26 Feb 2017

Kapahaka - the pinnacle of Māori performing arts

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 26 February 2017
Te Matatini was last hosted in Hastings in 1983, back then it was called The Polynesian Festival.

Te Matatini was last hosted in Hastings in 1983, back then it was called The Polynesian Festival. Photo: RNZ/Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Over four days in Hastings, New Zealand's top kapahaka teams (and one from Melbourne) performed in front of packed crowds and a panel of eagle-eyed judges at Te Matatini.

Te Ahi Kaa gets an insight into kapahaka from Ngati Kahungunu Te Matatini board delegate Hira Huata and features archival recordings from the late, esteemed kapahaka tutor Ngapo Wehi.

Most of the 47 teams have spent the past six months practising their 25-minute bracket, which consists of seven compulsory disciplines. The groups are in three competing pools - Te Ihu, Te Haumi and Te Kei.

The final performances consisted of the top nine groups from these divisions.

Te Waka Huia carry a photo of their late tutor, Ngapo Wehi.

Te Waka Huia carry a photo of their late tutor, Ngapo Wehi. Photo: RNZ/Shannon Haunui-Thompson

The top three groups were announced on Sunday 26 February at Hawkes Bay Sports Park.

In third place was Tainui group Te Iti Kahurangi,  second place was Auckland based group Te Waka Huia  and the winning group was Whāngārā Mai Tawhiti from the Gisborne region.

Manukura tāne (Top Male Leader) was awarded to Wetini Mitai Ngatai  from Te Mataarae i o rehu and Manukura wāhine (Top Female Leader) was awarded to Pimia Wehi from Te Waka Huia.

The handing-over ceremony took place after the prizegiving.

The next region to host Te Matatini is Wellington.

Tens of thousands packed out Hawkes Bay Sports Grounds for the last four days.

Tens of thousands packed out Hawkes Bay Sports Grounds for the last four days. Photo: RNZ/Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Te Kahu o te Amorangi (heavenly cloak) was the theme of this year's Te Matatini. Hira Huata - the Ngāti Kahungunu delegate on the Te Matatini executive board - says this year’s theme is about extending manaakitanga to everyone during the festival.

The logistics of this include organising accommodation and catering for all 47 performing groups - and the gifting of a tāonga to each performer in recognition of their hard work to get to the stage.

“In kapahaka sometimes their hard work is overlooked. And we said to ourselves 'No,we need to acknowledge everybody that has spent thousands of dollars coming to kahungunu and we can only give them a touch of our manaakitanga…' We are gifting each kapa a tāonga during the prizegiving.”

The last time Hastings hosted Te Matatini was in 1983. Hira worked as a waitress alongside her mum Hinemihi.

Hira says her cousin, the late Tama Huata (1950 - 2015), set out the plans for hosting in 2005. Hira says his daughter Narelle Huata fulfilled those wishes in her role as Chairwoman of the Ngāti Kahungunu Arts and Culture Board.

A tribute to kapahaka practitioners

Te Makariini Temara was a composer and tutor of kapahaka in the Tuhoe Region.

Te Makariini Temara was a composer and tutor of kapahaka in the Tuhoe Region. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

“Māori performing arts will be more creative in terms of the creative process and I think that is one of the glorious things about kapahaka today that our rangatahi are great orators in terms of building stories and presented those stories... that have come down through the ages, mai te po kei te ao tonu inaianei. I think it’s a course of maintaining all those, with the issues that affect the māori of thirty years’ time" –
Te Maakarini Temara
(1958 – 2017)


To honour the practitioners of the arts, photos of those who had since died in the last year or two were taken onto the venue by family during the pōwhiri attended by several thousand people.

Many of the performances paid homage to those people, including Mauriora Kingi (1962 – 2015) composer Reverend Napi Waaka (1935 – 2016) and his daughter Jojo Waaka (1990 – 2017), Ngapo Wehi (1934 – 2016), Mita Mohi (1938 – 2016), Awanui Black (1968 – 2016); Matiu Dickson (1952 – 2016); and Te Maakariini Temara (1958 – 2017).

Although the first official national festival was held in 1972, many of the regions had hosted their own kapahaka competitions. In 1994 Henare Te Ua interviewed Ngapo Wehi, who recalls his pakeke from the Tai Rāwhiti (East Coast) region discussing plans to host an event in 1952.

“1953 was the first one. The competition was very tough, I mean there were eight teams there and you couldn’t tell who was going to win... I remember the gathering was quite secretive in those days all the groups who entered the competition wouldn’t let anybody else know what they were doing, the competition was real high-class” – Ngapo Wehi.

Ngā taonga Sound and Vision

Archival material supplied by Nga Tāonga Sound and Vision.