Kapa Haka, Te Manauha and Whakataetae History
IIn New Zealand, over 400,000 people a year — including almost half of all indigenous Polynesian Maori — attend some type of kapa haka or traditional Maori performing arts presentation.
Like all Polynesian peoples, the Maori of Aotearoa as they call New Zealand, have engaged in these traditional performing arts — songs, dances and chants — for centuries. By 1911, the first known Maori performing group successfully toured Great Britain.
The Ngati Poneke multi-tribal kapa haka group, formed in Wellington in 1937.
(National Library of New Zealand photo)
The Polynesian Cultural Center, which opened in 1963 — 50 years ago, has proudly featured Maori kapa haka ever since in its spectacular and authentic Aotearoa marae or village, as well as in our outstanding evening show, Ha: Breath of Life.
The first national Maori Traditional Performing Arts Festival, now called Te Matatini or "the many faces" in the Maori language, premiered in 1972 and is held every other year in various locations around New Zealand.
Seamus Fitzgerald [pictured at right], the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Aotearoa Village manager and Maori cultural specialist, has attended several recent Te Matatini Festivals, where as many as 40,000 people watched over 1,200 competitors in 45 groups over three days.
Fitzgerald, who is originally from Turangi, New Zealand, explains, "There's a regional competition every two years, and a national competition on the opposite second year. The level of competition is awesome.”
He adds that since 2003 the format of PCC's Te Manahua Festival follows the outline of Te Matatini competitions in New Zealand, but of course on a much smaller scale.
“Having groups like Hatea perform in our 2012 Te Manahua Festival shows everyone what level Maori performing arts can achieve. They brought an element I’ve been speaking about for years, but many here have never experienced. For us being Maori in Hawaii, seeing their kapa haka and hearing them sing was inspiring. It lifts our motivation to do more,” Fitzgerald says.
“In addition to their own presentations, they and the two singers — Maisey Rika and Ria Hall — were involved in every part of Te Manahua. They supported everything and they wanted to give more. It was great having them here. Many of them made comments about how proud they were to see Te Manahua and the quality of performances here.”
Fitzgerald paraphrases John Rangihau, a well respected Maori leader and scholar, who years ago made a statement that the name Aotearoa means Land of the Long White Cloud, “and when a piece breaks off from the main cloud, it disappears.”
“He was saying, Maori who leave Aotearoa struggle to maintain their cultural identity, but we have been so fortunate to have a marae and whare here which has required us to maintain our cultural heritage. Maori coming here from New Zealand for Te Manahua may not expect much from us so far away from home, but they quickly become pleasantly surprised at the level of quality. All the elements of having Maisey, Ria and Hatea here, with our judges, and the quality of performances made Te Manahua 2012 the best we’ve had so far. It sets the bar for where we want to go in the future.”
“Our Maori culture back home is so spectacular at the moment,” Fitzgerald continues. “What we’re doing with the music, for example, is evolving. Hatea, which won the choral category in the past few Matitini festivals, sings in six and seven-part harmony. We were amazed, but a lot of groups are doing that now: The sound is so full that it’s all encompassing of your emotions.”
“In fact, the level of competition is so high that Te Matitini has recently expanded its field of finalists from six to nine.”
Fitzgerald also noted that when Darrin Apanui, Te Matitini chairman of performing arts, visited the Center in 2010, “he was so supportive of us that he sent judges to our next event, namely, Pauline Hopa and Donna Grant. They are now on the Te Matitini board of directors, and the upshot of all of this is that our Te Manahua winner is now invited to compete in the Australia regionals as a possible entrant in the New Zealand nationals.”
Fitzgerald pointed out following up on such an opportunity would require lots of effort and fundraising by the whole community. “We would have to take the best from all our local groups if we were to go to Australia,” he said. “For years I’ve had the dream that one day a group from Hawaii would go, and that I could be a part of it.”
Meanwhile, as Fitzgerald and the committee look to the Polynesian Cultural Center’s 50th anniversary in 2013, they’ve scheduled Te Manahua on August 30-31, 2013 — two days prior to the beginning of the PCC’s weeklong golden anniversary celebration from September 1-8.
“I want to stress that in the years we’ve been doing this, we haven’t lost sight of our goal to provide a platform for the children of Maori who live here and those who love Maori culture to learn high standards of kapa haka,” Fitzgerald said. “Each year I hear comments from people, thanking the Polynesian Cultural Center for sponsoring Te Manahua. We’ve been going for 12 years so far, and we’re moving from strength to strength. Please join us.”