Students from across the Bay of Plenty swapped their school uniforms for piupiu skirts and painted moko for the bi-annual regional Tauranga Moana Primary Schools Kapa Haka Competition yesterday.

Thirteen groups performed throughout the day and five will be chosen to compete at the kapa haka nationals in November.

Event organiser Jack Te Moana said about 500 students attended.

Mr Te Moana said the bi-annual regional competition allowed Maori and non-Maori pupils to learn more about the Maori culture.

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Competition was fierce throughout the day, he said.

"The passion of haka which has been taught at the primary school level is incredible. They saw the nationals last year and they really want to be a part of it."

The five finalists would be chosen on how they performed the different aspects of kapa haka.

Each performance needed to include a march on stage, a traditional song, a moteatea, an action song, the use of poi, the haka and a march off stage.

"All groups have brought a high standard to each of those disciplines, it's going to be hard to judge," he said.

Each group had 28 minutes to impress the judges. Mr Te Moana said it was important to teach kapa haka to children.

"Being proud to stand up to say 'yes, I am Maori' and being proud to perform as a part of their Maori culture. But, at the same time, it's not just for Maori - it's for anybody who wants to join haka."

The use of the traditional Kiwi dance could also be used to unify people, he said. "Especially families and people from all walks of life too."

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Lead male performer from Te Puna Primary School Amorangi Kuka said kapa kaka was compulsory at his school and he enjoyed the traditions. "It's a part of our culture. It's about of who we are. It's also the way we tell our stories," he said. Amorangi said he enjoyed being able to perform with friends and family.

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