Engineering faculty restores mana of haka

By Aroha Mane
University of Auckland engineering students received expert haka tuition from Tapeta Wehi.  Photo / File

A haka performed at the opening of the University of Auckland's new $280 million engineering building has been welcomed with gratitude.  It was part of a healing process, after engineering students 40 years ago performed a poor taste version of the haka for graduation. 

Dr Tumanako Fa'aui, a lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, told Te Ao, “Kia anga whakamuri me hoki whakamuri. Looking to the past to acknowledge everything that has happened but accepting that we are here in the present. The only way you can go is forward.”

More than 50 students, lecturers and administrators were there to celebrate the day.

Faculty operations manager Catherine Dunphy says, “The whole idea of the haka came about because everywhere I went they referred to us as, 'Oh the engineers, he kakīwhero [racists].' So, you know, we kind of have to own that. We felt one of the most powerful things we could do was honour this taonga and to make it our own.”

That is exactly what they have done and it is a far cry from the 1970s when engineering students mocked the haka as part of their graduation ceremony.

He Taua member Hone Harawira, who was at the opening, reflected on when his wife took on the engineering graduates, “I remember when my wife Hilda confronted them on her own. She tried to stop what they were doing. I remember how upset she was.”

As part of the healing process, the university and mana whenua unveiled a pouwhenua and also invited kapa haka expert Tapeta Wehi to guide the students.

“It's an honour to be chosen to teach these students. Most of them are inexperienced, we have Asian, Indian and Pākehā on board and they are so enthusiastic,” Wehi says.

Dr Fa'aui says, “The haka is firstly acknowledging the place where we are, the manawhenua, Tanenuiarangi, the whare tupuna of this place Waipapa, Ngāti Whātua and it also acknowledges that us as engineers and engineering come from all over.”

A new building, a new landmark and a new haka, a new day has dawned for engineering students at the university.