He pō, He ao, Ka awatea!

Christine Reyes

Boys in the front leading the haka. Source: Yizhou Wang
St. Albans Primary School kapa haka group. Source: Yizhou Wang

Outside the St. Albans Primary School hall, howling wind and rain whipped a blustery autumn morning. Inside, however, felt like a world apart as a group of young kapa haka students stood to attention, raring to go.

It was their last day of term and with yelling in Māori ahead (as young Raumana Kumeroa puts it), the tamariki were standing with barely contained energy, bouncing in their spots and talking animatedly in hushed tones with their neighbours.

After introductions were made and a welcoming waiata was sung, then came the Haka.

Boys in the front leading the haka. Source: Yizhou Wang

Tahu Pōtiki!

(Descendants of) Tahupōtiki!

Maraka! Maraka!

Rise up! Rise up!

Gone was the fidgeting nature of the students. The boys in the front widened their stance, stomped their feet and beat their chest in time with the words. The girls’ voices rang out clear and strong as they trembled their hands, reminiscent of the summer air that represents Tāne-rore who originated the dance.

Their words echoed within the high ceiling of the school hall, reverberating a call for the descendants of Tahupōtiki, an ancestor of Ngāi Tahu, to rise up for a hopeful tomorrow.

To watch a Haka being performed, whether by young students or by seasoned performers, always seems to feel the same.

It is an expression of passion. It is an expression of identity. It is an expression of resilience from a people whose culture was almost stripped away from them, but continued to flourish and be shared with those outside of it.

“Kapa haka” translates today to groups standing in a row to dance. Source: Yizhou Wang

Practicing Haka was heavily disapproved of by early missionaries. There was a suppression of speaking Te Reo and after land loss, war and disease massively depleted the Māori population, it seemed like the culture might die out.

That was never the case. Māori population soon increased after World War II, coinciding with a cultural revival influenced by efforts from figures like Sir Āpirana Ngata and Te Puea Hērangi.

The practice of Haka and other forms of Māori arts were never in decline, only evolving and adapting within what was fast becoming a multicultural nation.

What was seen as indecent became an integral part of our nation’s identity, recognised and lauded now on a global scale.

At the end of the day’s lesson at St. Albans Primary, a few students were asked why they choose to do Kapa Haka.

“My mum and dad did kapa haka so I just followed them,” says Bailee Anderson, reflecting on the way this practice is taught down generations.

Meanwhile Mihiana Biddle’s answer, “you get to learn more Māori”, shows the interest in learning te reo today is only increasing.

Lessons on Te Reo and Kapa Haka, as well as attending cultural festivals, have become a prevalent part of growing up in Aotearoa, ensuring that the culture lives on.

Speaking on top of each other, the pure enjoyment in what the students do is palpable as they were then asked about the feelings they get onstage.

“I get nervous, but when you’re doing it, [the nerves] goes [sic] away.”

“And you’re really proud of yourself after.”

“And then you get McDonalds.”

Video by Yizhou Wang.