at Kapa haka is com­pul­sory Te Kura Kau­papa Maori a Rohe o Man­gere, where the thumps of stamp­ing feet echo through the class­rooms. Metro joined stu­dents as they pre­pared to com­pete on the na­tional stage.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - Aimie Cronin Story Stephen Lang­don Pho­to­graphs

“Agh, John Key. There’s peo­ple that’s liv­ing in poverty and are sleep­ing in cars, and him say­ing he doesn’t no­tice it? That’s why we do most of our haka to him. E, Ki! E, Ki! E, Hone

Ki! Kai a te ahi! Kai a te kuri! He kai ma oku toki e! (‘Is that right, John Key? You will be food for my fire! Food for my dog! Food for me!’)”


Where bet­ter to start than with the girl who stands front and cen­tre. Ruhia Henare-Sa­muels, named af­ter her pa­ter­nal great-grand­mother and a child of Ngati Raukawa ki Tainui, Ngati Awa, Nga­puhi and Tuhoe, is 17 years old, supremely tall, with long hair that trails down her back in a plait she shakes out and plaits again, shakes out and plaits again.

This girl calls kapa haka her life. Most lunchtimes, she leads her peers as they prac­tise their rou­tines, and with her com­plete lack of fuss or in­struc­tion, she in­spires in them some­thing like unity. As she looks out past ev­ery­thing that’s con­crete and she starts to sway, it’s as though she’s whis­per­ing to them, quiet now, be­gin.

Later, some­one refers to her as Ruhia the Mo­ti­va­tor, and she de­serves a sort of ti­tle, grand like this. She says she has to be the boss be­cause she is the old­est of five kids: “I have to yell my lungs out be­cause they don’t lis­ten!” That’s why, she says, she al­ways com­plains of a sore throat, when re­ally she speaks in a whis­per so low it’s im­pos­si­ble to hear her with­out lean­ing in. In song, she closes her eyes for long stretches as she sings up to her ances­tors, her eye­lids dot­ted with dark freck­les. Her karakia sounds like in­side there lives a kuia, and yet to look at, she’s a half breath away from wo­man­hood.

Any day now, Ruhia Henare-Sa­muels will rep­re­sent her school, Te Kura Kau­papa Maori a Rohe o Man­gere, in the Nga Manu Ko­rero speech com­pe­ti­tion fi­nals, where she will speak in her na­tive tongue for 12 min­utes about te reo and whether it will sur­vive the next 100 years.

“I reckon it’s gonna die,” she says. She could cry at any mo­ment. “Kapa haka will go down the drain, too. In­stead, ev­ery­one will be singing songs like ‘Watch Me Whip.’”

Ma­nurewa is home to our hero. There, she sees poverty all the time and she sprin­kles spare change into out­stretched hands as she comes out of the dairy. As she wan­ders away, she won­ders whose fault it is that there are beg­gars on the streets. Is it theirs or some­one else’s? She al­ways thinks about that.

When she stands be­hind the boys dur­ing haka, like the rest of them she calls out a chal­lenge to Prime Min­is­ter John Key writ­ten by her teacher: te kak­enga a Nga Hau Man­gere o Ho­turoa, the lazy winds of Man­gere are ris­ing, an anger is build­ing. “Agh, John Key,” she says. “There’s peo­ple that’s liv­ing in poverty and are sleep­ing in cars and him say­ing he doesn’t no­tice it?” That’s why, she says, “we do most of our haka to him”. E, Ki! E, Ki! E, Hone Ki! Kai a te ahi! Kai a te kuri! He kai ma oku toki e! (“Is that right, John Key! You will be food for my fire! Food for my dog! Food for me!”) Some of the kids here say they don’t feel no­ticed, but dur­ing kapa haka they feel im­mensely pow­er­ful.

It is said by the haka master, Henare Te­owai, that in kapa haka the whole body should speak, kia ko­rero te ka­toa

o te tinana, and these kids dis­play that dur­ing each of the three dis­ci­plines: wa­iata a ringa, haka and poi. Dur­ing haka, they are war­riors, eyes wide, tongues out, hiss­ing like hot onto cold. “Not nec­es­sar­ily to scare peo­ple,” says Ruhia. “It’s to show we are not happy with what is hap­pen­ing in our com­mu­nity.” When per­form­ing the poi, the girls imag­ine a lover and they gig­gle and their hips shake. “In kapa haka, you have to be like Short­land Street and change char­ac­ter,” Ruhia says.

“We’ve been do­ing it for for­ever,” says the prin­ci­pal’s son Te Ruki, 16. “Since we were in nap­pies.”

Ev­ery­one at this school can sing. Dur­ing wa­iata a ringa, the boys at the back lis­ten to their sis­ters, and Wakaw­iti Paratene says “it feels like a heart beat­ing”.

