Did you know there is a kapa haka group in Vancouver?
Te Tini a Maui regularly performs at cultural and official events in Canada and the United States, sharing Maori and wider New Zealand culture with diverse audiences, from schools and First Nations groups to government and sporting events.
Mara Andrews spoke to Kia Ora Vancouver about the kapa haka’s formation and the experiences members have shared.
What is Te Tini a Maui’s backstory?
Through our relationships with the NZ Consulate, staff from our company, Kahui Tautoko Consulting, were asked if we would go and speak with group of Canadian Girl Guides and their families who were fundraising for and planning a trip to New Zealand – to answer questions about the country and give them some tips! In the planning phase for this event, it was decided we would sing some waiata (songs) for them and give them a taste of Maori performance, which we did.
We met other Maori from New Zealand while living and working here, who joined the group and got asked to do other informal events over the next year or so. Our tutors were Mania Maniapoto (who worked for us) and her husband Ben Ngaia. It all became much more formal when we were asked to perform at events associated with the Winter Olympics, including welcoming the NZ Paralympians, among other events.
At that point, we took on the name Te Tini a Maui (given by Ben) and began practising weekly, and everything grew from there. We had more performers join us after the Olympics, and we got invited to do many more performances. The group has always been ‘coordinated’ out of our company, as our staff essentially formed the nucleus of the membership, and over the years it has changed as people have joined while here on one or two-year work visas, and then left to go home or travel elsewhere.
Where and when do you perform? And what range of responses do you get?
We perform all during the year when invited or asked by someone. We always perform at Waitangi Day and Anzac Day, and these have become annual events for us. Over the years, we’ve been asked by consulates in the United States to perform for their events as well, since they haven’t got access to a group there. We also represented Canada at the expat Cultural Festival in Hawaii with groups from London, Utah, Australia etc.
Canadians LOVE our performances – we go to a lot of Pow Wows to perform to honour the people of this land and support their events, and we perform at a lot of events where non-indigenous Canadians are present. They love the different style we have and often participate, and love the interactive angle.
Do Canadians have much of an understanding of Maori culture? What do they already know, and what are they learning via Te Tini a Maui?
Only those who are rugby fans or those who’ve been to New Zealand, I think? Apart from that, I think it’s all new and they are learning how we acknowledge the local First Nations and how our songs and dances all tell stories and have meaning. I would have to say we also encourage them a lot to go to New Zealand!
We even have a Canadian non-indigenous member who asked if she could join and learn, and she performed at the Kamloops Pow Wow we attended – she caught on really quickly. At one time, we had an Inuit performer from Canada performing with us, who came to a performance in Seattle, and for the Hawaii performance, we had a chief from Squamish Nation here in Vancouver, who is also a performer for their Nation, join us. He learned the haka and the songs, and we did an integrated Maori and First Nations performance there. It was amazing
Do the Kiwis in Te Tini a Maui all have a background in kapa haka, or are people discovering it as adults? What do members gain or learn from being involved?
No – some have never done it publicly before back home and they’ve learned it here. Often they feel safer here performing as there are so many elite and amazing groups and performers back home, and many members are shy to perform for fear they aren’t good enough compared to the standard in New Zealand. I think we provide a safe environment – we acknowledge you may not understand the language so need all the translations; you may be a shy performer who has to come out of your shell or you may have to step out of your comfort zone – but I think it has built real pride and confidence in some of our performers.
At the same time, we want to do the best we can at performances for our hosts or folks who booked us so we do a lot of practising to get to this standard. We accept we may make mistakes from time to time – but you keep striving to get better all the time. We’re not a competition group – I would call us an entertainment group. We just want the audience to enjoy themselves and feel our pride and perhaps get encouraged to go to New Zealand
What’s the kapa haka’s relationship with indigenous groups in Canada?
We do a lot of cultural exchanges and Pow Wows where we perform and they perform, and then we learn each other’s dances. It’s great fun and we enjoy the connections. Kahui Tautoko Consulting’s client base is primarily First Nations, so we have a lot of contacts through our jobs and will support their events whenever we can
The recent Pow Wow sounds like it was a really special occasion. Was it the kapa haka’s first time at one? What did you take away from it?
No we have done a few Pow Wow or cultural exchanges now – Kootenays, Kamloops, Bella Bella, Haida Gwaii, Williams Lake for instance. Indigenous people connect very naturally, so it is always very comfortable for us to be amongst other indigenous people and we love watching their dances, styles and ceremonies. The regalia that is worn is often very stunning and colourful, and we just love it. I think our support for their events shows respect that we thank them for living on their lands, and it demonstrates our connection as people connected by the Pacific Ocean
What’s the best part of Te Tini a Maui?
The best part is simply being together as a whanau (family) here in BC. We are all far away from home and our families so this group provides a Vancouver family for many members who are here on their own. We become friends and family and hang out together a lot outside the kapa haka world… without this group, I think it would be lonely for many, especially the Maori members who are accustomed to family and hapu events and gatherings. When we are with indigenous people from here, it feels even more like home and being back on the Marae
Anything else you’d like to add?
It is a privilege to be part of this group and to be able to perform and represent New Zealand and to use it as a vehicle to promote New Zealand (tourism, products and people). That the indigenous people of this land allow and welcome us to do this in their territories and celebrate with us is humbling.