Maori: The benefits of Kapa Haka

With Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival coming to Christchurch last year, spotlight was once again on the contributions made by the traditional Maori warrior dance to social cohesion, health and education outcomes

Started in 1972, the five-day festival, themed “He ngakau aroha” this year, was held between March 4 and 8 at North Hagley Park in Christchurch. The theme was selected by Ngai Tahu – the principal iwi [tribe] of the country's South Island – in recognition of the support the city has received from other Maori tribes around the country.

Of the 45 performing teams, Te Kapa Haka o Te Whānau a Apanui was the overall winner and won the coveted title of Toa Whakaihuwaka.

Interestingly, apart from being a very successful event, the biennial festival also helped focus the country's attention on what organisers called “underrating of the true values that kapa haka brings to the New Zealand society”.

In fact, a new research, Ngai Hua A Tane Rore – the benefits of kapa haka, commissioned by Te Matatini Society Incorporated and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, had confirmed that “economic, educational and social impacts of the Moari dance are generally unstated and undervalued” in New Zealand.

Cultural contribution

Undertaken by the Te Kotahi Research Institute of University of Waikato, the report notes, “The most important components of kapa haka are its intrinsic link to culture and Māori identity, and the essential element of whanaungatanga, the importance of people and connectedness. It has a dynamic role as a vehicle for the revitalisation and retention of te reo, tikanga, ritual processes and histories.”

Moreover, kapa haka is a gateway through which all New Zealanders can engage with the Maori culture, thus strengthening the country's nationhood and fostering a richer, cohesive and inclusive society, the report added.

Some recognition of these benefits of kapa haka are already emerging nationwide as Maori cultural protocols are increasingly being embraced within the public and government sectors.

Social contribution

Another important benefit argued in the report is that kapa haka “provides a positive, disciplined, strength-based environment for rangatahi. It also fosters well-being and positively transform the lives of individuals and communities, as well as have a powerful, transformative impact on social outcomes through the BMPA (Māori performing arts degree)”.

Economic contribution

Finally, the report while expressing the view that “the economic potential of kapa haka is underestimated and needs to be explored more, including the potential for engagement with New Zealand’s private sector”, also identified two significant yet unacknowledged areas of economic contribution.

First is thesilent’ economy generated by kapa haka activities. Another is the extensive ‘productivity’ activity around voluntary workers involved in kapa haka,” the report said.