Story: Kapa Haka

Page 2. 19th-century kapa haka

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Missionary responses

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 try to prohibit all haka, waiata tawhito and other traditional chants as accompaniments to hymns.  Williams and other missionaries 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. In about 1871, King Tāwhiao’s bodyguards were heard singing Māori songs to English melodies at Horahora.

Entertaining tourists

The first local haka concert groups appeared in the 1880s. European tourists preferred to hear live performances by Māori of songs with European melodies, as many Pākehā found the style of traditional chants distasteful. Kapa haka used popular English tunes of the day, replacing the English lyrics with Māori poetry.

First overseas tours

Haka and waiata tawhito survived as part of the repertoire of haka concert parties. Several kapa haka, 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 United Kingdom 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 Rātana Church, the Kīngitanga 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 United Kingdom 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.

  1. Wellington Independent, 13 April 1869, p. 3, (last accessed 9 February 2023). Back
How to cite this page:

Valance Smith, 'Kapa Haka - 19th-century kapa haka', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 May 2024)

Story by Valance Smith, published 22 Oct 2014, reviewed & revised 9 Feb 2023