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    Exhibition explores Te Tauihu kapa haka

    As the kapa haka community in Whakatū Nelson prepares to welcome thousands of students to the country’s biggest primary school kapa haka competition, hundreds gathered in the central city last week to support the launch of a special exhibition dedicated to the performing art.

    Local photographer Melissa Banks has spent the past seven years working alongside local whānau, hapū and iwi to document kapa haka, wānanga, tā moko ceremonies, hui, and other events. As a kapa haka mum herself, being behind the sceneshas given her a unique appreciation – and passion – for the art.

    Te Ara o Hine Rēhia: A journey into the world of kapa haka, at the Nelson Provincial Museum Pupuri Taonga i Te Tai Ao, is her homage to kapa haka in Te Tauihu o te Waka-a-Māui (top of the South Island).

    It follows the journey of kapa haka Tamariki Toa at Nelson Central School, Te PītauWhakarei at Nelson Intermediate School and Pūaha Te Tai at Nayland College, as well as the adult group Kura Tai Waka, framed around the metaphor of the different items that make up a kapa haka performance.

    From the serenity of the choral tira and the beauty of the poi, to the powerful impact of the haka, the whakaeke and the whakawātea, from the tradition and intergenerational knowledge in the mōteatea to the playfulness of the waiata- ā-ringa, Banks says the exhibition aims to inspire, connect, and educate.

    “Every photo has a story to tell, and these images reveal the strength of a community who have ensured kapa haka has thrived through challenging times.

    “My hope is that audiences will not only learn more about the art itself but also feel and see the individual and whānau commitment required to prepare for regional and national competitions.”

    While the idea for an exhibition timed to coincide with the national primary schools kapa haka competition, Te Mana Kuratahi, to be held in Whakatūfrom October 30 to November 3, and the Nelson Arts Festival, was turned down for funding by Creative New Zealand, a coalition of supporters quickly pulled together to make it happen.

    And at the opening last week, the strong support of Banks and her whānau was evident. The launch was held outside on the pedestrianised part of Nelson’s main street, as numbers exceeded both expectations and health and safety requirements. It is thought to be the largest turnout for an exhibition opening at Nelson Provincial Museum.

    Banks said the support had been overwhelming.

    “I think it is more a reflection of the strong community we have here and also the thirst for knowledge from the wider community. Leading up to Te Mana Kuratahi, I hope this exhibition really does shine a light on the kapa haka community, not just here in Whakatū, but across to Wairau and Mohua as well.”

    Local kapa haka advocateand cultural advisorto the project Tom Alesana said Te Ara o Hine Rēhia “stood as a tribute to our stories, our resilience as a people, and the rich tapestry of our identity as people of Te Tauihu”.

    “We are incredibly proud to share this exhibition with the whole community as we prepare to host the largest kapa haka event our region has ever seen.”

    Alesana says he hoped the exhibition would help create greater awareness about the positive impact and contribution kapa haka made to the wider community.

    Te Ara o Hine Rēhia was brought to life through the generous supportof community sponsors, including Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Arts Festival, Wakatū Incorporation, Nelson Airport, Ngāti Rārua, Nelson City Council, Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne o Wairau, Te Puni Kōkiri, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, OD&Co, Whakarewa, Nelson City Framers, and Tohu Wines.


    1. Te Ara o Hine Rēhia:A journey into the world of kapa haka runs at Nelson Provincial Museum Pupuri Taonga i Te Tai Ao from September 8 to November 12, 2023.

    2. Admission is free for Nelson Tasman locals and Te Mana Kuratahi groups

    3. The national primary schoolskapa haka competition, Te Mana Kuratahi, will be held at the Trafalgar Centre in Whakatū from October 30 to November 3, 2023.

    4. The Nelson Arts Festival runs from October19 to October 29, 2023.

    Richard Liddicoat

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    Exhibition explores Te Tauihu kapa haka