More than 500 students from around Northland will meet at Whangārei Girls High this Saturday as they battle it out for a spot at the nationals in the Tai Tokerau secondary schools kapa haka competition.

Teams have spent hours rehearsing choreography and committed numerous weekends in the lead up to the competition with taonga donated from local schools.

Competitors must perform a range of composition within their allocated bracket including Whakaeke (entrance), Mōteatea (chant), Waiata-ā-ringa (action song) and poi. Groups will also be graded on their use of te reo within their performance.

This year’s competition, which draws on the Māori history of voyaging, has been titled “Tōkihi ki tua” by Te Whare Wānanga o Aotearoa kaiwhakahaere Ruki Tobin.  Tobin said he hoped the term would inspire youth to be proud of their heritage and a reminder of their empowering contribution to Māori culture revival and survival.

” Kapa haka is like a waka, it unites people, it connects people but most of all it is a vessel that transports important physical, spiritual and mental taonga,”  Tobin said.

The term “tōkihi” associates to the world of waka and “ki tua” indicates direction or to steer.

Chairman for the organising committee Darryl Tepania said he was impressed with the representation of schools throughout the region and they are expecting hundreds of supporters.

“I would like to thank everyone who has come together to make this event a reality. To those taking the stage, kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui,” he said.

With the increasing push to normalise te reo within New Zealand, kapa haka competitions seek to advance Māori language through song writing and performance for all to experience.

High school students often continue their kapa haka journey representing their regions at an adult level at the prestigious Te Matatini national competition attracting crowds of up to 15,000 people each day earlier this year. Winners of Te Matatini go on to become the official kapa haka ambassador for New Zealand and are invited to perform at numerous high-profile events both here and abroad including the Edinburgh military tattoo.

Thirteen schools are set to perform with ōkaihau college first up at 9am.  The top schools will then go through to the nationals in Manawatū next year.

Tickets are $5 at the door and under five’s are free.

The order of the day is as follows:

09:00 – ōkaihau College
09:40 – Northland College
10:20 – Bay of Islands College
11:00 – Te Kāpehu Whetū
12:00 – Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rāwhitiroa
12:40 – Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe
13:20 – Whangarei Boys and Girls High School
14:00 – Te Kura Taumata o Panguru
15:20 – Te Wharekura o Te Rangianiwaniwa
16:00- Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Pukemiro
16:40- Kaitaia College
17:20 – Pompallier College
18:00 – Tikipunga High School

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