Debbie Ngārewa-Packer: Kapa haka stage for Māori to look at past, present and future in NZ


This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend Te Kāhui Maunga “Haka tū, Haka ora” regional Kapa Haka in Whanganui. There’s an extraordinarily short list of “positives” that have come off the back of Covid-19 in the last year, but one of the only notable benefits I’ve seen for our whānau is the regional ngāhau kapa haka.

Usually, the regional kapa haka competitions are tinged with an underlying feeling of stress, pressure, discipline and excitement. Covid-19 saw a more relaxed alternative – a non-competitive, ngāhau-style showcase in which whānau from all walks of life shared the stage.

It was breathtaking to see our whānau come together, koko, kuia, mokopuna and rangatahi alike. I was moved by the beauty of my rohe (region), Te Tai Hauāuru, on full display.

Getting to hear our old people sing our waiata, watching as Pātea Māori Club performed their iconic catalogue from “Aku Raukura” to “Poi e”. The pride beaming off of the many faces of audience members watching in awe.

Kapa haka is about honouring our past and envisioning our future. Groups shared their dedications to community leaders and whānau members who have passed away. And they had me bawling my eyes out the whole time! What it really showed me is that we are magic people.

I hosted a stall at the event which was adorned with signs exclaiming “He Māori Ahau”, “Proud To Be Māori”, and “Whānau First”. I felt privileged to share space and bring together our community members through kōrero and sharing.

Many different whānau and groups came through our stall that day including the wāhine from #SmearYourMea, nurses administering flu shots, tamariki and rangatahi laughing and taking selfies.

Recent research has looked at the multitude of benefits of kapa haka, as a tool for intergenerational healing for our whānau. “Ngā Hua a Tāne Rore,” a report commissioned by Te Manatū Tāonga and Te Matatini, and written by researchers at Te Kotahi Research Institute, highlighted that kapa haka fosters a richer, more cohesive and inclusive society in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is obvious that kapa haka has diverse benefits for the wellbeing of whānau and communities.

A lot of our efforts lately have been going towards fighting racism and intolerance, especially after the white supremacist video threats we received just weeks ago. Too often it seems our kapa can become an “easy target” for this kind of racist abuse. With one example being the racist abuse that was hurled at a rangatahi from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rito, who were doing a haka in a Kāpiti District Council chambers meeting.

Kapa haka is one of the most visible parts of our culture as Māori, it is one of the parts of our culture that wider NZ is happy to adopt as part of our global image. Yet this representation can often come as a double-edged sword making us targets for Pākehā fragility, and those who believe it is better we repress who we are in favour of a Pākehā norm.

Last election, Te Pāti Māori developed our Toi Māori / Ora Tangata policy which suggested significant social investment be made to Te Matatini and other community kapa haka organisations.

Kapa haka has been historically underfunded and under-resourced despite the evidence for its multifaceted benefits for our people. If this weekend was anything to go by, I believe more than ever in the value of such an initiative and the possibilities that it will bring in uplifting and empowering our people.

We at Te Pāti Māori have dedicated a lot of time recently to thinking about and envisioning what a future for tangata whenua in Aotearoa looks like.

We are working towards what it looks like for Māori to live as their unapologetic selves, and to imagine a future where we are healed from the colonial trauma which we all experience.

Intergenerational trauma requires intergenerational healing. Through kapa haka, I see our whānau pull from the puna and wells of knowledge that our tipuna left for us, an opportunity to move forward and build resilience together. And I’m excited for that future.

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