Taha Tangitu-Huata

Kapa Haka - Te Matatini 2019

Key Info

Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Kahungunu

  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Master of Arts
  • Māori Cultural Studies/Tikanga Māori

For Taha, Kapa Haka is his place of solace. It is his place of prosperity, peace and calm. Tōnuitanga.

Taha (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Kahungunu) is one of about 30 University of Waikato students and staff performing. The 26 year old is fitting in a demanding training regime, along with study, working as a cultural performer (Te Puia, Whakarewarewa), being a Māori liaison officer and a leader. The list goes on. Time management is pretty important in the life of kaihaka, and as high performers in their art it is very much a transferable skill.

For Taha, Kapa Haka is a vehicle for transformation and development. It is also what he’s researching for his Masters degree, so that might sound a little like a thesis idea, but it is more a life. “It allows Māori to connect with not only their language, but the customs, practices and philosophies that come with it. From warfare to singing and dancing, traditional and contemporary arts. It’s good for Te Whare Tapa Whā, and the spirit. It’s quite a competitive sport. We can try and say it’s a traditional art form all we want, but really it’s turned out to be a contemporary perception of traditional items. It’s a good way to celebrate our identity and those traditional elements, while also embracing innovation and everything that comes with modern performing arts.”

Kapa Haka has helped Taha be a better man, father and partner. “It has helped me get out of trouble, and it’s a positive outlet that really enabled me to focus in on some good practices. Like being respectful and prompt. If you don’t turn up to practice you’re out. All these simple concepts, I wasn’t really paying much attention as a young person to these things. How you behave to adults, and children. Not to swear or disrespect anyone. Subconsciously, you're being equipped with a lot of skills for life. Soft skills like communication, how to be confident in the way you move and your body, and the way you present yourself. If you’re competing, there are very high standards. You’re expected to produce at a high level. Kapa Haka is great for retaining a lot of our old narratives and history, so we can share them through song and dance. So it’s a vehicle of intergenerational transmission as well. Young people love it. They eat it, sleep with it. Some kids wake up doing it.”

Taha’s first memory of Kapa Haka is of his parents, in Rotorua providing cultural experiences at hotels like the Sheraton for tourists in the late 90s. They were paid to do it as their profession, so Taha was fortunate to be exposed to Kapa Haka when he was very young.  “I was sitting at the side of the stage, watching them perform. At that time there were people singing like Pavarotti, or even Dr Hook. They were very proper, spoke very professionally, with almost an old fashioned English accent. That’s how a lot of our elders spoke, even though they were very native. They were educated to be that articulate, and communicate in that way.“

Haka is the opportunity for me to look  after my health.  It allows me to be physically striving. It’s an integral part of the art form, and it’s physically demanding. I told my mum she could buy me a pair of running shoes, and I’m not gonna run. But buy me a taiaha and I’ll jump all day.

His advice to new students is, "Hold fast to the lessons that you have learnt, through haka, because the skills are transferable. Stay true to who you are. That’s what I would say to the younger me: don’t throw out your beliefs. When you’re a leader everyone comes to you for advice and help."

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