THE last time St Joseph’s Whakatane performed at the Rangitaiki Kapa Haka Festival, it was 1995 and Mere Williams took to the stage as a 10-year-old.
Now, 23 years later she is getting ready to watch two of her children perform with the school’s group, Te Roopu Kapa Haka o Hato Hohepa, at this weekend’s festival.
The festival begins on Friday at the Whakatane War Memorial Centre and Hato Hohepa will perform in the novice, or whakangahau section.
Ms Williams said since 1995, St Joseph’s has had a small kapa haka group within the school but not one that would compete.
“The kura (school) has always struggled to find and retain either a te reo Maori teacher or kapa tutor, however, they have also been extremely supportive of all aspects of te ao maori (the Maori world) and embrace our culture within the school also.”
This year, a decision was made to reinvigorate the haka group and they set a goal to perform at this weekend’s festival. Ms Williams said at last weekend’s dress rehearsal they had 34 performers, from year 2 to year 8, take to the stage.
“Re-establishing a roopu (group) and not just a group who sing maori songs at school has been extremely important to our school community, especially our whanau group within school. We want to give our tamariki (children) an opportunity to embrace te ao maori on a deeper level and have a stronger cultural identity within themselves and within the school community.
“It has provided our tamariki with a sense of belonging within themselves, kura environment and the wider community. The tamariki and parents have built closer relationships and connections through this journey, self-confidence and proudly embrace their taha maori (Maori side). We wanted them to take away all those intangible things like manaakitanga (kindness), whakawhanaungatanga (connectedness), kotahitangi (unity), maia (bravery), manawanui (commitment) and to know that te ao maori is valued.”
The group has been tutored by Kelly Hohapata and Ray White, even though their children do not go to the school.
Ms Hohapata said when they first started as tutors, it was obvious that there was a lack of confidence in the group.
“Before the very first practice started, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, by the middle it was definitely challenging and at the end we agreed patience was vital. And that is something uncle Ray has plenty of.
But one thing was evident, these tamariki were passionate and eager and even though they were the one’s in the hall learning week in week out, as tutors, it us who have learnt so much more from them And it’s been nothing but positive.”
She is looking forward to Friday.
“It’s going to be an amazing day, making history. Our goal has been met and that was to enhance their Ngati Awatanga (Ngati Awa identity). And regardless of where they come on Friday, we are super proud that they have come out of their comfort zone and have climbed many hurdles to get to where they are today. And I know for sure there will be some emotional parents when they take that stage.”
On Saturday, groups in the competitive section will perform with the prizegiving scheduled for 4.30pm. Entry to the festival is by ticket only, although Tumeke radio station will be hosting a live stream online.