25 Jun 2018

Kaumātua roll back the years at kapa haka festival

1:46 pm on 25 June 2018

The living legends of kapa haka converged in Wellington over the weekend for the 10th anniversary of the Kaumātua Kapa Haka festival.

Around 500 performers in their seventies, eighties and even nineties took centre stage and showed off the familiar waiata and haka from their rohe.

Morris Walden, a performer of Taranaki ki te Tonga, had come to the festival for the last 10 years.

There was nowhere to go for kaumātua to perform kapa haka before that, he said.

"Ninety percent of the folk here were always, going back 40 years or more, involved in kapa haka. But when you start to get to about 60, or 65, where was the place for those folk?"

That place became the Kaumātua Kapa Haka festival, known now as the Taikura Kapa Haka, which started in 2007 in Palmerston North.

It was initially an addition to the national kapa haka competition Te Matatini, but Mr Walden said the competition veterans stole all of the attention.

"The hot-shots in Te Matatini, they were on one stage and the aged and weary were on another. But too many people were watching the aged and the weary, not watching the hot shots."

Taikura Kapa Haka 2018. Ngāti Wai Taikura – Taitokerau.

Ngāti Wai Taikura - Taitokerau Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

This year's festival was the first for Gisborne group Rongowhakaata.

Tutor Teina Lee Moetara said it was incredible seeing his people roll back the years and find their feet on stage all over again.

"Some of them have been communicating how unsure they are around standing on kapa haka stages. I think what's re-emerging for them is, oh, I remember what this feels like again and it comes with a whole lot of goodness."

The festival is a friendly event and performances aren't judged, but don't tell that to the Auckland Anglican Māori Club.

Its leader, John Tapene, said the inter-iwi rivalry was the best part.

"Like it or not it is our own version of competition and so you wanna try and be tidy, you wanna try and sound tidy [and] you wanna look tidy.

"I love digging at Ngāti Porou and if I didn't then they'd know that something was wrong with me. There's always that friendly rivalry going on between iwi, between whānau [and] between hapū and it's hugely valuable."

These kaumatua have set the bar high for the upcoming National Secondary Schools kapa haka competition which kicks off next week.

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