Defending kapa haka champions focus on performance

By Greg Taipari

During the past few weeks The Daily Post senior reporter Greg Taipari has profiled Te Arawa groups performing at the 21st Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival. This week concludes the series with a profile on the defending national champions, Te Mataarae i Orehu

The Pretenders summed it up in a song - Hymn to Her - some things change and some stay the same This could be said about defending national kapa haka champions Te Mataarae i Orehu.

It was 17 years ago that Wetini Mitai-Ngatai first led his group on to the national stage. It was a hot summer's day at Arawa Park racecourse with thousands in attendance and many excited to see what the group had to offer.

It was ground-breaking not only in its high-energised style of performance but in the costumes worn at the time.

And although the group didn't win that year, finishing a credible third overall, it indicated there was more to come from Te Mataarae at the nationals.

Fast forward to the present day and Mr Mitai-Ngatai is the only original performer from that bygone era.

Some who performed alongside him that day are no longer with us, notably inspirational and former kaitataki wahine (female leader) Taini Morrison, who died in 2009. She may have gone but she is well represented by the current kaitataki wahine, her daughter, Miri Morrison-Hare, and son Whare Morrison.

Mr Mitai-Ngatai looks back on those earlier days with fond memories. Although the kaitataki wahine at the time was powerful performer Tui Ransfield, Taini Morrison was also a standout with her long white hair.

Another thing which stood out for Mr Mitai-Ngatai was the amount of energy required by all the performers in his group.

"For the programme we had [at the regionals], it was physically next to impossible [to perform]. So the following year, we ran for about eight to 10 months, before the competition [nationals]. That's been the culture of the group since its inception.

"Since our first regional where we all almost died; I was 36 at the time but, especially us older ones in the group. All we were doing, was trying not to have a heart attack before the end of the 25 minutes.

"From there on, it became let's get our health up, let's get the culture and try and draw from the past from our tipuna (ancestors) and try and include that within the constructs of today."

Fitness programmes have changed along the way for the group as well.

Now the performers use a variety of training regimes such as weights and the new sporting sensation crossfit, which is a strength and conditioning fitness programme combining weightlifting, sprinting and gymnastics.

Mr Mitai-Ngatai, who is the kaitataki tane (male leader) and tutor of the group, said he was happy with where his group were leading up to the festival especially as the defending champions.

"Every year, it's just a different challenge, whether we're national champions or not it's still something that's just part of, it comes with the territory," he said.

"You still have to come up with another programme, you still have to have the performers come up to that level of the programme and all that. So it's not worth worrying about other groups and what they're doing.

"It's just worrying about what we're doing and hoping we come up to expectations and coming up to the level and being totally focused."

The group originated from Ngati Rongomai, forming after a request from the great Te Arawa orator, Irirangi Tahuriorangi, who asked the group be led by his nephew, Mr Mitai-Ngatai.

"Really at the time he was just thinking about having a kapa haka group made up of the family in order to teach some of the knowledge that he had to the family before, I guess, he moved on."

Mr Mitai-Ngatai believes his uncle would be proud of how far the group has come since then.

It is the second time the group have held the title. Waihirere have held the title the most with five national titles followed by Whakahuia (four) and Ngati Rangiwewehi and Te Mataarae two apiece.

"He'd be proud of the achievements and that it still continues and his family is still in there and I suppose the well-being of the family, in terms of the culture, is still strong."

The defending champions have drawn pool three (Te Kei), which is being dubbed the pool of death for Te Arawa with one group guaranteed not to make the final nine.

Te Matatini National Hapa Haka Festival gets under way on February 20 at the Rotorua International Stadium, with the finals being held on February 24.

Pool three - Te Kei

Te Pou O Mangataawhiri, Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao, Te Mataarae i Orehu, Te Kapahaka o Ruatoki, Turanga Ake, Te Whatukura, Ruatahuna Kakahu Mauku, Te Ahikomau a Hamo te Rangi, Nga Potiki a Hinehopu, Nga Uri o Te Whanoa, Hatea, Tu Te Maungaroa.

Te Mataarae i Orehu:

Tutors: Wetini Mitai-Ngatai

Kaitataki tane: Wetini Mitai-Ngatai

Kaitataki wahine: Miri Morrison-Hare

Placing at Te Arawa regionals: second

Placing at previous Te Matatini festivals: two national titles.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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