Te Kura Kau­papa Maori a Rohe o Man­gere is a full-im­mer­sion Maori school with a roll of 240 stu­dents. It starts at Year 1 and goes all the way, and here kapa haka is a com­pul­sory sub­ject from day dot. As proof, you can hear a never-end­ing thump of chil­dren’s feet echo through the class­rooms, and the bore­dom of prac­tice with only the teacher watch­ing that sounds in their voices as they re­peat songs they more than know.

When the kapa haka group trav­els to Mid­dle­more Hospi­tal to per­form in the en­trance­way for 30 min­utes, their sound is so pow­er­ful, it must echo as a gift into ev­ery ward. There’s noth­ing like an au­di­ence to give their rou­tines a good dust­ing off, and they puff out their chests and roar with a to­tal lack of aban­don that chal­lenges the very thing that makes them teenagers.

Prin­ci­pal Lucy Te Moana speaks about kapa haka with pride in her kids. She says it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery one of them per­forms to some level “be­cause kapa haka is their cul­ture. It helps them learn who they are, their his­tory. It grows lead­ers and writ­ers and the kids shine when they do it. They love it.”

Most al­ready know the songs when they ar­rive to start school. “We’ve been do­ing it for for­ever,” says the prin­ci­pal’s son Te Ruki, 16. “Since we were in nap­pies.”

Out­side of the kapa haka that is built into the school’s cur­ricu­lum, a dozen stu­dents gather to prac­tise away their lunch breaks in an­tic­i­pa­tion of Te Wananga o Aotearoa Kapa Haka Su­per 12s, a fiercely fought na­tional com­pe­ti­tion that will take place on July 9 as part of the Matariki Fes­ti­val. The event is in its sixth year, but it’s the first time the school has en­tered a team. Changes in the com­pe­ti­tion mean this

year school teams will com­pete against adults, and even though these kids would like to win first prize ($12,000), as much as any­thing they are ex­cited about per­form­ing on stage at The Cloud on Queens Wharf. “It’ll be mean as,” says Ruhia.

They are not sure who will take them yet; hope­fully they will go in the school van, hope­fully driven by Povey Moses who the kids say has been some­one they turn to when re­hearsals go awry. He’s good at kapa haka, says Ruhia. “He’s creative as, but we don’t want to have to ask him all the time, he’s busy.”

Each day the bell rings for lunch and they find an empty class­room to chore­o­graph their moves, brain­storm words for their songs and haka. Some­times a teacher will call in on them, of­ten not.

“No one is tu­tor­ing them, eh,” says Moses, a 32-year-old me­dia stud­ies and te reo ran­gatira teacher, two years into his ten­ure at the school. “I’m not tu­tor­ing them. [It was] men­tioned at a meet­ing, who is gonna tu­tor the kids? I said, I’ve got a baby son.” His school days can no longer ex­tend through to nights and week­ends now that he has his own lit­tle one, and he lists the names of other teach­ers who are al­ready de­vot­ing much of their free time to the school. Though some of the teach­ers have said they will keep an eye on the group, Moses says, “these kids love kapa haka that much, they teach them­selves”.

“Who wants to teach at a low-decile school in South Auck­land?” says Moses, and he an­swers the ques­tion him­self: “No one.” Not ex­actly true, and he knows he is hy­per­bolis­ing, but he says that of­ten he feels like he and his col­leagues are on this ride with scant sup­port from the out­side.

Hit the news but­ton on Google af­ter en­ter­ing the search term “Man­gere” and you soon get a feel for the out­siders’ view of the place. A fa­tal shoot­ing, a story about home­less­ness, a high-risk sex of­fender placed me­tres away from a Man­gere school, a new­born given shel­ter at the lo­cal marae. It mightn’t make the list as a Sun­day drive des­ti­na­tion and yet miss­ing out on these kids means the joke is on us; noth­ing comes close to their com­pany, watch­ing them per­form.

Of course, there’s Ruhia, but there are oth­ers, too. There’s Henly, this im­mense kid, who hides down the back — “I’ve just re­joined the group, Miss, my mum’s sick” — who lolls on the ground, who has to be wooed onto the stage, whose strength when he per­forms is ter­ri­fy­ing and bril­liant. There’s Hautu the joker, pulling his pants up, muck­ing around, then ex­plod­ing into song with his per­fect sound. There’s Te Ruki, the gen­tle one, who wants to be part of the group but lets him­self only as far as the edge of it. There’s Wakaw­iti, who plays down his role and calls it “help­ing out with the boys”, who wants to be Prime Min­is­ter, who took up kapa haka af­ter watch­ing his fa­ther per­form, a fa­ther who now lies buried back home in Taranaki. And there’s Gailen, named af­ter his un­cle who died at birth, who thinks about his un­cle as he per­forms the haka ,“about how life would be dif­fer­ent if he was alive”.

