Kapa Haka tutor agrees with new Māori dementia research

By Mānia Clarke

The tutor of Waikato Tainiwharau Kaumātua Kapa Haka supports new research that Māori cultural performance and the Māori language may prevent dementia.

Turongo Paki says some of their members have age-related forgetfulness and performing Māori dance keeps their minds engaged. 

Paki believes kapa haka helps lower the risk of dementia.

"It's a walk down memory lane for them perhaps because the songs the sang are from their era when they were children."

The Life and Living in Advanced Age: a Cohort Study in New Zealand (LILACS NZ) followed a group of elderly haka performers over a period of five years.

Head researcher, Ngaire Kerse said, "They are bi-lingual and having more than one language is very protective against dementia.  Long sequences and different activities set to music and many verses of song, and so we also know complicated dance is very protective against dementia."

"It sharpens the minds of the elders to remember the words, the hand actions, the performance movements on stage and also the tunes of each song," said Paki.

Waikato Taniwharau Kaumaatua Kapa Haka was established six years ago to revitalise old songs written by Waikato composers who've passed, such as Te Puea, Pumi Taituha and others.

"When we went in search of these (old) songs, we discovered many, so that is a sign that they aren't affected by dementia."

"More of the indigenous peoples have dementia.  In our study we did not find that. So we found roughly the same proportion of people in the Māori cohort had dementia as in the non-Māori cohort," said Kerse.

Kerse hopes to conduct a follow on study of the group in two years.