Auckland haka group Angitu have returned home to a nation in mourning after attending the inaugural Oman World Folk Music Festival in Muscat where they dedicated their performance to the victims of the Christchurch terror attack.
News of the mosque shootings filtered through to the 14 members of Angitu on Friday, March 15 as they woke to the sound of the Islamic morning prayer echoing from the Mosque Imam Nur al-din across the road from their hotel.
It was the same day that they were due to perform.
That evening they stood in support of the Muslim community as tutor and Maimoa Music artist Pere Wihongi addressed the packed courtyard at the House of Musical Arts and a minute of silence was observed.
During his address, Wihongi said, “As we prepare to stand at the Royal Opera House Muscat, we dedicate our performance to the families of the victims who have lost their lives, those who are injured and affected by this horrific event."
The 20-minute performance consisted of waerea, karanga, haka pōhiri, waiata ā-ringa, poi, tītī tōrea as well as a selection of haka.
The kapa received a standing ovation from the crowd as they exited the stage.
Wihongi said he was most surprised at how genuinely empathetic people were towards the kapa, especially when festival organisers from the Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) met with the group ahead of the performance to offer their condolences.
Professor Dr Issam El-Mallah said, "Organisers were deeply saddened by what had happened and offered their full support in paying a special tribute.”
Angitu were one of nine international delegations from Asia, Africa, Europe, America and the Middle East invited to join with Omani musicians in representing the colourful history and unique traditions of their homelands.
Māori culture and performing arts were specifically requested by ROHM to be included in the inaugural festival.
Festival co-ordinator Narine Grigoryan says, “Māori and the haka dances have so much tradition and really represents its part of the world.”
She says it was also interesting for local people to learn more about the traditions "of a people from so far away".
Angitu spent three months preparing for the festival and were honoured at the opportunity to represent Māori and New Zealand.
During their stay, Wihongi said the kapa developed a deep respect for the Omani culture and lifestyle.
“We’ve completely fallen in love with the culture here,” said Wihongi after a full day touring the city with their own personal Omani guide Ahmed Hamad Alsouli, visiting the Grand Mosque, the National Museum, the Flag Palace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said and the bustling Mutrah Souk market place.
Group leader Thomas Rawiri, who was largely responsible for organising the trip, said the opportunity came about through networks formed from previous international experiences by some of the tutors.
All travel and accommodation expenses were covered by the organisers.
Back in Aotearoa, tutors and members of Angitu are responsible for tutoring Auckland secondary school haka groups who were to perform at last week’s Polyfest which was postponed due to safety concerns after the terror attack.
Angitu's head tutor Leo Tahitahi is also the kapa haka tutor at Kings College, while Wihongi and Tuhoe Tamaiparea have tutored Western Springs College group, Ngā Puna o Waiōrea for the last five years.
Fellow Maimoa Music star and Pūkana presenter, Awatea Wihongi also helped tutor Manurewa High School.
About the festival
The festival is part of the programme Around The World with ROHM launched in September to mark the eighth year since the opening of the grand opera house.
The ROHM is truly an impressive venue with marble courtyards outdoors where the festival stage was set up.
The Around The World with ROHM 2018-2019 season includes world-class opera, ballet and jazz performances. A particular focus this season is on fostering Omani and Arab culture as well as education and outreach programmes.
One Omani group from a different part of the country and three different international groups performed each day in celebration of the artistry, technical prowess and beauty of cultural expression through folk music.
The first night of the festival saw the Nizwa tribe open for Kazakhstan, Palestine and Mexico, while the Sur tribe welcomed the Iranian, the NZ and Georgian contingents.
The festival concluded on Saturday night with performances by the Taqah people of south-west Oman and the delegations from Iraq, Serbia and Senegal.