Māori culture

Kapa Haka - Māori Performance

Kapa haka - or traditional Māori performing arts - forms a powerful and highly visual part of the New Zealand cultural experience.

Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). It involves an emotional and powerful combination of song, dance and chanting. Kapa haka is performed by cultural groups on marae, at schools, and during special events and festivals. While you’re in New Zealand, take the opportunity to experience the excitement of kapa haka for yourself.

During a kapa haka performance you’ll experience a range of compositions, from chants and choral singing to graceful action songs and ferocious war dances. Many performances include skilled demonstrations of traditional weaponry.

Waiata-ā-ringa

In a waiata-ā-ringa or action songs, the lyrics are supported by symbolic hand movements. The performers flutter their hands quickly, a movement called wiri, which can symbolise shimmering waters, heat waves or even a breeze moving the leaves of a tree. Waiata-ā-ringa are usually accompanied by a guitar and can be slow, fast, serious, or fun and flirtatious, depending on the context.

Poi

Camera The Maori poi dance features the skilful control of a ball swung on a string.

The Maori poi dance features the skilful control of a ball swung on a string.

Camera The Maori poi dance features the skilful control of a ball swung on a string.

The Maori poi dance features the skilful control of a ball swung on a string.

Poi is a form of dance in which each performer skilfully twirls one or more poi (ball on a chord) in perfect unison with the others. Sudden direction changes are achieved by striking the ball on a hand or other part of the body, and the noise creates a percussive rhythm. Poi dancers are usually women and a skilled performance will strongly convey a sense of grace, beauty and charm.

Haka

Haka are war dances with loud chanting, strong hand movements, foot stamping and thigh slapping. Performers may incorporate traditional weapons, such as taiaha (spear-like weapons) and patu (clubs) into their haka. The All Blacks rugby team famously performs their haka before every game, and it is likely you will see this very same haka if you attend a cultural performance.

Pūkana

Camera Senior Taranaki school students perform a haka at a Maori performing arts competition.

Senior Taranaki school students perform a haka at a Maori performing arts competition.

Camera Senior Taranaki school students perform a haka at a Maori performing arts competition.

Senior Taranaki school students perform a haka at a Maori performing arts competition.

Pūkana or facial expressions are an important facet of Māori performance. They help emphasise a point in a song or haka, and demonstrate the performer’s ferocity or passion. For women, pūkana involves opening the eyes wide and jutting out their tattood chin. For men, it means widening the eyes and stretching out their tongue or bearing their teeth. Though these expressions may be intimidating, they are not necessarily a sign of aggression, but may simply show strong and deep-felt emotions.

Where to see it

Here are just a few locations where you can experience Māori performing arts.

Northland

Auckland

Rotorua

Christchurch