Foreigners teaching haka: 'The words were wrong, and the actions'

10:31 am on 9 October 2018

The haka is one of the most recognised cultural tāonga from Aotearoa - but is there a threat of it being exploited as it grows in popularity?

Ngāti Rānana perform a haka for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall

Ngāti Rānana perform a haka for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Photo: Courtesy Clarence House / Richard Lewis

A Māori owner of a United Kingdom-based kapa haka company says it is vital to protect the integrity of the haka - but a Dutchman who also offers kapa haka experiences says it is there to be shared by everyone.

Karl Burrows runs Haka-Works, a UK-based company which offered haka workshops for corporate clients.

At any one event he can demonstrate kapa haka to thousands of people - and he has worked with giant global brand such as Google, IBM and Vodafone.

"What tends to happen is we work through agents who can identify clients and they propose us to their clients."

Mr Burrows said he could book up to 40 events a year and most of his business came from the United States.

He said he understood how much of a taonga haka was, having grown up versed in tikanga (protocol) around it.

"The responsibility falls on us, people who are teaching, who are Māori, just to really emphasise that this is something that's sacred to us."

He had heard of people who were not Māori in Europe offering kapa haka services.

"It used to make [me] squirm. It used to make it be really angry - but I think we need to be out there challenging those people."

Freek Zilvold offers haka experiences in the Netherlands and Belgium as part of a leadership workshop.

Mr Zilvold does not have Māori whakapapa and was taught the haka by his Dutch colleague. He also learnt from YouTube videos and online material.

He said he was drawn to the power of the haka - and he wanted to share it with others.

"When I see other people experiencing that power, that self-confidence, then I'm sure this message, the experience is a true one, an authentic one."

But when RNZ asked him about the authenticity of his haka experience, Mr Zilvold said he was comfortable with what he offered.

"People in China do a [Dutch] wooden shoe dance and make money off that, for the example yoga which originates from India is very popular in the west."

Mr Zilvold said he wanted to travel to New Zealand to learn more about the haka and improve his experience.

"I'm here to give an experience that helps people [to be] more confident in their lives."

Tapeta Wehi is a tutor for the five-time national Te Matatini Kapa Haka champions Te Waka Huia and also offers haka experiences in New Zealand.

He has seen recent examples on Facebook of kapa haka being taught overseas in the wrong way.

"Kei te hē ngā kupu. All the words were wrong and the actions and stance - it can't just be anyone teaching our art form you know, it's a taonga for us."

For the last 30 years, haka has allowed Mr Wehi to travel the world - but the haka still struggled to gain recognition back home.

"Europe, the Middle East, Kenya - taking our culture and sharing it with the world and when we get home we do crawl back under the log we came out of."

Mr Wehi said kapa haka was strong in te ao Māori, and this would be on display at the Te Matatini Kapa Haka Nationals at Wellington next year.

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