Te Kura-ā-rohe o Whaingaroa Junior Kapa Haka took out top honours in the junior section at the Central North Island Mana Ariki Kapa Haka competition in Taumarunui.
Led by Tawera Gray-Lord, 9, and Moana Ruawai Hira, 10, it’s the first time the group of 35 students – aged from 7-11-years old – have come under the spotlight in a competitive event.
Kaiako Chanel Ruawai says the young performers spent the first two terms of the year preparing for the competition, which included noho (overnight weekend practices), day practices and dedicated time during the school holidays.
“This kapa haka journey that we’ve been on this year has provided not only our tamariki but all those involved with a sense of belonging,” she says.
Stunning kākahu (performance costume) were purchased by Raglan Area School and worn for the first time at Mana Ariki.
“The whānau as a whole collective have contributed to the success of our tamariki, from fundraising to sewing, to weaving, to poi and rākau making, cooking and of course, looking after all our tamariki at the marae as if they were your own.”
Kapa haka has grown in popularity since the early 1970s with the advent of premier Māori performing arts competitions such as Matatini and Mana Ariki, and Chanel says it is a great platform for tamariki to feel confident and proud of knowing who they are and where they come from.
“They have a growing a sense of pride in themselves which is evident in their performance when you see them on stage thriving and confident,” she says.
Performers Nikau Rice-Edwards, Wai Ariki Tepania, Te Arahia Hira, Ngawai Rice-Edwards and Moana Ruawai Hira were surprised and thrilled with their win.
“I’m happy because all our hard work paid off,” Nikau says.
“I didn’t expect to win cos Mana Ariki was our first comp and the fact we won was pretty amazing, but mostly it was fun,” Wai Ariki says.
“I loved performing and I can’t wait to do it again,” Te Arahia says.
“It made me feel good and not shy,” Ngawai says.
“It was hard because we had to practice all the time but it was worth it, our team is cool,” Moana says.
Not only was there a strengthening of performance skills in the young entertainers but Chanel says whanaungatanga (sense of connection) has grown immensely through their shared experiences and learning to work together as a group.
“I am just very grateful that the whānau support this kaupapa and I’m privileged that they let me be a part of their children’s journey in a kaupapa that I am passionate about,” Chanel says.
The Mana Ariki Kapa Haka is a national event and is more than 30 years old. It celebrates unity and acknowledges the Māori prophetic movement..