Piki­rangi is the girl who looks into the eyes of the crowd to make sure they are smil­ing back at her be­fore she can rise up and out be­yond it all, re­as­sured, who

wants to study to be­come an ac­tor at a place her teacher told her about de­spite never hav­ing been to a play. And there’s dear Anamoerangi, who hides half her face un­der her scarf, who prefers song to speak­ing and says, “I can’t live with­out kapa haka”, who would like to teach at a school in her home­town, Tau­marunui, even though Opo­toki is her favourite place, be­cause “the school where I was raised is not re­ally do­ing well and I want to help”.

Be­fore they go on stage, they reach into them­selves and ac­cess things they have felt in their short lives. “If you’ve got anger in­side you, you use it in the haka,” says Piki­rangi, “and if you look at all the hap­pi­ness life has, you use it in the poi.”

At the mo­ment, there are con­stant whis­pers among them about Te Puea Marae, just down the road from this school, the place that has reached out to care for its peo­ple while the gov­ern­ment stut­ters. The stu­dents have been ask­ing to go there and sing and Ruhia says some will take cans of food from their own hun­gry cup­boards. “Lately there’s a lot of peo­ple stay­ing at the maraes,” says Piki­rangi, “it makes us wanna change things.” She says peo­ple think teenagers don’t worry about money, “but our whole school wor­ries about fi­nan­cial things, in­clud­ing the teach­ers; they worry for us”.

Here at kapa haka prac­tice, the Su­per 12 kids ap­pear used to mak­ing things work with lit­tle or no money. “We just have to use the re­sources at this school and that’s, like, pretty hard, be­cause we need ex­tra stuff.” It’s the clos­est Ruhia comes to com­plain­ing. Any pos­si­bil­ity of bud­get that will al­low them to buy props and cos­tumes will be min­i­mal. Some teach­ers have said they will dig out old uni­forms for the stu­dents to wear, and op­ti­misti­cally they say this could work, per­haps as a nod to kapa haka through the ages.

This com­pe­ti­tion is all about be­ing mod­ern and in­no­va­tive within the frame­work of tra­di­tional kapa haka. In terms of other teams and their bud­gets, event pro­ducer Mikki-tae Ta­para says most get “quite a bit” of sup­port from their com­mu­ni­ties. “It’s a nice prize pool

“If you’ve got anger in­side you, you use it in the haka, and if you look at all the hap­pi­ness life has, you use it in the poi.”

if they are suc­cess­ful, but they don’t have to have the dol­lars, they just have to have the skills and cre­ativ­ity.”

Past en­trants have dressed as nin­jas and an­i­mated Dis­ney char­ac­ters, and the win­ning team from Whangarei last year themed its per­for­mance around the flag de­bate. Mikki-tae says that while tra­di­tional kapa haka will al­ways hold the pres­tige and mana within the Maori com­mu­nity — “it’s the big mama” — the Su­per 12s could be viewed as a fu­sion of old meets new, “the street ver­sion of the bal­let. It’s a break­away of tra­di­tion for the ran­gatahi, so they can have a laugh and play. We don’t do that enough.”

And in­deed, the kids of the Man­gere kura seem to be hav­ing fun as they work out their rou­tine. At one point there are whis­pers that four mem­bers of the team have let the school down while on a class trip and Ruhia wor­ries they will be banned from the group, but on they go.

They watch past en­trants on YouTube — “Whoa, they are mean as,” says Ruhia, “how do they come up with this kind of stuff ?” It’s as though they are in­tim­i­dated by the so­phis­ti­ca­tion they see in oth­ers and don’t be­lieve they pos­sess it them­selves. They talk about how a whole group did their rou­tine in high heels. High heels! Some­one sug­gests they use glit­ter on their bod­ies, but they won­der aloud if there will be money to buy it.

When they fool around and mimic the kind of dance they see on Amer­i­can pop videos, they show a nat­u­ral abil­ity to move, but the thought of trans­fer­ring any of that ma­te­rial to the tra­di­tional kapa haka they have been raised on seems in­con­ceiv­able. That’s just not how it’s done. “We’ve never done any­thing like this in our lives,” says Te Ruki. In­stead, they de­cide to use the tired old song “Lean on Me” as a back­ground to their wa­iata, and even pick­ing the tempo up on that has them twin­kling.

