As Te Matatini goes ahead following a devastating cyclone, Kahumako Rameka reflects on her journey thus far and how kapa haka can bring hope to Aotearoa.
It’s difficult to imagine how devastating the cyclone’s effects have been for so many whānau across Aotearoa.
The largest kapa haka competition in the world is still set to take place in a few days - and it has left 10 competing groups severely disadvantaged.
As te ao Māori go back and forth debating whether or not the continuation of Te Matatini is a positive thing, I came across one Facebook post that perfectly captures my feelings on the situation.
“Te Matatini could be the last thing you need or just the thing everyone needs,” said Hikurangi Jackson.
Not only is Te Matatini the largest kapa haka competition in the world, it’s the highest competitive level a kaihaka (performers) can reach.
I can appreciate how difficult it must be for the whanau affected to see such an event take place in these challenging times, but I also know firsthand the powerful healing environment that kapa haka and the coming together of Māoridom can foster through the sharing of expression, love, and hope.
I am one of the hundreds of performers meant to be taking the stage over the next week, and this Te Matatini campaign has been pivotal in my lifelong kapa haka journey.
My relationship with competitive kapa haka is young in comparison to many others in the game, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was, but haka? It was second nature to me.
Raised on the shores of Taupō moana, I was homeschooled within Te Ao Māori, my life was immersed in pūrākau (stories), karakia (incantations), waiata (song), haka (war cry), and mau rākau (weaponry).
Competitive and non-competitive kapa haka isn’t as prominent within Ngāti Tūwharetoa.
Growing up, the only Māori performing arts festival I was familiar with was Te Matatini; a biennial summer holiday where my family and I would load up our suitcases, tarps and kai-filled chilly bins to travel the nation and enjoy the incredible performances.
At 13 I was propelled into the world of competitive kapa haka through secondary school and later into senior competitions; this sparked a deep passion within myself for what I know “kapa haka” to be now.
Covid-19 has postponed the Te Matatini competition since 2019, for te ao Māori, it’s been a long five years of waiting. But with that long wait came a one-time rule for the upcoming competition, allowing non-qualifying kaihaka to join qualifying teams of the same region.
Performing at Te Matatini for me has always seemed far-fetched, but as we come into 2023 I’ve found myself travelling to Maketū every weekend to join Te Arawa’s youngest competing team, Te Hekenga-ā-Rangi, in their first journey to the competition.
The decision to join the campaign didn’t come lightly as the scheduled rehearsals in Maketū demanded almost every weekend be put aside to practise from September through to February. Which makes up almost 19 weekends of dedication.
As a young adult living in Tāmaki Makaurau, thinking of driving over six hours every weekend, surviving non-stop working weeks, and missing out on quality time with family and friends was a lot to consider.
But an opportunity presented itself, which meant I had to decide, and what compelled me was the group’s name: Te Hekenga-a-Rangi, the ancestral lineage pertaining to the god Pūhaorangi.
And as Tūwharetoa, descendants of Ngātoroirangi; a prominent figure of this ancestral lineage, I knew I was making the right decision.
While Te Hekenga-ā-Rangi are Te Matatini first-timers, many of their members have years of kapa haka expertise under their belts.
Rotorua is the cultural centre of Aotearoa, which means kapa haka is a professional path for many Māori there, leading to decades of performers honing their skills, and raising the calibre of kapa haka within their region. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to observe and absorb this level of proficiency.
Having the opportunity to be tutored by the likes of Dan and Hiria Vaka and the many pillars who make Te Hekenga-ā-Rangi, is a chance for me to take these teachings home to strengthen this tāonga (treasure) of kapa haka within my own people of Ngāti Tūwharetoa.
This will be my first Te Matatini performance, and usually, I come into it knowing nothing and expecting everything.
This time around I know the stories we will be delivering, I know the amount of love and passion that will be poured into this performance, and I hope everyone who watches it will feel that love, especially now.
I’m humbled to share this first-time experience with Te Hekenga-a-Rangi.
Kahumako Rāmeka is a Youth News specialist at the NZ Herald who hails from Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Rangitihi and Ngāti Mahuta.