The group at dress rehearsal last month. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

It’s been almost 20 years since Wairarapa was represented at the National Kapa Haka Championships but this Saturday a group of 40 Ngati Kahungunu performers will take to the stage to compete.

The group found out they’d be competing at the national festival after coming second at a regional competition last April and they’ve been training since September.

Kapa haka performer Ririwai Fox said the group competed under Ngati Kahungunu but both Wairarapa iwi, including Rangitane, would be represented.

He said the group was guided by founding principles of te reo Maori and Te Aho Matua – the framework for Kura Kaupapa Maori.

“We’re representing the whole region,” he said.

“We’re putting Wairarapa on the map in the Maori world.”The official theme of this year’s festival is ‘Te Matatini ki te Ao’, meaning ‘Te Matatini to the world’.

The group performing at kapa haka regionals last April.

On Saturday the group will perform six items including an entry, poi, motetea, action song, haka and exit piece.

Fox said many of the stories contained in the pieces were either political or historical in nature, sharing the stories of Wairarapa Maori.

“I want people to know it’s more than song and dance. We’re trying to share something with the world.

“We’re trying to deepen our connections so that we can be strong Maori,” he said.

For leader Irihapeti Roberts, it’s about more than kapa haka – it’s a social movement.

She said many of the performing group had come from perceived disadvantaged parts of the community.

“We’ve been labelled by some as made up of street kids from the block.”

Roberts said the colours of almost every Wairarapa gang were represented, but all that was put aside for kapa haka practices and strict rules banning alcohol and drugs were enforced.

“While it’s kapa haka, they’re being taught how to live in the world. It’s about living a healthy lifestyle.”

There’s a strong focus on health at weekend practices, with mixed-martial arts and Zumba lessons to start the morning rehearsals and fruit and vege snacks served during breaks.

“We want positive social outcomes for our families and our communities,” she said.

Roberts and Fox both grew up during the Maori renaissance, learning te reo at kohanga and kura kaupapas.

“We are from the era where the kohanga reo and Kura Kaupapa movement started,” Fox said.

“This is about that revitalisation.”

Ngati Kahungunu prophet Paora Te Potangaroa spoke of how the language would be lost but would be brought back by the children.

The group comprises Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitane descendants from all over the country, with members coming from as far away as Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua, Auckland and even Brisbane.

Roberts said the group had been working hard to make their families proud.

Even if the group didn’t win, she hoped members would take the lessons they had learnt and apply them to their everyday life.

“The change starts here with us, if our language and protocols are to continue to exist, we must continue our culturally embedded practices,” she said.

“Te reo Maori must become a priority in our homes and most importantly, in the hearts and minds of all those who call Aotearoa, home.”

Though only 40 members will perform on stage at Saturday’s event, with five in reserve in case of injury, the kapa haka group is made up of hundreds of volunteers sacrificing time and money to get them to nationals.

More than 60,000 people are expected to watch the 46 ropu [groups] compete at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

Maori Television Linear and Online Te Matatini Broadcast Schedule

Day One – Thursday, February 21

On-air and online 8.30am-7.40pm

Daily highlights 8.30pm-1pm (TV only)

Day Two – Friday, February 22

On-air and online 8.30am-7pm

Daily highlights 8.30pm-11pm (TV only)

Day Three – Saturday, February 23

On-air and online 8.30am-7pm

Daily highlights 8.30pm-11pm

Day Four – Sunday, February 24 (FINALS)

On-air and online 8.30am-4.30pm

Watch on Maori Television on Freeview channel 5, Sky channel 18 and online at Maoritelevision.com