Story: Kapa Haka

Page 3. 20th-century innovations

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Waiata ā-ringa

From the early 20th century, the repertoire of kapa haka included modern waiata ā-ringa. Waiata ā-ringa emerged as a combination of European tunes and traditional actions created by Polynesian ancestors, underpinned by Māori narratives. Unlike traditional haka and waiata, waiata ā-ringa include a wide range of actions that complement the words and music.

Apirana Ngata

The widespread popularity of waiata ā-ringa is largely due to the influence of Māori leader and politician Apirana Ngata of Ngāti Porou. The earliest published reference to modern action songs appears in the programme for the 1908 conference of the Young Maori Party, whose leaders included Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) of Ngāti Mutunga, and Māui Pōmare of Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Toa.

During the First World War, Ngata encouraged kapa haka to give fundraising performances for his Maori Soldiers’ Fund. After the war he collected many traditional waiata and kōrero, and in 1929 he published the two-volume Ngā mōteatea, which has remained a priceless resource for kapa haka performers ever since.

Canoe poi

The canoe poi, in which women sit in a line representing canoe paddlers, is thought to have been invented by Guide Bella of Te Arawa, who led such a performance at the Christchurch Exhibition in 1906–7.

Composing waiata ā-ringa

Many new songs were written by and for kapa haka in this period. ‘Pō atarau’ (‘Now is the hour’) was composed around 1918. This song was later performed and recorded by international artists, including the American crooner Bing Crosby.

Piupiu and other costumes

The growing popularity of kapa haka in the 20th century encouraged the use of distinctive outfits. These combined traditional Māori garments, which had by then become rare in everyday use, with more modern or reinvented clothing. The piupiu, a skirt-type garment worn by both men and women, is one of the most distinctive parts of kapa haka attire. ‘Piupiu’ means to sway to and fro. The piupiu is generally made from dried flax, which makes a distinctive noise as its strands move with the vigorous rhythm of the performance.

Musical instruments

Many popular kapa haka chose to use Western musical instruments to accompany their European musical items. The guitar was among the most portable of these instruments and rapidly became the favourite. The piano accordion was also popular in the early 20th century. At Te Matatini 2017, Te Reanga Mōrehu o Rātana incorporated instruments characteristic of the Rātana Church’s brass band.

How to cite this page:

Valance Smith, 'Kapa Haka - 20th-century innovations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/kapa-haka/page-3 (accessed 15 April 2024)

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