Pacific Experiences: Native Dance, Performance, and Education
Melehina Groves and Keoni Wilhelm, interviewers [Ka‘iwakīloumoku]
Taiohi Puareare, Roopu Kapa Haka
Keoni and I were fortunate enough to befriend Ngaria and Tony Walker when they visited Kamehameha Schools this September, and they took some time before their performances began to talk story with us. As they will explain, their roopu focuses on fostering education through culture and giving their students a sense of self-discipline and self-worth, values they come to understand through learning their language and their dance. As Tony put it, "kapa haka becomes the incentive" to push themselves in school; their reward for successfully completing lessons is learning how to perpetuate their culture on a deeper level.
MG: Could you begin by introducing yourselves for our readers?
NW: Sure, I’m Ngaria Walker and I’m a tutor for Taiohi Puareare.
TW: And I’m Tony Walker, Ngaria’s my wife and I’m a co-tutor.
MG: Your group is closely affiliated with your Queen Te Atairangikaahu, is that correct?
NW: We’re not, but . . .
TW: [laughing] The group is . . .
NW: The group is, but we’re from the East Coast of the North Island and are direct descendents of Paikea, Pai‘ea. Just our family, his sisters and brother, we’re from the East Coast, but the kids are all closely related, they’re mokopuna of Te Atairangikaahu. We live in Hamilton...
MG: So they perform for her?
TW: They perform for her, and a lot of the parents work at Turangawawae Marae which is the main marae. They’re the kitchen hands, the cleaners . . .
MG: Are they the Kingitanga?
NW: Kingitanga is basically a movement that was created to unite Māori. Tainui . . . our members are directly related to "The Lady," Queen Te Atairangikaahu and I’ve heard Hawaiians refer to them as "servants" to the Queen. Our group is made up of Tainui who are staunch supporters of the Kingitanga movement—Tainui are the "kaitiaki" or "guardians" of this movement—I think there’s people here who could explain it a lot better than what we can, ’cause we’re from outside the area!
MG: That’s OK! Now you folks have brought up a group of about how many kids?
NW: Eighteen. Eighteen performers and eight supporters.
MG: Their ages are pretty varied!
NW: Yes . . . thirteen through . . .
TW: Twenty-five! [laughing]
NW: Sixteen. Thirteen through sixteen is our high-school kids, but not all of them came. We left about four or five behind. This is not our full group.
MG: Most of them have come up through Kula Kaupapa Māori, that’s a Māori language immersion school, right?
MG: Oh, so you’re both also teachers?
NW: We’re both Kura Kaupapa Maori teachers.
TW: We teach curriculum areas through the language from a traditional background.
MG: What are some of the other things you work with the kids on besides dance and language?
NW: We promote smoke-free; we’re smoke-free, alcohol-free . . .
NW: Drug-free. And we play sports, we do homework sessions with our kids and activities outside of kapa haka.
TW: Our focus is on education. We’ve got . . . how many . . . three, four? Four . . .
NW: Three and one in training.
TW: Four other tutors, real teachers. [laughing] We’re all teachers. We try to tie what we do as a kapa haka together with school; tie it all together because a lot of our students, they don’t like . . . A lot of our students have gone on from Kura Kaupapa to a high-school, to a mainstream high-school and they’re sort of borderline. So we’re trying to bring them back on by introducing something they love which is performing arts. So, for example we have our homework stations where they have to bring a piece of work that they need to get done in school. After that, we teach them kapa haka. There’s an incentive. They’re doing really well.
MG: That sounds really similar to our Hawaiian students. Have you seen a lot of success with the type of program you folks do with these kids? As far as keeping them from falling through the cracks and such?
TW: [laughing] You start!
NW: These kids . . . we’re teachers at Kura Kaupapa Maori—he was and I’m still there—so these kids, the majority of these kids, all but one or two, have been there for the last five or six years and we’ve won numerous kapa haka competitions, we’ve gone to high-schools doing kapa haka. Outside of that we’ve got rep players for netball, football, and rugby league, and we’ve got mana kōrero speakers, national and regional competitions . . .
MG: Like orators?
NW: We’ve got teachers still training through last year . . . what else have we got? We’ve performed at an All Blacks game . . . heard of Jonah Lomu and Carlos Spencer? They’re ex-All Blacks. Our group performed in Hamilton at the Waikato Stadium before the All Blacks took the field. We’ve done photo shoots for calendars . . . we’ve performed all over the place, there’s been a string of things that we’ve done.
TW: I think the biggest success has been in the attitude, the change in the kids’ attitude. A lot of them were . . . quite . . . out there. Defiant, rebellious, and this has just taught them a bit of discipline, self-discipline and respect, those sort of things, and they’ve applied those to their lives so that they’re becoming just great kids. At the end of the day, they’re wonderful kids [laughing]!
