20 Feb 2023

For Ngāwai Johnston, Justice-Manawanui Arahanga-Pryor and Kris Jones, it’s hard to put into words how meaningful being selected to stand in Te Matatini is.

The three Christchurch City Council staff members are heading to Tāmaki Makaurau to stand with their rōpū take part in the kapa haka festival.

This year’s 50th anniversary event runs from Wednesday 22 February through to Saturday 25 February at Eden Park.

Out of the more than 45 teams to qualify, only three from Waitaha made the cut with Christchurch City Libraries staff Justice and Kris standing with Te Ahikaaroa and Kaitohutohu Whakawhanake Hāpori Māori Ngāwai standing with Ngā Manu a Tāne.

“Te Matatini is the Olympics of haka, to be selected to stand with my kapa is incredible, it feels heavy and light all at the same time and brings out every type of emotion. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, it’s scary, and it’s daunting you feel all your ancestors, your tūpuna, and those who have passed walking with you,” Ngāwai says.

“But it is also a lot. The commitment that you need to give to the kapa to ensure that you’re upholding the mana of the people surrounding you and the kapa you’re standing for takes every ounce of energy you have.”

Justice has been surrounded with the enchantments that live within waiata and kapa haka her whole life, so Te Matatini means a lot to her.

“I guess the beauty from a Te Ao Māori perspective for me about our pēpi growing up on the marae, under the wing of our kaumātua or following the footsteps of our tīpuna, is that the love and passion for kapa haka stems from the unconditional surroundings of Te Reo Māori, tāmoko and waiata Māori,” she says.

“The feet have definitely been itching to get back on stage and though the small intimate moments with our kapa have been great performing for our citizenship ceremonies, our days on the marae or other kaupapa that may have arisen, they just seem to hit differently in the build up for Te Matatini.”

And Kris has never asked himself if I’s worth all the effort because of how much reward he gets spending time with his community to work together, learn and grow.

“Personally it’s very important and the reason is that Te Matatini is one of the driving forces that people engage in Māori culture a place where it I safe to be Māori, a place to gather under Māori tikanga in an event that spans both Australia and new Zealand,” he says.

“The physicality of kapa haka is great for my health and the emotion I put in is fantastic for my own emotional wellbeing. To smile when talking about happy subjects, to allow myself to cry and lament for sad subjects and to scream and shout pukana to the world expressing my frustrations.”

As a reflection before Te Matatini, Ngāwai has a message for Māori not only in Council but all of Ōtautahi, Waitaha, Te Waiponamu, Aotearoa and beyond.

“Tū māia i tōu reo, tū māia i tōu māoritanga, Tū māia i te ao Māori.”