I have branched out into a completely new hobby recently, and taken part in my first-ever kapa haka show of traditional Māori performing arts, as a member of the Royal New Zealand Police College kapa haka team.
In the Te Kōnohete festival kapa haka teams from various government departments come together to show off their traditional singing and action skills. Out team is made up of serving police officers (they’re obviously the ones in police uniform in the video) and civilian police staff, along with some partners and kids.
The video is a little shaky at the start, but that quickly goes away and you get a good steady shot with good sound quality. As a newbie, I’m in the back row, by the way, so you only see me walking on at the start!!
From a wargaming point-of-view, two things of interest:
- The deep sound of the conch-shell being blown at the start. These were used during Māori battles (as well as elsewhere in the Pacific). The conch is really difficult to blow, but our guy got it right on the night.
- The haka (wardance) about two thirds into the video. While this is the official New Zealand Police haka in this case, it is based on the warrior dances of old.
So what is kapa haka?
Kapa Haka is an ‘invented traditon’, a contemporary performance practice that collates, codifies and aestheticises a constellation of traditional elements, from ritual to entertainment. It was developed from the elements of Māori protocol, in particular the powhiri (ritual of encounter) and the concert party (performances given for guests on a marae, the traditional meeting ground for Māori).
The individual practices that make up Kapa Haka have long histories, but Kapa Haka (kapa means line or row, and haka means dance) in its current form took centre stage relatively recently, with the first national Māori Performing Arts Festival in Rotorua in 1972.
The performance is both theatrical and sporting, a competition for prizes and a demonstration of physical prowess at the same time that it is also a display of artistry in song and dance …
… the shape of the performance itself is much the same as it was four decades ago. Teams of thirty to forty men and women each, representing iwi (tribes) or rohe (tribal areas), compete, one after the other, in tightly structured and timed twenty-five minute performances for prizes based on their mastery of language and for their performance of set pieces: whakaeke (entrance), waiataaringa (action song), poi dance (with balls on string), moteatea (chanting), haka (men’s dance) and whakawatea (exit) …
… Kapa Haka and its constituent practices seem to be everywhere these days, often in contexts that are flung farther and farther from the marae and well and truly outside Māoridom. It’s not just the All Black football team’s haka, or the tourist shows in Rotorua. To be a New Zealander, whatever one’s background, now means being familiar with the basics of Māori culture, to be able to say “kia ora” (hello) when necessary and, if not to be able to sing and dance along, at least to be able to position oneself appropriately on the sidelines while others perform. Schools across New Zealand, even those without Māori students, have Kapa Haka groups that perform at assemblies. Community organisations and civic institutions add karanga (call), haka (dance) and waiata (song) into the start of events such as flower shows, arts festivals and citizenship ceremonies, events that have little to do with Māori culture and with few Māori present.
Mazer, Sharon. Performing Māori: Kapa Haka on the Stage and on the Ground. University of Canterbury, New Zealand. 2011.