From their arrival in the early 19th century, Christian missionaries strove to eradicate the so-called ‘war dance’, along with other forms of Māori culture that they saw as conflicting with Christian beliefs and practice. The Reverend Henry Williams of the Church Missionary Society felt it necessary to prohibit all old Māori customs, including songs and dances. Missionaries aimed to replace the haka, sacred waiata and other traditional chants with hymns. They encouraged European harmonic singing as part of the process of conversion.
By the mid-19th century Māori were competent at singing hymns in harmony. They also appear to have adopted Western-style musical forms for their own purposes. By about 1871 King Tāwhiao’s bodyguard was heard singing Māori songs to English melodies at Horahora.
The first kapa haka concert groups appeared in the 1860s, especially in the Rotorua region, which by then was a popular tourist destination. European tourists wished to hear live performances by Māori of songs with European melodies, since many Pākehā found the ‘discordant’ monotony of traditional chants distasteful. Māori kapa haka groups used popular English tunes of the day, replacing the English lyrics with Māori poetry.
First overseas tours
Haka and mōteatea (traditional chants and songs) survived as part of the repertoire of kapa haka concert parties. Several groups, often performing a mixture of traditional, European-influenced and entirely European items, toured internationally in the late 19th century. Dr McGauran’s ‘Troupe of Warrior Chiefs, Wives and Children’ included a haka in a show that appeared in Sydney and Melbourne in 1862, and toured the UK the following year.
Welcoming the royal family
Distinguished visitors such as members of the British royal family have customarily been greeted with traditional Māori ceremony. The first such visit, by Queen Victoria’s son Prince Albert, took place in 1869, while the New Zealand wars were still being fought. As the prince arrived at the wharf in Wellington, he was greeted by a vigorous haka. The Wellington Independent reported, ‘The excitement of the Maoris becomes uncontrollable. They gesticulate, they dance, they throw their weapons wildly in the air, while they yell like fiends let loose. But all this fierce yelling is of the most friendly character. They are bidding the Duke welcome.’1
Kapa haka in Māori institutions
Kapa haka also became a regular feature of celebrations within major Māori institutions such as the Ringatū Church, the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) and the Parihaka community led by Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.
Renowned touring parties
By the early 20th century kapa haka performances were well established as entertainment representative of New Zealand. The famed Te Arawa tourist guide Mākereti Papakura led her group of performers to Australia and the UK in 1910–11. Tainui leader Te Puea Hērangi’s troupe, Te Pou o Mangatāwhiri, toured the North Island for some years from 1922, raising funds to build Tūrangawaewae, the Kīngitanga centre at Ngāruawāhia.