Te Matatini's three-month celebration for its 50th year

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Te Matatini has big plans for its 50th anniversary.

The biennial competition for kapa haka rōpū across Aotearoa and Ahitereiria was first won by Waihīrere when it was held in Rotorua in 1972, known then as the New Zealand Polynesian Festival.

The festival went on to become the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival before the late Wharehuia Milroy renamed the competition Te Matatini Kapa Haka.

It's now the pinnacle event for kapa haka, with some saying it's one of the biggest events on the calendar for Māori, and today the competition celebrates its 50th year.

From the beginning till now. Credit: Facebook / Te Matatini Society Incorporated. 


 Te Matatini chief executive Carl Ross talked to Te Ao Tapatahi today on how the concept of Te Matatini came about, journeying through its early days to modern times.

“The original concept was made up by the Māori Purpose Fund from the early 1960s It was having a discussion on how it could provide some support to bring kapa haka together.

“The idea grew. Duncan MacIntyre, who was minister of native affairs, said he’d like to support a festival as a place to celebrate Māori and Pacific Island song and dance.”

Years passed and a committee was established, which was led and chaired by Sir Kingi Ihaka. Later, the festival underwent a name change to become the New Zealand Polynesian Festival.

“The main purpose, I suppose, of this festival was twofold. One: to bring our Polynesian peoples together, and, for Māori, it was the revitalisation of our te reo, and to ensure that we remain to have excellence in arts and that we can spread to our tamariki and mokopuna.”

Ross says today’s marking of 50 years of Te Matatini is a fantastic day for all kaihaka, past and present.

Giant album among treats

He says Te Matatini is planning a three-month long celebration, and shared snippets of what's to come for all lovers of kapa haka.

“We’ve got an album that holds 50 waiata from the past 50 years that’s split into three categories.”

Two of those categories were revealed by Ross. The first category, Te Mata Toa is for the event’s 24 winners, with each of them selecting a waiata and having it remastered. The second category, Te Mata Kainga, represents a waiata each belonging to 13 rohe across Aotearoa.

The album is being led by Rob Ruha, and supported by others including Tangiwai Ria and Trevor Maxwell, “and all our beautiful kaiwaiata from the different kapa haka groups that we all know and love”, and it will be released on Spotify.

“There’s going to be a book as well, capturing people who were involved in the festival since 1972, and then we’ve got a web-series documentary.”

Carl says the web series will dive deeper into the waiata that are part of the album, and a separate documentary on the festival itself will be done.

“All of these will be released before Matariki.”