Belief drives haka group

By Laurel Stowell


Ratana's kapa haka group is taking an uplifting message to national competitions this weekend: God is there as a refuge.

"There's a lot of things going on within Maoridom at the moment, all the trials and tribulations we are going through now - over land, over water. At the end of it all we can turn to God," Te Reanga Morehu o Ratana tutor Te Taepa Kameta said.

He composed Whakapikiora, and much of the rest of the half-hour performance the Ratana group will give. His intention was to enlighten people living in darkness, and people hurting or grieving - "spiritually, mentally and physically, and not only that but the land as well".

The sparkle, strength and vigour of the 40-strong group certainly had that effect at the dress rehearsal at Ratana Pa on Saturday afternoon.

About 300 people of all ages were there for the performance. It was the last before the team appears on the national stage at the kapa haka nationals, Te Matatini, at 3.40pm on Friday.

Also there representing the Aotea Region will be Wanganui group Te Matapihi and Taranaki group Nga Purapura o Te Tai Hauauru.

The crowd's chatter stilled as Te Reanga Morehu o Ratana filed into the room, the women in piupiu and woven bodices and the men in the traditional maro (loincloths) with thighs and buttocks stained red and feathers in their hair.

Their performance was tightly choreographed, with advancing, retreating, singing, chanting and calls from seven traditional shell trumpets, representing the seven brass bands of Ratana. Voices raised in song made the roof ring, and the floor was pounded by taiaha in a ferocious haka composed by male leader Tema Hemi. The whole act was so energetic, skilful and spirited that it brought Te Tai Hauauru MP Tariana Turia, one of those watching, to tears.

Mr Kameta said he been coaching the group for 10 years, and this year is the fourth time he has taken it to the nationals. He's especially excited this year because they are in Rotorua, his home town.

He said Ratana singers were well known for their sweetness, and his training had added kapa haka volume. The group has been practising since September, at Ratana and Whangaehu Marae, and increased its efforts since January 25.

It will be the only group in the competition that is based on a church rather than a tribe, and Mr Kameta said its programme was based around the Ratana faith. Its opening number referred to Te Rere o Kapuni (Dawson Falls) which was significant to founder TW Ratana. Its haka referred to a number of prophets, and the red colouring on the men is traditional and also represents the Holy Spirit "being around us all the time and getting us through our work that we do on stage".

Preparing for the competition takes a lot of effort, Mr Kameta said.

"Every year we try and come up with something new. We've been trying to keep it within the boundaries and without trying to be like anyone else."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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