Sarah Brown

Kapa Haka - Te Matatini 2019

Key Info

Tuhoe, Ngāi Tai, Te Whakatohea

  • Bachelor of Social Sciences
  • Master of Social Sciences in Anthropology
  • Anthropology
  • Māori and Pacific Development

Sarah Brown’s first stand for Kapa Haka was in the womb. “The first time I was ever on stage was when I was in my mum. It was in 1997 at the Hui Ahurei ā Tūhoe, the biannual tribal Kapa Haka and sports competition. I grew up to do the same Haka my mum did with me in her tummy.”

Sarah (Tuhoe, Ngāi Tai, Te Whakatohea) is a reserve with Ōpōtiki-Mai-Tawhiti. At 21, she is a Maori mentor and doing her masters degree at the University of Waikato.

After her very early introduction to the stage, she didn’t actually start doing Kapa Haka again until she was 12 and at intermediate school. “It was more of an identity thing. I had gone through Kōhanga Reo, and been fully immersed in te Reo Māori. Then I went to a mainstream school, and I lost a lot of my reo. Even though I was brought up on the marae, I still hadn’t kept it. I went to intermediate in Hamilton and I took one te Reo class, and the teacher insisted I do Kapa Haka. So I went, and I’ve never looked back. It’s a way for me to revitalize myself, my language and my culture.”

When Sarah was little, her mother would drag her along to all her big sister Kerry’s Kapa Haka practices.  “When she made it to her first nationals in Wellington, we all went along. Just seeing her on the stage was amazing. Kerry’s seven years older than me, and she is one of my Kapa Haka idols. In my first-ever campaign with Hamilton Girls High School they asked me who are you doing this for and why? I think I cried and said my sister.”

Who is your Kapa Haka idol?

Tiria Waitai, my sister Kerry Brown.

What is your favourite item of the bracket?

Whakaeke, and specifically if it is a haka. It makes a statement about your presence on the stage. It is the first big wero or challenge to the crowd and the judges. For example we’re going to be performing in Wellington, so our big challenge will be to Parliament.

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

For me when I joined the University of Waikato, Te Waiora was a big part of that. I came to University open days when I was at high school, and I saw Te Waiora and thought they were fantastic. Even though they were doing easy-going songs, they were all new to me, so I wanted to learn. They welcomed me with open arms. They also made me a lot more confident, being around other students who are involved in big Kapa Haka groups, who make it into the top nine, or make top three even. Te Waiora also helps out with your studies, holding onto your culture when you’re at University, and having a whānau away from home. I know a lot of students come to Waikato specifically for the whānau vibe. I come from down the East Coast, so coming up here and leaving my family really sucked, and I got homesick a lot, but Te Waiora really helped.

How do you keep Haka-fit?

The tutors always talk about it. You have to be Haka-fit if you want to make top nine, or get in the front row. For me it is about being physically fit, but also being fit in your mind: knowing your words, knowing the songs and the meaning behind every song that you sing, every word that you use. Otherwise if you don’t mean what you’re saying the crowd aren’t going to feel it. If you’ve ever been to a Kapa Haka competition, then you’ll know that even people who don’t know the language, they really feel it. If the people on stage really feel it, then you’ll get shivers down your spine, you might find yourself crying.

A lot of being Haka-fit  is being able to push yourself to your limits. Sometimes you get down, because you think you’re not going to make the team, there are so many better performers, or maybe I’m not doing well enough with poi, because poi is not my forté. It gets me down sometimes when the whole group has got the poi, but I have to go home and practise every single night to be at their level the next weekend.

Whakaeke is my favourite, but I love it so much I run out of steam by the end. So I need to keep myself mentally focused on my next song, my next move, it needs to be about this emotion, and I need to give it this much power, and use my entire body ─ you fully get exhausted! Four or five weeks out of competition you notice people’s bodies breaking down. They get colds and sore throats, and it’s not from all the singing, it’s the whole stress of it. So learning to manage that stress is really important. This year is the first year I’ve decided to get physically fit. I stopped drinking on the first of January, I aim to drop weight, and my brother is training me. Every week I feel better, and can keep up with everybody. And hopefully I will look really good on stage, because I want to be in prime condition. I want to be able to run across the stage, and do the full bracket at my full capacity.