At times they come un­stuck, with­out help or hope of it, and Ruhia the Mo­ti­va­tor wan­ders around, for­lorn, be­fore gath­er­ing them back in again. Wakaw­iti stands at the white­board and pa­tiently writes up new lyrics as they come. Slowly, a story comes to­gether for their haka, about the har­vest­ing of ku­mara and pota­toes around the time of Matariki, about how it gath­ers them all to­gether as one, and Ruhia finds her fire again. “You’d be sur­prised how fast we can learn songs,” she says, “we can write a new one and learn it that day, that’s how keen ev­ery­one is to do Su­per 12s.”

Maybe they won’t be the best when they ar­rive at Queens Wharf to com­pete that day, but try and find another group that will have worked harder un­der these cir­cum­stances. “The odds are stacked against our kids,” Moses says. “If they can fin­ish school they are sur­vivors. If they can fin­ish school and go to uni, they are do­ing re­ally, re­ally well.”

He says kapa haka has el­e­vated sta­tus at the school partly be­cause it trans­ports them out of their worlds. “It’s es­capism. They can es­cape from what­ever they are go­ing through at the mo­ment, through all of their tri­als; they can use it to get away. When you see them on stage, they are so free.”

In 2008, PhD stu­dent Paul Whit­inui did a the­sis on the topic of kapa haka and its ef­fi­cacy in schools, and it proved all the things this kura be­lieves to be true. He found it has a pos­i­tive im­pact on Maori par­tic­i­pa­tion, that stu­dents who are in­volved in kapa haka want to be at school. As a re­sult, he said, the suc­cess rate for Maori “was more con­sis­tent when learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties to nur­ture their iden­tity, self-worth, con­fi­dence and pride in be­ing Maori”. The value of kapa haka in ed­u­ca­tion, he went on to say, “is that Maori stu­dents have a valid learn­ing ap­proach to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing their lan­guage and cul­ture through the art of mov­ing and per­form­ing”.

Ruhia puts it another way: “With­out kapa haka, you’re not a Maori, I reckon.”

To Gailen Mor­gan-Ta­hapehi, 16, kapa haka is the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of Maori­tanga, “and if you can ex­press your own cul­ture, then pshhh,” he says, “you’re the man.” When he is about to go on stage, Gailen tells him­self that this is an art form, here to help him ex­press his thoughts and show some­thing of his spirit. “On­stage the ner­vous­ness just, poof, dis­ap­pears,” he says, and he can’t re­mem­ber a thing af­ter. “My best is when I come off voice­less, tired, and my whole body is red, from head to toe, ev­ery­thing red, and I feel like I wanna fall over and stay down for ages.”

Some­times he gets to be leader of the group and in those times, when he sees oth­ers who don’t ap­pear to be con­fi­dent, he pulls them aside and gives them the same talk he gives him­self. He says to them in his gung-ho way, “Imag­ine your­self as the per­son ev­ery­body de­pends on. When some­one feels they are on their own, they will turn to you and you have got to be the per­son who is will­ing to step up.”

Gailen be­lieves each must be strong for the other, and through his ex­pe­ri­ence of lead­er­ship, of com­mu­ni­cat­ing his mes­sage, he has ex­pe­ri­enced de­grees of suc­cess and dif­fi­culty. Not ev­ery­one wants to lis­ten to him, this young whakakeke (quiet) kid, learn­ing the art of good lead­er­ship as he grows. “He is a leader,” says Moses, “he’s get­ting there.”

A lot of these kids are still find­ing them­selves, says the teacher. He be­lieves the group is full of po­ten­tial lead­ers. Take Ruhia. “She has re­ally stepped up,” he says. “She is a quiet leader. She’s not the one you hear first, she’s not the one you see first, but she is al­ways the per­son do­ing the work in the back­ground. She is al­ways watch­ing and think­ing about oth­ers.”

These days, Ruhia feels “con­fi­dent as”, be­cause she looks at her group and sees them as an ex­ten­sion of her­self. “Get­ting brought up to­gether since we were five, that’s a close-as bond,” she says. “That’s what is good about this school: ev­ery­one is fam­ily.”

On the day of the Su­per 12 com­pe­ti­tion, she knows she will be away from her com­mu­nity and that makes her ner­vous. “I won’t know any­one [in the crowd],” she says, “and I won’t know how they will re­act.” She will wear the heart-shaped taonga that was passed down to her when her nan died and she will kiss it back­stage be­fore she goes on.

She for­got to wear it today and she touches the place where it would usu­ally sit. She low­ers her eyes. “Not many peo­ple think hapa haka gets you any­where,” she says in a whis­per, “but it does, ac­tu­ally. It gets you any­where around the world.”

“They can es­cape from what­ever they are go­ing through at the mo­ment, through all of their tri­als; they can use it to get away. When you see them on stage, they are so free.”




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