Kiwi Culture Explained 1: Kapa Haka

Thursday, February 21, 2019

You may have seen hakas performed on the sports or cultural stage around the world or watched a pōwhiri (Māori welcome) on the news, but you’ve never experienced an event like this before!


1. What is kapa haka?
Kapa haka - or traditional Māori performing arts, are a mixture of song, dance, traditional weapons/objects and chanting. Performed on marae grounds, at schools or during festivals, kapa haka performances are emotional and powerful events that are a privilege to behold/be part of.

  • Kapa (form a line, stand in a row)
  • Haka (dance)

Not just a war dance, as many believe it to be, there are many different types of haka. Each are set-up to match the occasion. Haka’s include foot-stomping, chanting, strong hand movements and thigh/arm slapping. At times, performers include traditional weapons such as the taiaha and patu, in their haka. The most famous haka in the world is performed by the All Blacks rugby team before every match.

2. Kapa haka performance elements

  • Waiata (songs) & waiata-ā-ringa (action songs)

A central element of kapa haka, these can be laments, love songs, fun, serious, fast or flirtatious, depending on the context/performance.

  • Poi (ball on a cord)

A form of dance performed by wahine (female) dancers. Performers swing, spin and twirl their corded balls attached to flax strings in unison with all the other dancers on stage. Originally used by wahine to keep their hands flexible and by men for strength/coordination training. The poi can be on both short and long strings, depending on the performance.

  • Pūkana

Facial expressions (such as frowning, stretching out the tongue or opening the eyes wide) are an extremely important part of the performance. The face is used to display the emotions/passion of the performer and put emphasis on the actions that they are undertaking.

3. Cultural kapa haka experiences to find around NZ

  • NZ Tattoo 2019, Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North, Friday 12th April & Saturday 13 April 2019, 6:30pm to 8:45pm. A celebration of New Zealand’s military and cultural traditions, this event will include kapa haka performances.
  • He Piko He Taniwha, Hamilton Gardens, Wednesday 27th February and Thursday 28th February 2019 at 6pm.
  • SPCA Open Day (and 100 years of Fever Hospital), featuring a kapa haka performance by Clyde Quay School. Saturday 16th March 2019, 10am to 3pm, Wellington SPCA building, 140 Alexandra Road, Newtown, Wellington.
  • Māori Television has the kapa haka regionals available to view on Freeview (Channel 5 = English & Channel 15 = Te Reo), SKY (Channel 15 & 82) or Vodafone TV (subscription required). Māori Television also has online streams for those that would prefer to watch kapa haka events without having to travel across the country to see them. You will need to create an account to watch online.

4. Kapa haka Championship

Standing out from other kapa haka events across the country is Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival. Every two years, the Te Matatini Society holds the world’s largest kapa haka celebration and this year’s event will be held at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium over the next few days from the 20th to 24th of February 2019. The event began yesterday with a powhiri in Waitangi park and is into its second day today. Tickets can still be purchased for the event here. Te Matatini ki te Ao 2019 is the most anticipated event of the year for performers and Kapa Haka enthusiasts around the world. 46 teams will compete in this years competition. The team that finishes first place in the prestigious competition is awarded the supreme title of Toa Whakaihuwaka (overall winner). Wellington has even adapted their crossing lights in honour of the event!

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