Inter-prison kapa haka competition reconnects inmates to their culture

By Marena Mane

Sixteen of the country's 18 prisons participated in this year's Whakataetae Kapa Haka.

The competition is part of the Hōkairangi strategy, introduced in 2019, to address the over-representation of Māori in prisons.

It's said to reduce reoffending, and an important pathway to help Māori reclaim their mana and identity.

Judges travelled the country visiting each of the 16 prisons, where performances were also live-streamed for other participating teams to watch.

One of those judges, Mark Pirikau, says for the majority of the performers it was their first time doing kapa haka, and seeing the Te Ara Poutama o Aotearoa community come together is overwhelming.

The focus has been on culture and identity for the rehabilitation of incarcerated tāne and wāhine and according to Pirikahu, “One of the key messages that we've been sharing right throughout this kaupapa over the 16 sites, is the benefits we're seeing is oranga wairua, oranga tangata. So again, it's seeing the fruits of what cultural identity and our language does, specifically for Māori, but also for everybody whole has taken up the challenging mantle to come and get on stage.”

Changes, according to Pirikahu, will not happen quickly, but good tactics and processes are there to reduce the number of Māori incarcerated.

The highlight

Pirikahu says that one of the highlights for him was “changing minds, changing hearts or winning minds and winning hearts.”

“That’s from the minister all the way down to our leadership within Te Ara Poutama o Aotearoa right down to our staff to our people in our care from our people to our whānau, whānau to hapū, iwi and many other providers that are assisting our Te Ara Poutama o Aotearoa to make changes, under our mantle of Hōkairangi.”

Te Matatini rules criteria

Pirikahu says that used Te Matatini's regulations criteria to judge the Kapa Haka competition, despite the fact that this is a first for Te Ara Poutama o Aotearoa.

“Kapa haka tutors come and feed them with that culture, with that knowledge, with that shared experience, to get them on the stage. And to compete for the sites, on behalf of the sites, their whānau, iwi, and hapū.”

Key principles

Pirikahu explains the incorporation of key principles such as “partnership and leadership” are how communities look after their own peopleand the “foundation for participation - making sure our people are well-equipped, with the basic fundamentals to be able to reintegrate into our communities.”