Kapa haka group traces Te Puea's footsteps

'It is physically and mentally demanding'

Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013

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The biennial national kapa haka competition is fast approaching but, for Waikato's Te Pou o Mangatawhiri (TPM), the 2013 Te Matatini competition is like history repeating.

The 41-team competition starts tomorrow at Rotorua International Stadium, with three days of preliminary competition before the top nine battle for the winner's trophy on Sunday.

Princess Te Puea Herangi started Te Pou o Mangatawhiri in the 1920s as a concert party to raise funds for the construction of Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia.

It is the first time since 1928 that the group has been to Rotorua and its members have composed an action song to pay tribute to their predecessors.

"We are going back to Te Arawa to deliver that action song like it is 1928," group leader Ngaria Walker said.

"We were lucky enough to get a hold of footage from 1928 of a couple of Te Arawa groups and TPM so the actions we actually use in the waiata-a-ringa are actions we have taken from the footage."

TPM was in limbo for decades but, after two unsuccessful attempts, the troupe was revived in 2005, and it has since been finding plenty of inspiration from its past.

"TPM are so lucky because we are so rich in history. We went to Gisborne [in 2011] and we had hononga [connections] to Apirana Ngata and now we are going to Rotorua and we have hononga there because of the route that Te Puea took when she took the concert party around the North Island raising putea [funds] for Turangawaewae."

With Mrs Walker and her husband, Tony, at the helm and a core group of composers and choreographers, Te Pou o Mangatawhiri has made the top nine at the past two Te Matatini events.

The group has been practising every weekend since September, learning six new songs and a haka and perfecting their choreography for 30 minutes on stage.

"It is physically and mentally demanding. This is probably the most physical and the most demanding bracket that we have ever come up with."

The Walkers are both school teachers and started tutoring kapa haka at Bernard Fergusson school in Ngaruawahia and most of the members of the group are former school students or their families.

"The makeup of our group is the uncles, cousins and aunties of the kids that we have brought through," said Mrs Walker. "It is a real whanau. Most of them are from Turangawaewae and whakapapa back to Te Puea."

Expectations are high but Mrs Walker said every group will be vying for a spot and the 40 members of Te Pou o Mangatawhiri will have to pull out their best on the day.

"It is bigger than Matatini but, when we are training for Matatini, that is our goal, that's our focus, to go and represent Tainui-Waikato whanau whanui and do a good job."

Representing the Waikato region alongside Te Pou o Mangatawhiri at the festival are Nga Pou O Roto and Te Iti Kahurangi.

"I love it. It is a part of who I am and it is something me and my husband love. It is our lifestyle. It is the only way we know how to live."

Te Matatini 2013 National Kapa Haka festival begins tomorrow at Rotorua International Stadium. Gates open at 7am.

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- Waikato Times


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