A group of Māori elders from the three iwi of Tauranga Moana – Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Pūkenga – are off to Wellington this week to take part in a kapa haka event to celebrate Matariki, the Māori New Year.

The Nga Taipakeke o Tauranga Moana kapa haka roopu, ranging in age from their early 60s to their late 80s, have been meeting on local marae twice a week since March to practice for Taikura Kapa Haka 2019 – part of Wellington's Matariki Festival – on June 22-23.

Nga Taipakeke o Tauranga Moana performed at the event for the first time last year and is taking a larger group of 47 his year, boosted by sponsorship from the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation.

WBOP PHO manager, Māori health Kiri Peita, said the involvement of the kaumātua in kapa haka offered a holistic benefit that epitomised hauora (health) for Māori and was aligned with the aim of the PHO to improve health outcomes for Māori.

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"They are becoming fitter and building strength and resilience. And the joy it brings to them is going to permeate to lots of Māori. Whānau will enjoy watching the livestream of the performance and recognising the waiata."

Roopu member Whetukioterangi Te Arihi (Ngai Tamawhariua) said the group would perform for 20 minutes, including haka and poi. They had chosen to perform waiata from their era, composed by their own whānau, hapu and iwi.

The Nga Taipakeke o Tauranga Moana kapa haka roopu are off to Wellington this weekend to compete in Taikura Kapa Haka 2019 as part of Matariki celebrations.
The Nga Taipakeke o Tauranga Moana kapa haka roopu are off to Wellington this weekend to compete in Taikura Kapa Haka 2019 as part of Matariki celebrations.

"They are celebration waiata that give us a lot of our history from our mothers and grandmothers and connects us back to them."

The practices usually ran for two hours, which was a long time for them to be on their feet, but Te Arihi had seen great improvement in their health over the past few months.

"In the beginning we'd race to sit down for a break but now we get by with just a two-minute break.

"In terms of hauora, the scales and breathing exercises expand our lung capacity, and all parts of the body are moving, including our eyes, which have to follow our hands. You have to listen to get the tunes right and memorise the words and actions because some of us don't know the waiata or have to re-learn them. It sharpens you up; it's brain gym."

As well as being physically active, the whanaunatanga, or social aspect of belonging to the group was important.

"I enjoy being with my mates in a world we know," Te Arihi said.

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"We have a connection and know each other's likes and dislikes. There is a real positiveness; there's no time to be down when we're together. We're responsible for ourselves and busy trying to get better at what we're doing."

She says many of the local kuia/koroua take part in other exercise programmes but often there is little motivation to stay involved long-term.

"Being involved in this [kapa haka] takes us back to who we are. It is our kori tinana (exercise), but not in a prescribed way."

Te Arihi said younger whānau saw how much enjoyment their elders were getting from being involved and couldn't wait for their turn.

"Getting older looks positive for them. They can see there is a life after work and children. And our mokopuna get really excited because Nan can do kapa haka like them."

Taikura Kapa Haka 2019 will be livestreamed via the Te Papa website.

Nga Taipakeke o Tauranga Moana will be performing at 12pm on Saturday, June 22 and again at 2pm on Sunday, June 23.