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Māori dance

Background information

The term kapa haka derives its meaning from two words: kapa (to stand in rows) and haka (Māori dance). It is used to describe both a Māori performing arts group (a kapa haka group) and the Māori performing arts in general, which include haka, poi, and waiata ā-ringa.

Māori used chants, song, and dance to record their history, to convey feelings, to express ideas, to tell stories, to celebrate important events, and to protest and persuade. Kapa haka, which combines movement, song, and chant, forms an integral part of Māori culture and ways of life. It plays a critical role within whānau (family) and iwi (tribal) customs and lifestyle, including ceremonial events such as pōwhiri (welcoming of visitors) and tangihanga (funerals).

Kapa haka is useful for developing coordination and skills in manipulating props (for example, weapons). Many of the dance movements involve gestures of the hands, arms, and face and originate from warrior training or images of nature (for example, the movement of wiri originated from the shimmer of heat on the land).

Today, many people take part in kapa haka competitions, which are run on a formal basis with set requirements (for example, a specific range of items, time frames, and formal assessment).

Māori song and dance signifies our New Zealand identity to many people, both Māori and Pākehā. Māori dance is characterised by:

  • a strong relationship between the actions and the waiata
  • the use of objects such as the taiaha, poi, or patu
  • the use of soloists leading the action
  • the frequent separation of men and women in different groups
  • the use of unison and ensemble choreography
  • rhythmic footwork.

Māori dances incorporate traditional movements, such as:

mahi ā-ringa straight and circular hand and arm gestures punctuated with strong accents and forceful movements, many of them based on actions related to warfare
pūkana creating a fierce appearance by enlarging the whites of the eyes
takahia rhythmic tapping of the feet to a beat
wiri quivering the hands to signify the shimmer of heat
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