NW: And a lot of them come from lower-class so just getting them here has been a huge achievement. It’s taken us two years to plan this trip.
MG: Did you folks have help funding the trip?
NW: Nope, the parents paid for it. We did a lot of fund-raising to cover things while we were here, but it’s taken us two years and a lot of hard work. For a lot of them, minus about four or five, they’re first-time travellers. So coming to Hawai‘i and then being able to go to the States and visit there and all of that . . . yeah.
TW: It’s their first time out of the township . . .
NW: Some of them . . .
TW: Out of the village [laughing] so they’re . . .
MG: Wow, so they’re having a lot of firsts!
TW: [laughing] Yeah, it’s like when we were coming over on the plane and someone said if we were gonna stop to eat . . . if the plane was going to stop somewhere so we could eat! [laughing]
NW: But they’ve done really well, these kids. They’ve come a long way from four or five years ago.
MG: Is the little one yours?
NW: He’s our whāngai . . . our ummm . . .
TW: Our adopted [laughing]!
NW: Yeah, our adopted.
TW: It’s not adoption . . .
MG: Like hānai?
NW: Yeah, he’s not legally ours, but he’s our whāngai.
MG: What other places are you going to?
NW: We’ve got a performance at the Bishop Museum on Tuesday and then we hope to go to the University of Hawai‘i and see Dr. Rapata Wiri, and then on Friday night we fly out to Anaheim, then on to Tijuana and Disneyland.
MG: So a fun trip!
MG: Are you performing over there?
NW: No, no not there.
TW: Half and half, it’s the same thing, they do the work and then they get the holiday.
MG: Are you going out to BYU in Lā‘ie at all?
NW: No, no . . .
TW: We want to get there . . .
NW: We wanted to but our itinerary is fully booked, so we can’t get there. It’s kind of nice for the kids to . . .
TW: They want to meet people who . . .
NW: They want to meet kids, real people.
MG: Have any of them been to Hawai‘i before?
NW: No, actually none of them have been.
TW: She was here.
NW: I was here in July. We did a performance in the library, but everyone was on holiday.
MG: That’s right, you’re on opposite schedules from us.
NW: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we had the Christmas holiday.
TW: This is my . . . fifth time.
MG: Oh really?
TW: Yeah, I stayed with the Miller family in . . . Punalu‘u? I think it’s Punalu‘u.
MG: How did you get started doing this type of work?
NW: We came in ’99 to the WIPCE, and his mother was a lecturer at the University of Waikato and someone asked her if she could get a group together to present a paper over there so we got landed with the job and we’ve been going ever since. So this is our 7th year. And we initially just started off with his sisters and my sisters and . . .
TW: All family.
NW: . . . and the boyfriends and stuff, and we’ve sort of grown from there.
MG: Any observations you can share about the similar struggles Maori and Native Hawaiians are facing? Any words of wisdom? [laughing]
TW: Never stop.
NW: You’ll get there.
TW: Don’t give up. Never be happy with the status quo.
NW: We’re still progressing.
NW: There’s things that we can get better at.
TW: We fight every day.
KW: We’re fighting for this school right now. American courts are trying to take this away from us . . .
NW: Are they?
KW: They say that under their constitution, their kānāwai, we’re racist because we have a Hawaiian school, but this school was established by a Hawaiian princess in 1887 when we were still a nation.
KW: When we were still a kingdom. There’s a lot of misconception, I think, out there in the world but we had a country, we were recognized by other nations . . . in 1843 we had our constitution but today . . . everybody kind of thinks . . .
TW: Yeah, in the here and now . . .
KW: A lot of people think we’re a landless people.
KW: I’m interested in the political situation you folks are in.
TW: We just finished our general election of the new government with our first Maori political party. It was established this year.
NW: Yeah, and they won four seats.
TW: Out of 122, so there’s a voice there . . .
NW: However little.
TW: And it’s ours, the voice of the people.
NW: But they’re opposing . . . our national government wanted to get rid of our Maori seats so . . .
TW: It’s "one nation" sort of talk.
NW: Yeah, they want one nation, we want our Maori seats in Parliament . . . they want everyone to be equal.
MG: All the same so you don’t get anything anymore?
NW: Yeah, all the same. They wanted to get rid of the Treaty of Waitangi.
TW: So everyone’s the same. Abolish it.
NW: So everyone has the same rights, no Maori seats. Thankfully they didn’t get it.
TW: It’s still going, eh?
NW: It’s still going, yeah, but it’s likely the government we’ve had for the last three or four years will take reign again, hopefully.
KW: So you folks are still under Great Britain, right?
