- By Lawrence Wharerau (Kaiwhakataki: Programme Coordinator, Māori, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Every two years the crème de la crème of kapa haka artists put their reputations on stage and on show. Dubbed the Olympics of traditional Māori performing arts, Te Matatini is an essential biannual booking in many Māori calendars.
This year’s festival (Feb 23-26) was hosted by Ngāti Kahungunu, at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Sports Park. The event ran across four days, with 47 teams of 40 members each competing in pool rounds for the first three days. The finals on the last day then featured the top three performing groups from each pool.
The competition was fierce and the performances even more so, as groups competed for the auspicious and highly coveted Duncan MacIntyre trophy presented to the overall winner.
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision were invited to have a presence in the corporate sponsors area by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage Manatū Taonga along with Creative New Zealand. As Kaiwhakataki – Programme Coordinator, Māori, I curated a number of screening programmes to be played out on a large monitor in the tent we shared with MCH and CNZ. Pou Ārahi for Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, Honiana Love, also attended as part of the archive’s work developing iwi relationships.
The programmes shown included the 1986 Te Karere Special Highlights package from the last time Ngāti Kahungunu hosted the national haka competition, and featured many noted Māori leaders and personalities who have since passed on: broadcasters John Tahuparae and Whai Ngata, iwi leaders such as Rev. Wi Te Tau Huata, Tanga Tomoana, Sir Hepi Te Heuheu, Sir James Hēnare, Mita Mohi and many others. The programme also offered a rare glimpse of the current Māori leader Kīngi Tuheitia performing with the kapa Taniwharau. There were also compilations of pre-competitive performances dating back to 1901.
We were lucky enough to have the Te Karere special programme screened on five huge screens situated around the complex, during the lunchbreak on the last two days. The screenings were received with huge delight and participation from the attending crowds, with people pointing at the screens and calling out to those they remembered from the past, and notable for reducing the past Minister of Māori Development, Tā Pita Sharples, to tears.
Crowds were estimated at 30-35,000 during the pool rounds, peaking at 45,000 attendees on the finals day. Crowd flow and behavior was exemplary at the drug-free, alcohol-free, smoke-free, violence-free family orientated event.
As hosts, Ngāti Kahungunu set the bar high for the next regions hosting the event. Marae stays were the preferred mode of accommodation, with all the kai being supplied to the competing groups. This was a mammoth task when you consider that each group travels with at least another 50-60 support people – so while there may be 40 people representing on stage, each entourage has something in the range of up to 100 people in tow. That doesn’t count others who will travel in support of each team, neither does this account for the thousands of haka-mad people there to support all performances.
The smooth operation of moving large crowds and keeping people watered and fed is further testament to the organizational capacity of the paid and volunteer staff involved behind the scenes. Kai of all descriptions – the whitebait and pāua fritters were a hit with one particular person there – was readily available, as well as chill-out zones, watering stations, clean toilets, clear in and out gates to the mosh-pit, VIP areas, fan zones. These all contributed to an awesome event and great overall advertisement for Māori Performing Arts.
This year’s ultimate winner was Te Kapa Haka o Whangarā Mai Tawhiti representing the East Coast based in Whangarā, where the 2002 feature film Whale Rider was shot. Controversy surrounded the announcement of the winning kapa as Te Waka Huia, another performing group, had taken out most of the aggregate trophies. This is because the aggregate scores are taken from the performances in the pools section. The overall winner is judged on their performance on finals day, and while each team that made it through to the finals day’s competition lifted their on stage presence, Whangarā Mai Tawhiti had the edge on the rest of the competition.
Wellington region will be hosting the 2019 event. Mā te wā…