Aotearoa gathered around their tellys from 22-25 February to witness one of the largest showcases of mana māori with Te Matatini. From their respective homes in Tamaki Makaurau and Kirikiriroa, Editors Mairātea Mohi (Craccum) and Te Hoata Rāta (Nexus) came together to kōrero about the importance and controversies surrounding this years ‘Māori Olympics.’
A Week of Whakapiki Wairua
The piupiu have returned to their long sock homes, poi and pari have been accounted for as the ‘Māori Olympics’ officially come to a close. Te Matatini 2023 has been hailed as a week of success, drawing viewers in the millions, setting an unprecedented social media buzz and creating spaces for authentic Māori expression which proved needed in refilling the wairua reservoirs of Ngai Māori.
This year Eden Park was inundated with whānau, friends and supporters. The streets of Tāmaki Makaurau filled with traffic lights displaying silhouetted poi-twirling wāhine, decorated double deckers and the iconic skytower projecting haka highlights for all.
The week kicked off in Ōkahu Bay with Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei welcoming over 1,000 manuhiri from across the motu and the Tasman.
Situating the welcome pōhiri at the base of their tribal urupā while surrounded by hillside mansions talks to the entrenched history between Ngāti Whatua and the Crown.
The wrought relationship brought vigorous debate amongst those on the paepae where a high-calibre of language, dance, culture, poetry, politics, and music presented itself even before the festival.
Kaikōrero from across Tainui and Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei entered the realm of Tūmatauenga to battle over who is mana whenua at the pōwhiri. While the insults flew fast and furiously (zoom) the debate showed the very essence of tikanga alive and well.
Tainui leader Tukoroirangi Morgan laid down a kaupapa to Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Kōrero around the aforementioned mana whenua ensued. Taiaho Kapea of Ngāti Whātu Ōrākei replied with disgust, declining the koha–that had come from Tainui and four other roopu at the pōhiri.
Ngāpuhi tāne, Penetaui Kleskovic, received the koha, stating that it would then go to the whānau of Matua Vincent Heperi, who’d passed earlier in the day.
While the media eruption surrounding the debate over proprietary reigns is true, the kōrero then turns to tangata whenua over the importance of shared space and rightful kokoraho over the whenua. Amidst the online flurry of opinion and varied advice, there’s a shared consensus through Māori media that the focus has shifted into what can only be described as ‘social warfare’.
Atakura Hunia, Tūmuaki wahine of the University of Auckland Māori association—Ngā Tauira Māori and Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrakei uri, saw the brilliance in the display of culture.
“I thought the pōwhiri was beautiful. After four years of limited and restricted kaupapa Māori we were able to reconnect at the biggest national kapa haka festival in the world…I think the pōwhiri gave everyone a bit of fire in their belly regardless of what iwi or ethnicity you are, this was reflected by the whaikōrero, karanga, and items performed on stage. I’m proud of my iwi, 20yrs ago we were not in a position to provide the calibre of kaikōrero, kaikaranga, kaiwero that we have today. It is because of our kaumātua and their sacrifices, our parents and their investment in our uri that we have been able to invest in the development and growth of te reo Māori within our whānau and hapori.”
Te Matatini has brought a zest back to the sleepy streets of Auckland. One University of Auckland student, Rapata Nikora Te Ao Mohe Kingi Areta Biddle said,
“It was the most packed I had ever seen at Eden park, even for a Matatini event. The reason being that so many people who had attended the event weren’t Māori. However, it wasn’t strange to see so many different cultures among te iwi Māori at Matatini because it was the first time that the event was advertised and broadcasted outside of Whakaata Māori and actually on TVNZ on Demand.”
The Te Matatini week brought the first Te Reo Māori Air NZ flight to Auckland while also claiming air time through mainstream broadcaster TVNZ for the first time in 20 years.
Students of Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato banded together to either make the trip north or to huddle around the screen as they cheered on their roopu. When asked about the importance of mainstream access, Waikato tauira Kaihutu Rawiri Mason spoke on the accessibility,
“As tangata whenua who can’t make the journey with prior commitments, it was important to be able to see our people displayed so openly on TV that everyone watches. Whakaata Māori is algood but sometimes you just want to send links to your pākehā friends so they don’t have to sign up.”
Communication Advisor, Moko Tini Templeton said the 1.8 million accumulated streams could not have been done without the many hands of Māori, mainstream and student media.