TW: Yeah, we’re still a part of the Commonwealth . . . as a New Zealander, but ah, we live in dual worlds, eh?
TW: We see Aotearoa as being who we are. So, the Commonwealth . . . we’re part of it, but we believe that we were born Maori, we weren’t born New Zealanders. They’re a part of each other. [laughing]
KW: So there are still land issues? People still taking land away from the Maori?
TW: Uh, not . . .
NW: The government is still trying to . . . they’re not taking it away.
TW: They try to legislate to take it rather than . . .
NW: Yeah . . . they claim, they were making big claims, I think, in the land. The South Island has been given, I don’t know, $25 million dollars for land that was confiscated.
MG: The Maori were given $25 million?
NW: Yeah, which amounts to nothing, really.
TW: I think it was . . . in the beginning of the year? This area of foreshore and seabed, I’m not sure if you heard about it? The government tried to legislate payments because we own, not "own" but we’re, ah . . .
NW: Close to . . .
TW: Guardians of the foreshore and seabed. The government tried to legislate, bring in a bill, to say that it no longer belongs to Maori.
NW: It was going to the government.
TW: It was going to every New Zealander. So we had a mass walk from the top of New Zealand right down to Parliament. Thousands upon thousands . . .
NW: Thousands . . .
TW: And there wasn’t only Maori, there were Pākeha, there were Asians . . . the walk, it wasn’t about taking the foreshore away from Maori, it was about peoples’ basic human rights. It was a human rights issue and they were cutting across peoples’ rights.
NW: They got hundreds of thousands . . . musta been a couple hundred thousand, eh?
TW: We stopped the bill. We stopped the bill at the moment, but now they’re trying to figure out another way around it.
KW: Terrible. They’re trying to open up this school to everybody.
NW: Really? Then it won’t be elite anymore, eh?
TW: It’s like Kura Kaupapa, eh? Kura Kaupapa’s open.
NW: But we give, well we’re supposed to have a policy in place where you have to come in, like when you start at five years old you have to have had at least two years of Kōhanga.
TW: That’s a preschool.
NW: Yeah, preschool. So that’s the policy we have, and at most of the kura they have to have had at least two years of Kōhanga before they start Kura Kaupapa.
TW: But they’re a lot more relaxed about their schooling . . .
NW: Yeah, they are, they’re a lot more relaxed.
TW: Because our . . . because Maori, our traditions, our values are about looking after people despite . . . a huge part of the people in the House are sort of fighting this policy, our ways of doing, our way of life.
NW: We’re still trying to fight for the rights to land that was confiscated hundreds of years ago! Maori should have different rights than New Zealanders, it shouldn’t be equal rights for all New Zealanders. It’s a constant fight to keep what land and money we still have and to regain what we lost . . . there are all kinds of challenges and loop-holes that are found when these issues come up.
MG: Will you folks be at WIPCE?
TW: Yeah . . . we’re opening and closing . . . the kids in the marae that will be with us, they’ll be cooking and that kind of thing, that’s what they do. ’Cause we’ll take another group, another . . .
TW: Another three kapa haka groups . . . about 25 in this group, got another group of about 60 little kids.
MG: They’re different age levels?
TW: Primary school and she takes high-school. Another tutor takes another high-school, and we all take an adult group, there’s about 150 in there, so all of us are going to get together.
MG: I’ve never been to Aotearoa.
NW: Oh haven’t you? Well, bring warm clothes!
TW: Yes, bring something warm!
NW: It’ll be freezing.
MG: Even in November?
NW: It’ll be cold for you!
TW: It’s colder than this room! [laughing] We’ll come and pick you up and show you the real side of Aotearoa! The kids were walking around in Waikīkī and they didn’t think it looked Hawaiian enough and we said, "Oh, you’ll get there!" [laughing]
MG: Any closing thoughts?
TW: Just keep up the fight.
NW: Yeah, you’ll get there. We’re still fighting for ours, still struggling . . . I mean, like you said we’re further ahead in some ways but we still got a big fight.
MG: It’s all about what perspective you’re coming from.
TW: We all fight on different levels, I mean, this is part of the fight. Just performing.
NW: Oh, yeah.
KW: Having you here is like welcoming family you haven’t seen in a long time.
NW: Oh yeah, we’re so close . . . the kids and even the parents have been really excited about coming . . . I’m just glad we’re here! [laughing].
MG: Were they a little nervous?
TW: A lot nervous! [laughing]
NW: Silly nervous. There were lots of silly questions being asked, but then like you said it, eh? They had no idea what to expect.
TW: Right. And that sort of puts things into context now, eh? We try to tell them, you know, these people, they’re really loving, embracing people, they’re just like us. But it’s not until they get here and they meet people that they really understand and put it into context.