500-strong powhiri will show `true face of Te Ao Maori'

By Cleo Fraser

Deep, powerful voices ring out across Mauao as the men's eyes widen and their bare feet stamp the dry earth of the maunga.
It was a powerful display by the eight men and is just a fraction of the scale of the wero (challenge) that will welcome teams competing in Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival next week at Baypark.
Tauranga Moana Maori are part of a 500-strong haka powhiri group from the Mataatua region, which spans the Bay of Plenty which perform the welcome.
It is the first time the event, which runs from February 19-22, will be held in Tauranga Moana _ which is hosting the festival on behalf of the Mataatua region _ since it began in 1972.
About 200 Tauranga Moana representatives are expected to welcome people from Mataatua on Wednesday and on Thursday the region's iwi will join together for an estimated 500-strong powhiri to greet all other kapa haka teams.
Putting together the region-wide powhiri has been a challenge in itself.
The haka powhiri was organised by Awanui Black and Jack Thatcher.
Mr Black said the size and energy of the haka powhiri would demonstrate the prowess of Tauranga Moana and Mataatua.
"It's about upholding the mana of the people," Mr Black said.
"During a haka powhiri ceremony the desires and aspirations and skills of Te Ao Maori (the Maori realm/world) are at their best. This is the difference [between competitive kapa haka in present day]. It is the true face of Te Ao Maori and is where the spirit of our ancestors are felt."
To co-ordinate such a large group, DVDs and CDs were sent out and demonstrations given to iwi outside of Tauranga Moana.
Mr Black said the group, which includes about 20 men who will be part of the wero, had been practising for five weeks.
With less than a week until the festival, there is still much to be done.
A practice tomorrow at Memorial Park at 2pm is expected to draw hundreds and new participants are welcome.

It was simple, Mr Black said, not like the intricate haka demonstrated in the photo.
He said anyone could join in as the hand actions and words were simple.
"We've had a number of big occasions but this would have to be our biggest," Mr Black said.
About 40,000 people are expected at the festival and organisers estimate is could inject about $6.7m into the economy.
Accommodation outlets and Tourism Bay of Plenty told the Bay of Plenty Times last month there were few rooms left over the period. Many visitors were being referred on to Rotorua to stay.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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