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 participants competed, while many more practitioners regularly enjoyed kapa haka as a non-competitive social activity.

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

Maussies at Te Matatini

The Te Matatini kapa haka festival arose from the Polynesian Festival, which admitted teams from throughout the Pacific. It later became a festival of exclusively Māori traditional performing arts. However, in 2010 Te Matatini once more became an international competition with the participation of Manawa Mai Tawhiti, based in Perth, Western Australia. The group defeated eight other Australian kapa haka teams 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 other cultural elements such as mau rākau (traditional weaponry) and taonga puoro (traditional Māori music). Teachers have found that kapa haka is an effective vehicle for teaching Māori tikanga such as pōwhiri (welcome rituals), karakia (incantations) and whaikōrero (oratory). It can also teach Māori social values and manners such as whānaungatanga (kinship), manaakitanga (hospitality) and aroha (love), along with life skills such as commitment and discipline, writing and composing ability, and memory strengthening.

At tertiary level kapa haka is a recognised field of academic study, with degree courses at several universities.

Kapa haka in national institutions

In the 2000s a growing number of national institutions, such as the Royal New Zealand Navy, maintained kapa haka teams to greet guests, encourage fitness and team spirit, and give Māori personnel the opportunity to learn and sustain their cultural traditions. All new naval recruits were required to learn the navy’s own haka. The national theatre school, Toi Whakaari, taught kapa haka to all first- and second-year students.

Tradition versus innovation

The kapa haka form continues to develop and evolve, and tensions regularly arise between advocates of tradition and innovation. Prominent leaders such as John Te Rangiāniwaniwa Rangihau of Ngāi Tūhoe, a master of the mere (club), taiaha (fighting staff) and spoken word, was also an uncompromising traditionalist who opposed controversial developments such as the participation of women in the haka. Others such as Bub Wehi (Te Whakatōhea) 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 not only traditional and timeless themes, but highly contemporary issues. Bub Wehi has written haka on the ‘fiscal envelope’ proposal to cap Treaty settlements, Māori male violence, health issues and the sale of state-owned assets. Wehi maintains that such haka are 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, a performer, teacher, composer and judge of haka, has expressed concern at the loss of tribal identity by 21st-century kapa haka groups. 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 incorporate performing styles from various iwi, and even 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 Arohanui, a large-scale performance staged in Wellington and Auckland during the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Kapa haka exponents and theatre professionals collaborated on the two-hour musical, designed to suit a mainstream theatrical audience.

  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
How to cite this page:

Valance Smith, 'Kapa Haka - Kapa haka in the 21st century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2022)

Story by Valance Smith, published 22 Oct 2014