22 Feb 2017

Stage set for kapa haka festival

10:42 am on 22 February 2017

The biggest biennial Māori performing arts festival in the world opens in Hastings today.

This year's hosts, Ngāti Kahungunu, will welcome over 2000 haka performers and supporters to Te Kahu o Te Amorangi Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival.

A record number of kapa haka teams will compete for the national title and the first pool of 15 groups, Te Ihu, perform tomorrow.

Photo of Kapa Haka perfrormers at Inside Out Arohata christmas concert

Performers at "Inside Out Arohata" Christmas concert Photo: Supplied

A total of 47 kapa haka teams from all over the country and Australia have been practising for over eight months to prepare for the competition.

Te Matatini Executive director Carl Ross said they have sold 27,000 tickets and this will be one of the biggest Te Matatini competitions they have ever had since it started in 1972.

"The number of teams have started to increase, there was 161 teams that performed at the regionals and out of those regional competitions we got 47 teams for the nationals this week."

Each group is made up of 40 performers and they practise for months beforehand.

Mr Ross said it cost each performer an average of $5000 each, or a group $200,000, but the number of personal hours invested in perfecting a kapa haka performance was even higher.

"That pays for your kakahu, your wananga you have leading up to the competition, some groups will have 15 wananga and some will have 25 so it depends on how many weekends you have for live-in.

"But it also means you put in a whole lot of hours and I would estimate that just under a million accumulative hours were put in to this Te Matatini Festival over those 47 teams."

Carl Ross

Carl Ross Photo: Supplied

Mr Ross is no stranger to the kapa haka stage having performed for 43 years, first for Te Rōpū Manutaki and champion team Te Waka Huia.

He said even though the costs were high to get to the stage, the benefits were even greater.

"This actually makes us who we are, you actually stand on that stage and know you are making an investment into our country, you're actively participating in Māori performing arts and doing an art that was passed down from your ancestors.

"It's a feeling that is so exhilarating that by the time you come off stage it feels like you've only been on there for a few minutes and it's a 20 minutes performance, it's absolutely fantastic. There is nothing like it."

Hosting 47 teams and their supporters is no easy task, and iwi, hapū and the wider community in the Hawke's Bay have been putting in the extra effort to look after their manuhiri.

The Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust have donated mattress, pillows and linen to all of the marae that are hosting groups for the week.

The Trust's chair, Liz Graham, said many people had been working hard to make sure everyone was looked after and the festival was a success.

"It's so exciting and all Māori people have a sense of manaakitanga and we all want to do the best that we can for visitors and give them the most luxurious stay we can."

Local growers have also donated fruit and vegetables to all the marae who are hosting an out of town team.

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