Youngest Kapa Haka group fired up

By Greg Taipari

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They may be the youngest Te Arawa kapa haka group to perform at this year's Te Matatini. However, the one thing the group doesn't lack is experience.

Nga Potiki a Hinehopu is one of six Te Arawa groups to take part at the 21st Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival from February 20 to 24.

Rotorua will host the festival which will see 41 of the country's top kapa haka groups all vying for the Duncan McIntyre Trophy, awarded to the top overall performing group at the event held every two years.

It is the fourth time Rotorua has hosted the event. The last time was way back in 1996 when Te Arawa group Ngati Rangiwewehi took the title.

Nga Potiki a Hinehopu was formed in 2011 by husband and wife, Richard and Rawinia Mitai-Ngatai to welcome home Te Matarae i Orehu after winning the title in Gisborne.

"When they came home, some of us we used to be all in the group years ago. We decided to do a powhiri [welcoming] when they came home and I think that excitement just grew, for some of us old ones," Rawinia said.

"We thought 'well okay [Te Matatini] is coming home to Te Arawa for the next nationals. We might try and put a group together.'

"Simply, we didn't go back to Matarae because their group is so young now and we didn't think some of us would even have a chance to go and have a trial. So we decided to do our own team and that's how we really came about. It's coming back to Te Arawa that is where [Richard and I] started, when we first began in Matarae."

The Mitai-Ngatai name is synonymous with kapa haka and it was no fluke the group qualified for the nationals when they finished in the top six of the Te Arawa regionals in February last year.

Richard is the younger brother of kapa haka exponent Wetini Mitai-Ngatai. Rawinia said the pair approached Wetini when it came to naming the team.

"We thought that it was proper to ask Wetini, not to ask his permission but to inform him we wanted to put a group together and we asked him to name the group. So he gave us Nga Potiki a Hinehopu, because Matarae's history is all about Hinehopu.

Rawinia said there wasn't a rivalry between the two groups.

"It's not like brother against younger brother type of thing. But I wouldn't say there is whanaungatanga [kinship] either. Like we don't mix with Matarae at any level. But we've got our nephews and nieces, that are in Matarae ... We are just another group."

As one of the tutors of the group, Rawinia said there was enough talent within the rohe (area) for Te Arawa to have another group performing.

"Rotorua is known for kapa haka. There are still a lot of people out there, who weren't in groups. So [Richard and I] think we are doing it on behalf of Te Arawa iwi, not so much as a second Matarae group.

"I think we all wanted to unhang our piupiu because we've been out of Matatini for a long time now. So we thought, it would be a good thing for the rohe we are representing, which is Ngati Pikiao and Te Arawa that's what it's all about.

"It's new for myself and my husband to run a regional and a national group. We've only done concert groups for about 20 years.

"There is only about 12 of our group who have done regional and national group level. We are trying to lift our game ... Everyone can't wait to let the people see what sort of style we have."

All 41 groups are divided into three pools; Te Ihu performing on February 21, Te Haumi performing on February 22 and Te Kei performing on February 23. Nga Potiki a Hinehopu are in what could be called the Te Arawa pool of death. The third pool is known as Te Kei. It consists of 13 groups, performing on the Saturday. It contains four of the six Te Arawa teams and only the three top teams from each pool goes through to the finals on Sunday, February 24.

Nga Potiki a Hinehopu has current national champions Te Matarae i Orehu, Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao and Nga Uri o Te Whanoa. The pool also contains two groups from the Mataatua rohe (Eastern Bay of Plenty) - Te Kapahaka o Ruatoki and Ruatahuna Kakahu Mauku.Nga Potiki a Hinehopu:

Tutors: Richard Mitai-Ngatai, Rawinia Mitai-Ngatai, Raimona Pene and Mariana Te Rangi.

Kaitataki Tane (male leader): Raimona Pene

Kaitataki Wahine (female leader): Mariana Te Rangi

Placing at Te Arawa Regionals: sixth.

Placing at previous Te Matatini Festivals: first time.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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