoni Huata no Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao, Tuhoe, Ngati Rangiwewehi. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Ngamoni is a leading author of the poi and her book The Rhythm and Life of Poi published in 2000.

She was encouraged to write the book by Timoti Karetu.

“He said just write about what you do... so I will always be grateful for that.”

This year Ngamoni heads to Te Matatini to judge the Poi and Manukura Wahine, or Best Female Lead.

It’s a role she says is about looking at each group carefully and ensuring their performance of the poi marries up with the story or kaupapa.

“I’ve got to mark what I see at the time and the moment. I can write down in my own notebook about why I did like then and what [points] I took off so that if there is a comeback I’m prepared for you”

Over four days, Ngamoni will join the panel and judge the 47 kapahaka groups. It’s a role that she says requires focus.

“You have got to be sharp all the time. I’m always ready for the next group. In fairness with the judging you need to be like that – tired or heavy has no place in the arena.”