“The cohesion, learning and connections made by all media partners is what made the festival so successful,” Templeton remarks.
As host of the last Te Matatini broadcasted on TVNZ, Templeton talks to the expertise of seasoned media moguls and the fresh new perspective of junior writers.
“Working together has been a relearning process for all of us. We all have unique attributes we bring to the table, which have helped us represent all ages and voices.”
Te Ao Māori have been greatly anticipating Te Matatini since its initial cancellation in 2021 and the threat of postponement by Cyclone Gabrielle was a heavily debated topic.
The Te Matatini organisers, recognising the need for a moment of whakapiki wairua, ensured additional travel support, as well as a $10,000 kōha went to those affected most.
A poignant performance was by te roopu Matangirau, who traversed the Ngāti Kahungunu plains to attend the festival. Bringing mud covered legs to the stage they vividly gestured towards the destruction of the cyclone upon their rohe.
Templeton talks about the resilient nature of the roopu who encouraged the festival to keep going, “[Ngāti Kahungunu] asked us to continue. Because at the end of the day we agreed it’s not just about the individual but representing the mana of your people.”
Te Matatini has become a place of transformation. Tuhoe Tamaiparea and Pere Wihongi of the kapa Angitū challenged gender roles by standing in the poi line alongside their female teammates and chanting alongside their male counterparts during the haka. All with the backing of leadership behind them.
“It’s a huge, huge step for us… we’ve been longing to do the poi on a Matatini stage and as our authentic self,” Wihongi said.
With the addition of heavy coverage comes heavy controversy. Angitū, while ground-breaking in their whakaaro, faced immense criticism through online platforms with comments ranging from light-hearted retorts to full-swings of power exertion.
Te Matatini is also a place to share one’s Māoritanga, connect with whānau and has also proved an effective platform to network.
WIth the likes of Māori royalty and MP’s like Willie Jackson and Debbie Ngarewa packer making an appearance, there were also visits made by Prime Minister Hipkins and Auckland Minister, Michael Wood.
Politics were played on and off the stage as Māori academics, lawmakers and Matatini viewers questioned the government’s funding arrangements for Te Matatini.
In an independent report by Ngā Pae o Te Maramatanga—New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence, it found that Te Matatini benefits the economy, health, social, and cultural wellbeing of Aotearoa New Zealand’s people.
In the criticism levelled at the Labour government, it has been revealed that Te Matatini earns significantly less, while servicing many more people, locally and globally. Te Matatini currently receives $2.9 million while other cultural organisations such as The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra receives $19.7 million.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced (last) Monday that Te Matatini funding options will be explored.
As a result of major mainstream coverage, one of the more interesting factors of this year’s Te Matatini was the national response through Roopu Māori.
Tauira Māori of Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato were approached during their annual club’s day last week to kōrero about the importance of Te Matatini and our representation. Though it was hard to kōrero without first recognising the rejected koha from Tukoroirangi Morgan. Many of the tauira whakapapa to Waikato-Tainui with thoughts shared but not recorded.
When prompted with pātai surrounding Te Matatini, tauira Monnie Tuuta-Roberts spoke on the understanding of contemporary Kapa Haka,
“[Kapa haka] is so complex, you know? There’s so much kaupapa that it’s hard to sit in that space and not form some idea of how to interpret poi and whakawātea. But it’s something that needs to be cherished and nurtured if we’re going to draw some sort of connection to Māoritanga. The kaupapa remains though, it’s just how we interpret it.”
While other takes include how we can kōrero against the idea that there’s overfunding to a ‘glorified polyfest’. Anahera Harris spoke on the topic, citing a tiktok comment under poi from Angitū,
“I saw a comment that said ‘Māori receive scholarships and grants, why do they need this’. I want to just comment on the level of disrespect it takes to discredit kaupapa māori without first beginning the process of understanding. Tō tero.”
“Angitū speak for rangatahi māori, it’s not empty kōrero nor is it brand new. [Te Ao Māori] is changing but are we changing with it? I can’t answer that–but it was nice to see takatāpui representation on the main stage”
There’s no consensus through rangatahi māori, but a similar gratitude to TVNZ for showcasing roopu and tangata whenua alike–welcoming us all into a future of māori through mainstream displays of mana. The kōrero now shifts to what is happening next and where Māoritanga will go next, and how contemporary trends will be incorporated moving forward.