'It's a taonga to us as Māori'

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Te Ao Haka, a new NCEA subject based on Māori performing arts is being piloted at secondary schools and kura across the country this year. For Manutuke School on the East Coast, it is long overdue.

Te Ao Haka is a performance-based art form grounded in knowledge of Māori culture, language and identity.

“Kapa Haka has been my upbringing”, says Āio Bebe Waitai-Hollis, A student at Manutuke School. “My parents taught me Kapa Haka when I was still young and now that I'm grown, that's my world.”

Another student, Taihoronukurangi Lemon says, “In my opinion it's good because the attributes of Tāne Rore and Hine Rēhia will grow among us all.”

Kapa haka exponent and teacher at Manutuke School Dayne Hollis says the subject should be compulsory for Māori students.

“If the child is Māori, if there are children of Māori descent in the school, that's a pathway for the child to become a better human, through Te Ao Haka. Add traditional Māori carving, Te Reo Māori for Māori growing up in this dynamic world, it's a good lifestyle to me.”

More than 30 schools will be piloting the new subject at all NCEA levels and for University Entrance this year. Dayne Hollis says the educational rewards are numerous.

Long campaign

“It's about learning the meaning within the songs. From there the student starts to think critically, 'oh that's my ancestor, oh I'm a descendant of theirs', and that love grows within them so kapa haka is used like Māui's magic wand to draw that child into their own history and tradition.”

Manutuke School has long campaigned for kapa haka to be recognised by the Ministry of Education.

“The student learns Te Reo Māori. If they don't know it, their ears become accustomed to Te Reo, and then there's the training of the individual, learning to move with others, respecting others, respecting their older peers and caring for their younger peers,” Hollis says.

“One of the positives outcomes today, they can use the subject to gain entry into other doors in the future, it's a key into university.”

The students themselves are grateful for the opportunity to have their culture credited in the education system.

For Āio Bebe Waitai-Hollis, she says it’s, “To affirm the authority of my ancestors, and not merely performing kapa haka on the stage."

Taihoronukurangi Lemon is confident he will take up the subject. He says, “I will pursue it, and one of my dreams is that kapa haka will live on forever.”

“It's a taonga to us as Māori”, Āio Bebe Waitai-Holli says.

For these students, the benefits go beyond NCEA and it's clear to see that they are already finding value in the affirmation of their cultural identity.