Story: Kapa Haka

Page 5. Kapa haka in the 21st century

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Local, regional and national competitions

By the 21st century, kapa haka was a firmly established vehicle for sustaining and developing Māori language and culture. Tens of thousands of people compete, while many more regularly enjoy kapa haka as a social activity.

In addition to the national Te Matatini competition, local and regional events attract dozens of teams and thousands of spectators. There are regional and national competitions for primary and intermediate schools and high schools. Te Ahurea Tino Rangatiratanga, the Auckland regional secondary schools’ kapa haka competition, has been held annually since 2000. Te Mana Kuratahi is the national primary school competition.

Copyright issues

Since all major competitions are televised and broadcast online, the desire of groups to use popular music from artists across the globe can cause difficulties. At the national secondary school competition in 2022, for example, two of the 90 items could not be broadcast as the original artists declined permission for their use. Some tutors see this as an opportunity for kapa haka to produce more original works.

Impact of COVID-19 on kapa haka

Competitive kapa haka experienced a two-year hiatus from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Te Matatini Herenga Waka, Herenga Tangata, due to be held at Ngā Ana Wai (Eden Park) in 2021, was postponed, and the national secondary school competition was moved online. In their place, a series of regional, non-competitive events known as Haka Ngahau ā-Rohe were staged around the country. In July 2022 Tāmaki Makaurau hosted Tāmaki Herenga Waka, Herenga Tangata Hakangahau.

Mozzies at Te Matatini

Te Matatini kapa haka festival arose from the Polynesian Festival, which accepted teams from throughout the Pacific. It later became a festival of exclusively Māori traditional performing arts. In 2010 Te Matatini once again became an international competition with the participation of Manawa Mai Tawhiti, based in Perth, Western Australia. The group had defeated eight other Australian kapa haka to win the right to represent their adopted country at Te Matatini.

Educational benefits

Kapa haka has been found to provide a variety of educational benefits. It can revitalise and promote te reo and tikanga Māori, incorporating cultural elements such as mau rākau and taonga puoro. Teachers have found that kapa haka is an effective vehicle for teaching tikanga Māori, including pōwhiri, karakia and whaikōrero. It can also teach Māori social values such as whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and aroha, along with life skills such as commitment and discipline, writing and composing, and improved memory.

Kapa haka is a recognised field of academic study, with degree courses at several universities.

Kapa haka in national institutions

In the early 21st century a growing number of institutions, such as the Royal New Zealand Navy, maintain kapa haka to greet guests, encourage fitness and team spirit, and give Māori personnel the opportunity to learn and sustain their cultural traditions. All recruits are required to learn the navy’s haka. The national theatre school, Toi Whakaari, teaches kapa haka to all first- and second-year students.

Welcoming celebrities

Esteemed guests and touring celebrities are often welcomed into the country by kapa haka and the formalities of a pōwhiri. Members of the royal family, former United States president Barack Obama, singer Billie Eilish and actor Jason Momoa have all been welcomed in this way.

Tradition versus innovation

The kapa haka form continues to develop and evolve, and tensions regularly arise between advocates of tradition and innovation. Some prominent leaders, such as John Te Rangiāniwaniwa Rangihau of Ngāi Tūhoe, a master of the meremere (short stone weapon), taiaha (long wooden weapon) and spoken word, were uncompromising traditionalists who opposed developments such as the participation of women in haka. Others, such as Bub Wehi (Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) not only encouraged women to take part, but in 1990 armed them with traditional weapons, provoking uproar in the audience.

Present-day battle haka

Newly composed waiata and haka address both timeless traditional themes and contemporary issues. Bub Wehi wrote haka on the ‘fiscal envelope’ proposal to cap the amount of Treaty settlements, Māori male violence, health issues and the sale of state-owned assets. Wehi maintained that such haka were present-day equivalents of the warlike challenges of pre-European times. ‘These days the wars are not hand-to-hand combat but have become more politically orientated.’1

Tribal identity

Te Rita Papesch of Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Whakaue, a performer, teacher, composer and judge of haka, has expressed concern at the loss of tribal identity in 21st-century kapa haka. In earlier times groups were clearly associated with a specific iwi, and the language, body movements and repertoire of their performances demonstrated and upheld that tribal identity. More recently, however, groups have incorporated performing styles from various iwi and from other Pacific traditions, such as Hawaiian, Tahitian and Rarotongan cultures.

Professionalising kapa haka

A further matter for ongoing debate is the extent to which kapa haka can be incorporated into the commercial world. Te Matatini has explored professional opportunities for leading exponents such as a large-scale performance staged in Wellington and Auckland during the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament. Kapa haka exponents and theatre professionals collaborated on Arohanui, a two-hour musical aimed at a mainstream theatrical audience.

Valuing kapa haka

Several academic studies have been completed into the value to the nation of kapa haka. One study in 2022 by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Māori Centre of Research Excellence found that kapa haka provided Māori with ‘precious opportunities to be completely and unashamedly Māori, to stand with pride and enjoy a sense of belong’, as well as pathways to access mātauranga in a uniquely Māori context. It also found kapa haka provided opportunities for Māori to express themselves and perform as Māori within a largely monocultural society, and improved the well-being of the wider Māori community. They argued that kapa haka is ‘life-saving and life-enhancing’.2

  1. Quoted in Bradford Haami, Ka mau te wehi: Taking haka to the world: Bub & Nen’s story. Auckland: Ngāpō and Pīmia Wehi Whānau Trust, 2013, p. 218. Back
  2. Linda Waimarie Nikora et al., The value of kapa haka: an overview report. Auckland: Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, 2022, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

Valance Smith, 'Kapa Haka - Kapa haka in the 21st century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

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