Kapa haka

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Young Maori girl performing with poi Maori girl in traditional dress.jpg
Young Māori girl performing with poi

Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means 'group' (kapa) and 'dance' ( haka ). Kapa haka is an avenue for Māori people to express and showcase their heritage and cultural Polynesian identity through song and dance.

Māori people Indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Māori originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of waka (canoe) voyages somewhere between 1320 and 1350. Over several centuries in isolation, these settlers developed their own distinctive culture whose language, mythology, crafts and performing arts evolved independently from other eastern Polynesian cultures.

Haka traditional chanting dance of the Māori people of New Zealand

The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Māori culture. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. Although commonly associated with the traditional battle preparations of male warriors, haka have long been performed by both men and women, and several varieties of the dance fulfil social functions within Māori culture. Haka are performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.


Kapa haka dates back to pre-European times where it developed from all traditional forms of Māori pastimes; haka, mau rākau (weaponry), poi (ball attached to rope or string) and mōteatea (traditional Māori songs). These everyday activities were influential to the development of kapa haka.

Mau rākau, meaning "to bear a weapon", is a martial art based on traditional Māori weapons.

Poi (performance art) balls swung rhythmically on strings

Poi refers to both a style of performing art and the equipment used for engaging in poi performance. As a performance art, poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns. Poi artists may also sing or dance while swinging their poi. Poi can be made from various materials with different handles, weights, and effects.

A kapa haka performance involves choral singing, dance and movements associated in the hand-to-hand combat practised by Māori in mainly precolonial times, presented in a synchronisation of action, timing, posture, footwork and sound. The genre evolved out of a combination of European and Māori musical principles.

Choir Ensemble of singers

A choir is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform. Choirs may perform music from the classical music repertoire, which spans from the medieval era to the present, or popular music repertoire. Most choirs are led by a conductor, who leads the performances with arm and face gestures.

Dance A performing art consisting of movement of the body

Dance is a performing art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value, and is acknowledged as dance by performers and observers within a particular culture. Dance can be categorized and described by its choreography, by its repertoire of movements, or by its historical period or place of origin.

Performance practice

The work of a kapa haka consists of the group performance of a suite of songs and dances spanning several types of Māori music and dance, strung together into a coherent whole. Music and dance types that normally appear are waiata tira (warm-up song), whakaeke (entrance song), waiata-ā-ringa (action song), haka (challenge), pou or mōteatea (old-style singing), poi (co-ordinated swinging of balls attached to cords), and whakawātea (closing song). They may also include tītī tōrea (synchronised manipulation of thin sticks). In a full performance, which can last up to 40 minutes, each music or dance type may appear more than once. [1]

Traditional Māori music, or Te Pūoro Māori is composed or performed by Māori, the native people of New Zealand, and includes a wide variety of folk music styles, often integrated with poetry and dance.

Music for kapa haka is primarily vocal. All song types, with the notable exceptions of mōteatea and haka, are structured around European-style harmony, frequently with guitar accompaniment and acoustics. Spurts of haka-style declamation are woven into the songs, as are dance movements, facial expressions and other bodily and aural signals unique to Māori. Song poetry is completely in Māori and new material is continually being composed. [2]

Māori language Polynesian language spoken by New Zealand Māori

Māori, also known as te reo, is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. Closely related to Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahitian, it gained recognition as one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987. The number of speakers of the language has declined sharply since 1945, but a Māori language revitalisation effort slowed the decline, and the language has experienced a revival, particularly since about 2015.

The sole musical instruments used in kapa haka performances are the guitar, the pūtatara conch shell, the sounds of poi and rākau (see below) and body percussion, especially the stamping of feet.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the finger(s)/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

Body percussion may be performed on its own or as an accompaniment to music and/or dance. Examples of countries' folk traditions that incorporate body percussion include Indonesian saman, Ethiopian armpit music, palmas in flamenco, and the hambone from the United States. Body percussion is a subset of "body music".

Kapa haka are mixed groups of anywhere between several and dozens of people, dressed in neo-traditional Māori dress. These groups comprise individuals linked in some way, be it by extended family group, iwi (tribe), school, or some other association. Performers are largely synchronised, but with men sometimes doing some actions while women do others. A few performers have particular roles, such as the kaitataki (male and female leaders), often moving among the performers to urge them on. Composers, arrangers, choreographers and costume designers also play major roles.

Every two years, kapa haka from all parts of New Zealand compete in Te Matatini, New Zealand's national Māori performing arts competition for adult groups. [3] Another important competition takes place yearly at the ASB Bank Auckland Secondary Schools Māori and Pacific Islands Cultural Festival, commonly known as Polyfest, where the level of performance is also very high.

Music and dance styles used by kapa haka

Young Maori man with taiaha Young Maori man dancing.jpg
Young Māori man with taiaha

Not all Māori performance types are used by kapa haka. Below are brief descriptions of the ones that usually appear. See Māori music for a wider discussion of Māori music.


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Haka in popular culture

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Te Matatini

Te Matatini is a nation-wide Māori performing arts festival and competition for kapa haka performers from all of Aotearoa. The name was given by Professor Wharehuia Milroy, a composite of Te Mata meaning the face and tini denoting many — hence the meaning of Te Matatini is many faces.

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'Te Hui Ahurei a Tuhoe' is a festival that was created in 1971 by John Rangihau for the Iwi nation in Ngai Tuhoe. All of the kapa haka teams that come of the Iwi nation perform to celebrate all the years spent on interacting with each other. The festival is held in Ruatoki biannually. The Tuhoe Ahurei committee is led by Pou Temara and Turuhira Hare.

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String Quartet No. 1 in B-flat major "Maori Quartet", Stiles SQ1 is the first of Alfred Hill's seventeen string quartets. Its composition began before 1892, it was completed after 1896 and premiered only on 18 May 1911 in Sydney.

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  1. "Kapa haka - the Māori performing arts story". TNZ Media. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  2. "Kapa haka - performing arts". www.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  3. "History | Te Manahua". www.polynesia.com. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  4. Te Matatini Archived 2008-01-21 at the Wayback Machine