16 Sep 2022

Māwai Hākona kapa haka group reflect on te reo Māori journey

From Checkpoint, 6:27 pm on 16 September 2022

Next year Māwai Hākona which only has a few members left will celebrate 50 years since winning the Polynesian Festival which is now known as Te Matatini.

The group won the second year of the first kapa haka competition back when it was called the Polynesian festival in Rotorua in 1973.

A tutor at the time, Nanny Hine Poa, remembers being frightened.

"It was scary, it was our first really big outing nationally, we were really really lucky that year. We won must of the areas that were to win," Poa said.

At the time the majority of the group were from all different areas of Aotearoa.

To help make up numbers they had to look far and wide to recruit members because they had no men.
Nanny Hine said they even went to a prison.

"They let us have a van load of boys to come down and practise, and they brought an officer with them and took them back each time so we were able to actually have a haka team," Poa said.

Adam Langford was not originally a member and came along to watch his wife perform during training.

But despite being an Englishman from Lancashire, he was soon adopted into the rōpū.

"Aunty Dovey Katene you know she came over and said Adam come on get up 'but I'm not a Māori', she said when you come here you are Māori, get up. So I've been getting up ever since," Langford said.

Heemi Kara praises the founders Jock McEwen and Dovey Katene for their originality in creating waiata.

But he said despite advances with kapa haka, it's now too professional for his liking.

"It's Māori in another cloak, we're talking about originality, today it's showmanship," Kara said.

He prefers kapa haka sticks to tikanga without all the acting like it was in its heyday.

Next year will be their 50th anniversary since winning and although they sit between the ages of 80-90+, they remember the waiata they sung that day well.

They also performed at the Sydney Opera house, that same year they won.

But behind the scenes, it was dire, a time when Māori were coming out of an era of being strapped for speaking the reo at school.

The year before Māwai Hākona won the national Polynesian Festival was the year the Māori language petition was delivered to Parliament.

In that time the three of them say that kapa haka and te reo Māori has come along way but there's still lots of mahi to be done.

Hine wants every school to have a Māori tutor to help grow the language.

"You were lucky if you had one Māori tutor in a school and they had to do the whole school, where as now you've got so much more choice but we don't have enough te reo Māori speaking people to choose the best we can to further the reo," Poa said.