Story: Kapa Haka

Page 4. Urban groups and formal competitions

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Kapa haka and urbanisation

The Māori population experienced rapid urbanisation from the 1930s. The first urban kapa haka were formed to provide a cultural connection for those separated from their culture by urbanisation. While these groups continued to serve the earlier functions of fundraising and tourist entertainment, they were also a vehicle for preserving Māori language and customs.

Winning combination

Ngāpō (Bub) Wehi of Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu, and Pimia (Nen) Wehi of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Te Whakatōhea and Te Whānau-a-Apanui led their kapa haka to win numerous national Māori performing arts competitions – twice with Waihīrere Māori Club and four times with the Auckland-based multi-tribal group Te Waka Huia. Their groups also represented New Zealand at four South Pacific festivals, the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia. To provide an income for members, Te Waka Huia gave paid performances at Auckland War Memorial Museum for 14 years.

Pan-tribal kapa haka

Unlike earlier kapa haka, many of those formed from the 1930s included members from a number of iwi. Ngāti Pōneke was formed in Wellington in 1936. In 1969 Pita Sharples of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Te Kikiri o te Rangi and Ngāti Pāhauwera set up Te Rōpū Manutaki in Auckland. Kīngi Īhaka of Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa formed the Auckland Anglican Māori Club in the same period. Te Kotahitanga o Waitaha was established in Christchurch in the early 1970s. Other influential groups still reflecting the traditions of their local iwi were Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū, formed in Tokomaru Bay by Tuini Ngāwai (Ngāti Porou) in 1939, and Waihīrere Māori Club, formed in Gisborne by Wiremu (Bill) Kerekere (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki) in 1951. There were around 50 active senior kapa haka in New Zealand and Australia in 2022.

European melodies

The waiata these groups performed typically set Māori lyrics to popular European tunes such as ‘Que sera, sera’ and ‘Don’t be cruel’. Although the groups’ leaders and elders were generally native speakers of the Māori language and well versed in traditional music, they drew on European musical forms to attract younger members and provide a gateway to traditional culture. Tuini Ngāwai used popular tunes of the day so that young people would listen to the messages in her songs, expressed in classical Māori. For a later generation, Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi of Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Koi set Māori-language lyrics to a hip-hop beat by Dalvanius Prime of Tainui, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngā Rauru, Pakakohi and Ngāi Tahu. The Pātea Māori Club’s performance of the resulting song, ‘Poi e’, became a huge hit in 1983. Pēwhairangi and Prime brought te reo Māori and kapa haka into the mainstream, and the international recognition made New Zealanders proud.

First formal competitions

The growing number of local kapa haka led to regular regional and national competitions. These events became a substitute for the warlike demonstrations of tribal pride that were a part of Māori society for centuries. One of the earliest kapa haka competitions was at the 1934 Waitangi Day celebrations, when the Terahi Rose Bowl trophy was presented to the iwi scoring the highest overall points for Māori song, oratory and haka.

Taumaunu Shield

Kapa haka in the Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne) region held their first annual competition shortly after the Second World War. From 1953 the top trophy was the Taumaunu Shield, presented to commemorate Karaitiana Taumaunu, a prolific Te Aitanga a Hauiti composer. Competition grew so intense that during the rehearsal period teams would deploy spies to report on the repertoire of their opponents.

Haka goes global

In 1963 Te Arohanui o Te Iwi Māori, a group of about 150 kapa haka performers based at the Temple View Mormon centre in Hamilton, travelled to Laie, Hawaii, to complete a Māori village at the Polynesian Cultural Centre. The group then toured California and Utah and appeared on the Danny Kaye show, a top-rating nationwide TV programme. Their tour was a critical and commercial success, and was followed in 1972–73 by a further, but less successful, US tour by the New Zealand Māori Company. Pātea Māori Club also toured the US, playing at the Irving Plaza and Disneyland’s 30th anniversary celebrations. A number of kapa haka have performed at the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawaii and the annual Te Maeva Nui festival in Rarotonga.

Polynesian Festival

By 1972 at least 13 regional competitions were taking place regularly. In that year the first Polynesian Festival was held at Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, as a national competition between the top regional teams. The festival’s original aim was to raise the standard of performance for tourist entertainment, but rising concern about preserving the Māori language and other elements of traditional culture gave it greater importance. In 1983 the Polynesian Festival became the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival, and teams from other Pacific Island nations were no longer eligible to compete.

Te Matatini

In 2004 the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival was renamed Te Matatini. The term ‘matatini’ (‘many faces’) was coined by Wharehuia Milroy (Ngāi Tūhoe) in reference to the number and diversity of the participants. Te Matatini, held every two years, has become the country’s largest Māori performing arts festival. Te Matatini ki Te Ao, held in Wellington in 2019, reached almost 1.4 million people, most of them online. Audiences could access a simultaneous English translation service throughout the live stage performances. About 40 haka teams, totalling some 2,000 performers, made it to this national competition after doing well in regional competitions.

Each team performs six disciplines – whakaeke (entrance), waiata tawhito (traditional song), poi (song with poi), waiata ā-ringa (action song), haka and whakawātea (exit). Waiata tira (choral) is an optional extra. Teams compete for the winning manukura wahine and manukura tāne (female and male leaders), kākahu (clothes), te kairangi o te reo (excellence in Māori language), and titonga waiata hou (new composition).

In 2022, Te Matatini celebrated its first 50 years by releasing a book and web series that followed the making of three albums of waiata from across the half-century of competition. Led by music director Rob Ruha (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Porou), Te matatoa featured a remastered item from each winning bracket. Te matakāinga contained re-recorded waiata from each of the 13 regions, and Te matakōkiri was a selection of popular waiata, re-recorded.

How to cite this page:

Valance Smith, 'Kapa Haka - Urban groups and formal competitions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

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