Sri Lankan shows he's 'a real haka man'

By Waiariki Journalism Student, Amy Childs


He may not be Maori, but a 12-year-old Sri Lankan boy performs with the passion of a Maori in his school kapa haka group.

Anuja Palihawadana, who attends Mokoia Intermediate School, said he was interested in te reo Maori and performed in the competition because he wanted to represent his school.

"Performing made me feel really happy and I want to keep doing kapa haka when I go to high school," he said.

Anuja has been living in New Zealand for two-and-a-half years and began performing kapa haka shortly after arriving in New Zealand - first as a West End Primary School pupil then at the Devon Intermediate School in New Plymouth.

His father, Ajantha Palihawadana, said his son was fascinated with all aspects of Maori culture and liked to help represent their talents.

"I was very proud to watch Anuja and his group's abilities when they performed on stage," he said.

Mokoia Intermediate School kapa haka tutor Wharekahika Clarke said he had selected Anuja for the team because he was a good strong singer and showed a lot of commitment.

"Over the last four months, Anuja has started to understand the culture more and, in time, he will definitely grasp and come to grips with tikanga (custom) Maori," he said.

Mr Clarke was impressed not only with Anuja's complete participation and involvement in all Maori culture but also to see and hear the passion coming through during his performance.

"He stood out to me by far and particularly in the haka. He may not be Maori but he sure performed like one. He is a real haka man," he said.

Kapa haka judge Raimona Pene said when he saw or heard that kapa haka had captured the interest of people other than Maori, he was overwhelmed with pride.

"Knowing that the essence of manaakitanga (hospitality, kindness) that flows so freely within the kapa haka environment, reaches and connects with like-spirited people makes me proud. It is a doorway that allows people to partake in culture, share in friendship, and growing and developing better relationships which can only mean positive and great things for a community."

Mr Pene said Mr Clarke's love for his culture was paramount and he was a fair and honest tutor who only put people forward who could do the work.

"I would like to point out that the particular set of items Anuja performed with his fellow pupils of Mokoia Intermediate School was of intense difficulty. It was a senior bracket which demanded focus, energy and heart, and he pulled it off," he said.

"Wharekahika is a sign of the times. He is the kapa haka tutor for Horohoro Primary School and Mokoia Intermediate and is a positive Maori male role model who has his own family commitments, studies and works hard, and has his own kapa haka training to honour for the 2013 Te Matatini competition."

Mr Pene said he believed there was one word that summed up Wharekahika and like-minded people who juggled all of these types of responsibilities and that word was manaakitanga.

"It is always for the kids. We should manaaki (support) our tamariki (children) anyway we can, all of the time, and in environments where they can express themselves. Manaakitanga is the epitome of being Maori," he said.

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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