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From kura kaupapa kids to kapa haka champions

From kura kaupapa kids to kapa haka champions

This year’s Te Matatini winners, Ngā Tūmanako, were first brought together as kura kaupapa students at West Auckland’s Hoani Waititi Marae. Foundation members look back at the group’s evolution over the years.

In the early 2000s, talks among a few West Auckland school friends signalled a new kapa haka group was on the horizon.

Bonded through their days as some of the first students of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Hoani Waititi Marae, alumni like Kororia Taumaunu and Jade Maipi believed it was time to reunite their old classmates under a new rōpū led by their own peer group.

“We were a bunch of kura kids that dreamed of having a kapa haka group beyond school,” Kororia says.

“As we got older, it became more pertinent for the need to have a kapa haka to keep our ties to the marae and to keep the ties that bound us together strong as a bunch of kura kaupapa Māori kids.”

Back then, many of her peer group from the 1997 and 1998 classes of TKKM Hoani Waititi were performing on the national stage as members of elite groups like Te Waka Huia and Te Rōpū Manutaki. Pulling people back together, and away from those established rōpū took a while, but it was something that needed to be done, she says.

“It was actually Jade [Maipi] and I – we were returning from the tangi of one of our school brothers.

“At that tangi, we had the honour of hosting his whānau up here in Auckland [at Hoani Waititi Marae] before his body was taken back to his own marae. There we got the first glimpse of what we could be as adults, carrying our tikanga and looking after the marae and performing the different roles on the marae.

“We thought, this is what we’re meant to do. We’re meant to be stepping up to the roles that our kaumātua and our kuia were carrying and were performing. We thought a good way to bring us together and start practising these tikanga was by putting together a kapa haka.”

The early days. Ngā Tūmanako with kaumātua Joe Turner and supporters (Supplied).

The first lot of calls included Kororia’s former classmate Kawariki Morgan and his wife, Kym. At the time, the couple were part of Whāngārā Mai Tawhiti in Gisborne. Another call went out to their former teacher Katene Paenga, who would eventually come on as a senior tutor.

Kawariki, the current manukura tane (male lead) of Ngā Tūmanako, admits it took a bit of convincing. When things finally did come together in 2005, it took a lot of hard work and some tough periods of soul searching to develop the group through those early years.

“I was very upfront when I had my conversation with Kororia,” Kawariki recalls. “I said: ‘Is this group going to be around? If I’m going to join, I want for it to be around when my kids are old enough to perform. I don’t want to be in a group that’s just going to be a flash in the pan’.”

He also points to Papa Katene’s involvement as crucial to reining in the group’s ideas and focus.

“You know, it was still hard for us to listen to each other, especially in those early days,”Kawariki says through a few chuckles.

“We were all like brothers and sisters, and you never agree with each other all the time. And we needed someone older to get us going and tell us what to do and get us working in the right direction. Katene Paenga – he was our first tutor for Ngā Tūmanako, and he was part of Te Rōpū Manutaki, and he was just an amazing performer. It was important to have that voice which we all remembered from when we were kids.”

Ngā Tūmanako’s manukura wahine Marama Jones. Click to watch the full winning performance at Te Matatini 2019.

The group’s strong start, which saw it qualify for the 2006 Matatini at its first regional competition for Tāmaki Makaurau in its inception year, was followed by some significant knockbacks. For Kawariki, Ngā Tūmanako’s third Matatini campaign was particularly brutal. By then, the group still hadn’t managed to reach a finals day at Matatini. Every disappointment also saw people fall off from the group. While others came in to fill the spots, it was never easy having people come and go, he says.

“You get to that point when you ask yourself ‘what are we actually doing this for? Is it for competition, or because we love to be together, for the language and for our kids?’” Kawariki says.

“So you go through all that…and really, it was that bond that we had formed in high school and it was the love for te reo Māori that led us to this.”

For this year’s Matatini, the group paid homage to those beliefs in their performance, reminding members of their own generation of the importance of sharing their mother tongue with their children. Kawariki’s older sister Reikura Kahi, who stepped up as the lead female tutor about four years ago, says the group’s win in February reflected years of learning and improvement.

“We just got better at doing things over the years. Better compositions, better processes internally with our composition team, and as tutors we’re a lot clearer,” she says.

That experience in the senior leadership team was particularly important this year, with the inclusion of about a dozen first-time Matatini performers in the group.

“That came about for a lot of reasons. We had members who had babies, and there were injuries – I suppose that’s life,” Reikura says.

“But I think because we are better in how we do things, those performers can come through and just do their best to perform.”

Founding member Jade Maipi, also Reikura’s predecessor, flew to Wellington for the finals day with her husband this year. She believes the group’s youth works in its favour.

“Ngā Tūmanako today is definitely the evolution of a lot of work that we had put in at the beginning. The performers in the group now, I don’t think they realise that they are way better than we were when we were younger. I think it’s because a lot of them come and they’re quite humble people.

“They’re coming to learn so they’re open to everything, and it’s actually really refreshing.”

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For Reikura, Ngā Tūmanako’s place in their lives, and the commitment that senior kapa haka demands, is all part of the kaupapa that was instilled in them as kura kids. Importantly, it provides a space for their tamariki to be surrounded by their language and culture.

“It’s hard in Auckland, being urban Māori trying to find somewhere where you can be Māori. We’re surrounded by all different types of pressures, and our tamariki hear English all the time – some of them, all they want to do is speak English because all their cousins and mates speak English.”

“This is a haven for us and for our kids where we can guarantee that they will hear Māori being sung, and spoken by all their aunties and uncles, and where they can see the importance of Māori culture. And that hasn’t changed – that’s something that’s been there from the beginning.”

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