Truely Harding

Truely Harding

Ngātiwai, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou

Bachelor of Communication, Master of Management Studies, Doctor of Philosophy

Te Matatini 2019

Truely Harding

When Truely Harding takes the stage at Te Matatini, it will be all about doing her history justice.

The 25-year-old is the the Co-President of Te Waiora o Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, and heading into her very first Te Matatini, performing with Te Puu Ao. Truely (Ngātiwai, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou) is now in the second year of her PhD in leadership communications, looking at Māori Health communication and creating better interventions for Māori communities.

When she was young, Truely went to kura kaupapa and was heavily involved in Kapa Haka. She has a memory of her seven-year-old-self being chosen to lead her group, but when the big day came her voice disappeared. In primary school style, someone else did all the leader parts but she still got to keep the role. She went on to win Leader of the Year. “It goes to show you don’t have to have a big voice to be the leader.”

Truely’s not from a Kapa Haka family, but her parents chose to put her and her brother into immersion schools, so Kapa Haka was part of her life from early on.  When she was about 14 she moved to Whangarei Girls High School, which came as quite a shock. University was also very different, and she decided not to do Kapa Haka for a while, and focus on other things like sports. “I did seven years of Kapa Haka, had a seven year break ─ now I’m back into it. I don’t think I’ll have another seven year gap in my life.”

At the moment she’s travelling about four hours each way home to Whangarei to practise every weekend.  Every campaign is over summer, so it is always hot. In February, when her group practise the temperature is inevitably up somewhere in the 30s. “Everywhere we go there is no air-con. So it is super sweaty. When we have to start practising with piupiu, that stuff’s not light. When we take it off we end up with a permanent sweatband around our waists.”

At its core, Truely believes Kapa Haka means whānau. “You go back to be with the people who make you who you are. You love them because you’re their whānau and they shape you to be the person you are in this world. Within that whānau you start to learn about where you are from, because a lot of the waiata, especially the mōteatea, are about your history, ancestors, the maunga and the awa in your area, so you are able to really ground yourself and be confident in who you are through that.”

Who is your Kapa Haka idol?

Mahara Hepi.

What is your favourite item of the bracket?

Whakaeke. Usually it is the most exciting. It’s the second item, so by the time you get to it you’ve warmed the crowd up. You can tell what the vibe of the group is going to be for the rest of the performance.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a new student coming to UoW who does Kapa Haka?

When I started at University of Waikato I took a long break from Kapa Haka. I needed that to understand the influence that Kapa Haka has. But then I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing it. So it would have been good for someone to have told me it was ok to take a break if I needed to. Eventually you’ll find yourself back there. For a good couple of years there was quite a guilt trip of not going home, not standing, and not knowing the songs when I went to things like tangi. It would have been good to have someone tell me that it was alright, and that the time will come when I was confident and ready to get back into it.

I got back into Kapa Haka after I joined Te Waiora. Our current students and alumni are heavily involved in Kapa Haka, and you see the passion from them, and you stand in the lines and you hear the magic of the sound, and you’re like ─ I miss this!  I used to go to cultural hours for my fix. I wouldn’t even know the songs, but I would stand in the lines and go wow, all the singing, it would just feel so good. Then you get to know the people and they remind you of why you did Kapa Haka. From an outsider’s perspective, it can be very easy to judge: why would you travel all that way every weekend for just a half-hour performance. But it is just so much more than that. If you’re asking those questions you just don’t get it, you don’t understand the entirety.  And I didn’t, I forgot. I think it was because I was to busy coming to university and trying to be successful in a Pākehā way, that I forgot. Because I grew up in a Māori world I took it for granted.  I’ve already been there and done that, so I’m moving onto something new. Not realising that you actually need to do it all the time, or you just forget and take things for granted.

I don’t regret not joining up with Te Waiora earlier, because I did some growing up during that time. I was with Te Ranga Ngaku, the Māori students network in the Waikato Management School. They were really good because they provided me with the support to pass my papers academically during my undergraduate degree. I guess I found Te Waiora when I needed to. I wish I had joined a couple of years earlier and didn’t wait for my sixth year at uni to join. Juggling my PhD, Kapa Haka and life works because I have a very supportive partner and very good supervisory team, including Professor John Oetzel ─ he tricks me into working.

How do you keep Haka-fit?

In my break, oh my goodness, did I forget how hard it is to sing and move! When you do the poi you have to sing really hard, plus the actions, plus look pretty. That’s really hard. Lately I’ve been trying to run and sing at the same time. I plug my headphones in and run around the block. Or I go for a run, and come back puffed and sing. One of the boys in our roopu is really ripped and goes to the gym, big muscles, and he’s just as puffed as the rest of us. It’s a different stamina, and a mental game.

Is there a lot of pressure to be pretty? It’s not so much the perfect eyebrows, and getting your lashes done. It’s more about smiling and enjoying the performance. You also want to be portraying the words you’re singing. If the song is sad, be sad. One of the things about Kapa Haka is that your learn your history, and it brings it back and makes it real again. I am sure that happens for a lot of Indigenous people, when we learn the songs and relearn the trauma we went through. So it is not so much being pretty but portraying the message you’re trying to get out to the thousands of people watching. Doing it justice.

Competing: Saturday 23 February - 1st.


Truely Harding

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