Te ao Māori

Kapa haka - performing arts

The term ‘kapa haka’ refers to a broad range of Māori performing arts combining stance, posture, movement and expression to form a single whole.

Children doing a haka heritage image. Kapa haka is a powerful channel of self-pride and identity for the Māori people, and as such has gained a popular following in recent years.

For example, Te Matatini – the national Māori performing competition for adult groups – attracts an audience of tens of thousands to the stage over a period of four days. And as Te Matatini gets televised, increasing numbers of New Zealanders are now exposed to and participating in kapa haka. 

Traditionally kapa haka incorporates the following components:
  • haka – a posture dance
  • poi – a dance accompanied by song and the movement of a poi (small ball on string)
  • waiata-a-ringa – action song and mōteatea (traditional chants).

Kapa haka groups vary in size: from several people to a large group of dozens of performing men and women. Age is no barrier to participation – pre-schoolers through to kaumātua actively participate in kapa haka both competitively and for entertainment purposes. 

The music that accompanies kapa haka can be traditional or contemporary compositions. The songs are sung in te reo and are supported by guitar, putatara (conch shell), body percussion, the rhythmic beats of the poi and/or the swish of the piupiu. In some instances, Māori weaponry such as the patu, mere and taiaha are also used to emphasise the performers’ actions.

Recommended books

Cover of haka: a living tradition. Ngā Tatangi a te Whare Karioi 09: Te Matatini national Kapa Haka festival, Tauranga Moana, Mataatua
Te Matatini has decided to publish this book as a record of the key events of the 2009 festival. The book is modelled on previous festival books and aims to capture the key elements of the occasion, including a record of the performances by kapa haka groups.

Maori action songs. Māori Action Songs: Words and Music, action and instructions by Reupena Ngata
The action song is a modern addition to Maori performing arts, pioneered in the early 20th century by Sir Apirana Ngata. Almost a century after it first appeared, the waiata kori (action song) is flourishing among kapa haka groups in New Zealand. This revised edition presents a concise introduction to the important elements of the songs, and outlines 30 songs for different occasions with words, music and actions in text and diagrams.

Maori games and haka. Māori games and haka: Instructions, words and actions by Alan Armstrong
A new edition of this popular and much loved guide to haka and action songs, poi, stick games, powhiri, haka weapons and much more. First published in 1964, it is still in demand as an informative and comprehensive resource. It includes song text, illustrations for actions and a pronunciation guide.

Haka book cover. Haka: A Living Tradition by Wira Gardiner
A source of pride or a source of controversy, the Haka is an integral part of New Zealand's culture. One of the most identifiable symbols of New Zealand, most people know little of the history, variation or meaning of this powerful challenge. This work aims to explain it all.

Traditional songs of the Maori. Traditional Songs of the Māori by Mervyn McLean, translated by Margaret Orbell
Fifty songs accompanied by CD so you can listen to the waiata and learn alongside the words in the text.

The Rhythm and Life of Poi by Ngamoni Huata
This is the first book ever published exclusively on the subject of poi.  Poi expert Ngamoni Huata looks at the origins of poi and its spiritual importance, the art of poi in performance, how poi are made and some song texts which are used to accompany poi performances. In Māori and English. 

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