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Kapa haka set to dance its way into Wellington’s DNA

Te Matatini Ki Te Ao National Kapa Haka Festival will see Wellington’s cultural pulse get a good workout when the leading event for traditional Māori performing arts makes its home at Westpac Stadium.

From 21-24 February the biennial festival will see 46 passionate teams from around New Zealand and Australia compete at the stadium in what is effectively the kapa haka world championships.

One of the performers is Gisborne-based Louise Kingi who has performed at every Te Matatini Festival since its inception in 1972. She has helped her team win five national titles including the inaugural ‘72 title.

Teams will stay in a range of hotels, motels and marae across the Wellington region including as far as the Hutt Valley and Waikanae.

The 2019 iteration of Te Matatini has taken a giant leap forward with the festival being held for the first time at the premier sports stadium – Westpac Stadium – located in the heart of a major city. Ticket sales have been strong and record attendance is anticipated.

Festivities kick off with a Pōwhiri today (20 February) at Waitangi Park where up to 5000 people are expected to attend including the Māori King, Te Arikinui Kiingi Tuuheitia, and Wellington Mayor Justin Lester.

Te Matatini Festival is a family-orientated, health-focused event. It’s alcohol and smoke-free and a range of caterers handpicked by festival officials will provide a range of healthy beverage and food options which does not include fried food. A giant kids playground will be set up just inside the main gates and traditional Māori arts and craft stalls will satisfy those looking to take home a special memento.

Kapa haka performers put in as many training hours as traditional athletes but unlike attending a rugby or football match at Westpac Stadium, there’s no need for spectators to sit in a specific seat, although some areas are reserved as a fanzone. So why not bring along a blanket and find the perfect position on the stadium’s hallowed turf to enjoy the on-stage action.

And what a stage it is, incorporating the world’s largest carving, “Te Mahau Ko Te Matatini”. Spanning more than30 metres and towering more than 13 metres into the air, the carving embraces the festival stage and its korero (narratives) celebrate traditions and connectivity between people and regions. It was created by carvers from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. Unveiled at Te Matatini 2013, it has become a permanent stage fixture at subsequent festivals.

While 44 of the teams are from New Zealand, including three from Wellington, there is also a team each from the Australian cities of Perth and Sydney who have their eyes set firmly on kapa haka glory. Members of the Australian-based teams are colloquially referred to as Mossies (short for Māori Aussies). The 2011 Australian Census revealed nearly 130,000 Māori lived in Australia, with two thirds of this population born in New Zealand.

Kapa haka is performed using te reo Māori but those with little or no understanding of the language can get to grips with the story unfolding on stage via the free Hakarongo Mai translate service which translates the kapa haka performance in real time.

“We are excited to be hosting the biggest Māori event in the world here in Wellington. This year we are expecting 60,000-plus attendees to enjoy the best global showcase of Māori performing arts,” says Te Matatini CEO Carl Ross.

WREDA Events and Experiences General Manager Warrick Dent says whilst Te Matatini takes place in Wellington city, the economic and social impact will be spread across the Wellington region.

“Teams and their supporters are staying in a range of accommodation including hotels, motels and marae, in the Wellington region as far as the Hutt Valley and Waikanae. This will see the region, not just the city, come alive with Māori ahurea and live up to Wellington’s reputation as the capital of culture.

“There are kapa haka inspired pop ups and fun events on the planning board leading into Te Matatini. They will give locals and visitors a great opportunity to learn, experience and appreciate the importance of kapa haka, which goes to the essence of what it means to be a New Zealander.”

Contemporary Māori art and demonstrations will be available at the Toi Māori Art Market at Te Wharewaka o Pōneke and outside at the jump platform on Taranaki Wharf a Bomb Comp will entertain the crowds as participants compete for prizes valued at more than $2000.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says he hopes everyone in Wellington takes the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world’s premier kapa haka event in the country.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see this event in the captial city,” he says. “We are excited to welcome the 46 teams and their supporters here to Wellington and hope that Wellingtonians take the chance to learn more about our unique culture.

“As the capital city we are committed to promoting te reo in our journey towards becoming bilingual by 2040.”

Te Matatini Society was incorporated in 1972 to foster, develop and protect excellence in Maori performing arts. The regional manaaki (host) Iwi for Te Matatini 2019 are Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngati Raukawa and Te Atiawa me ngā Iwi o Taranaki Whānui.

© Scoop Media

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