Performing Māori: Kapa Haka on the Stage and on the Ground

Sharon Mazer


Kapa Haka is generally understood as a traditional Māori performing art, having acquired a certain status as a classical form like Bharatnatyam in India or Shakespearean drama in England and its (former) colonies.  The Kapa Haka tradition is a post-colonial invention, embodying a repertoire that acts as a medium for preserving and promulgating evolving ideas of contemporary Māori identity even as the original ritual practices it represents appear to recede from living memory.  What happens if we consider Kapa Haka also as a “popular entertainment”?  Kapa Haka is a performance practice that has become ubiquitous in the New Zealand cultural experience, perhaps to the point where its original politics, and potential to produce deeper social meanings, might be seen to have been diluted over time. But, this article argues, Kapa Haka’s social significance is rooted in the way it sustains the links between past and present and in how its audience “acts back” – that is, in the reciprocity between the group on the stage and the groups on the ground.  As a popular entertainment, the Kapa Haka performance plays continuously through the rupture of colonisation, enacting community, communality and interconnectedness – of iwi (tribe), whakapapa (genealogy) and turangawaewae (landedness).

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303