Te Matatini - the meaning of it says it all.

"The many faces".

It was bestowed upon what had started out back in 1972 as simply the Polynesian Festival and which is now the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival by Professor Wharehuia Milroy and acknowledges the many faces who bring remarkable life and colour to Kapa Haka.

"Maori performing arts brings together people of all ages, all backgrounds, all beliefs - Maori and non-Maori alike, participants and observers," Professor Milroy said.


"When I look, I see many faces - young and old."

And those faces are of the many thousands of kapa haka performers, tutors and musicians of all ages who bring it to life at maraes, schools and across all communities at all times of the year.

And who also bring it to life at regional and national levels - and internationally.

Te Matatini is an incorporated society whose story began back in 1972 when they were part of the Polynesian Festival.

The movement grew steadily through the 1980s and 90s, and were known as Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Society until taking on the Te Matatini Society Incorporated title.

After its inception back in 1972 the festival took on a string of titles before Professor Milroy stepped up with the "many faces" Te Matatini concept in 2004, and it has stayed with that title since.

The first staging was in Rotorua and the following year it was staged there again, and from then (1973) on it became biennial.

What is set to be staged in Hawke's Bay later this month will be the 23rd festival, and will be the second appearance here.

In 1983, for what was the seventh (then) Polynesian Festival, it was staged in Hastings where Ngati Rangiwewihi, iwi from confederated tribes whose home is the Tarimano Marae in Rotorua, took out the win.

Te Matatini is also encompassed in the name of the event's sponsoring organisation - Te Matatini Kapa Haka Aotearoa and the importance of the organisation and the great festival was recognised last year through a substantial boost in government funding in the era of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

Along with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the New Zealand Ballet, Te Matatini Kapa Haka Aotearoa shared a four-year funding package of $11.6 million - a $2.9 million increase for the arts.

"All three of these organisations are producing truly world-class work and are part of our national culture," Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry said.

"This new funding represents a significant long-term boost to their budgets allowing them to push artistic boundaries and reach out to more New Zealanders."

It has come a long way from what were effectively humble beginnings, but even by 1977 when the fourth festival was staged in Gisborne it had begun to gain plenty of momentum - that event was officially declared open by Queen Elizabeth II.

It has grown remarkably, but not surprisingly as visitors not only get to experience the very best of kapa haka they also get to reconnect with friends and family and to joyfully express their loyalty and pride in their whanau there on the stage.

The festival is seen as playing a vital role within Maoridom in promoting the tikanga of the Maori culture and kapa haka (which literally means "row dance").

It is seen as a startling and valuable experience for not only the people of New Zealand but for others throughout the world.

At the 2007 Te Matatini Festival held at Rangitane in the Manawatu Bruce Elder from the Sydney Morning Herald was, to put it simply, blown away by what he saw and heard.

"All I can say is that, on the basis of what I experienced at Te Matatini, the world is missing out on one of the truly great musical experiences.

"The passion, the intensity, the sweet harmonies, the ferocity of the haka, the creativity of the groups and the sheer dedication of the performers make this an experience that lives in both the memories and the heart for the rest of your life."

At this month's festival there will be 48 teams taking part and all up there will be many thousands of participants and spectators.

It has evolved through the years to become an all-encompassing festival as in addition to taking in the amazing sights of the festival visitors can buy Maori arts and crafts, sample the traditional Maori cuisine and learn about Maori history and culture.

For the kapa haka the festival is the culmination of years of hard work, passionate commitment and devotion to take the very best to the national stage for all to see, experience and embrace.

Several days of absolute cultural brilliance.

Asked how everything was going in preparation for Hastings' second hosting of the festival, Ngati Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana simply said: "It's pumping!"