Photo essay – A festival that started as a way to bring children back together after the Covid pandemic has already grown into one of the biggest events on the Bay of Islands cultural calendar.
Te Hui Ahurei o Ngāti Rēhia is a kapa haka festival for primary and intermediate-aged students across the wider Ngāti Rēhia rohe or tribal area.
It is only in its second year but Thursday’s gathering in Te Tii, about 20km north of Kerikeri, drew 480 young performers.
They were joined by at least twice that number of proud parents, uncles and aunties, kuia and kaumātua.
Organiser Crystal Harden said the original plan was for a schools’ cultural festival at Kerikeri Basin as part of the town’s 200th anniversary celebrations, but that had to be cancelled due to Covid.
Once the pandemic eased, the isolation and anxiety many people had experienced meant the need for connection was even greater.
“We noticed our children were feeling insecure or worried … we wanted to bring them together, and bring them all into a safe place in unity, and grow that whānaungatanga, that sense of belonging.”
The event is held at Whitiora Marae but with a different school playing host each time. This year it was Riverview School’s turn.
Ngāti Rēhia kuia Rawi Pere said it was a celebration and a chance to enjoy each other’s company, not a competition.
“They’re learning all our Māori songs, they’re doing the haka, they’re doing the poi, and just showcasing themselves to their parents and their kaumātua. It’s all about the tamariki [children],” she said.
Ngāti Rēhia taumata Kipa Munro said the importance of kapa haka went well beyond the joy of performing.
“Kapa haka in its essence is of course of another way of transferring our knowledge, our language, in a performance manner,” he said.
“A lot of kids learn things through song, through using action, so this is the best forum for our kids to be able to learn our culture, learn our language, and actually enjoy themselves while they’re doing it.”
The 10 schools taking part this year were spread across the Bay of Islands and as far north as Whangaroa.
Fifteen-year-old Te Kauri Kingi, one of this year’s MCs, said it was important to keep kapa haka thriving for the sake of the tūpuna [ancestors].
“I think we owe it to our tūpuna. This festival is a good way for our tamariki to get into it at such a young age. And it’s really fun to get together. People of all ages are here – our kaumātua are here, our babies are here. It’s really cool to see.”
As for the children themselves, they had simpler, but equally valid, reasons for taking part.
They told RNZ they did because it was fun, because they liked to sing and do the poi, and because they loved performing in front of a crowd.
They will have another chance around the same time next year, also at Whitiora Marae but with Matauri Bay School as the hosts.
This year’s Te Hui Ahurei was granted $5000 by the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board to assist with costs such as marquee hire and stage equipment.