Crowds of excited children, their parents and supporters from the local community gathered together at Ruapōtaka Marae in Glen Innes on Saturday 24th November for the inaugural Te Kōtuku Cultural Festival 2018.

The festival was the brainchild of the marae management and an outcome from one of several creative conversations held at the beginning of the year by their rangatahi programme, Te Āmiorangi Hōtaka Rangatahi. Once the festival had the go-ahead, the young people issued a wero or challenge to local primary schools to perform at the event.

Jordan Makea and tutor Whaea Maude with the students from Glen Innes Primary School kapa haka 'Wairererau' one of the schools Jordan helped to prepare for the festival.

The festival’s theme was Kapa Haka, but, says Te Āmiorangi coordinator Ann Makea, who looks after the youth portfolio on the marae, “there is a much bigger underlying purpose of the festival. Community engagement, the sharing of cultural knowledge, the learning of skills and the empowerment of our young people are a few of our target outcomes.”

In August, 16 primary schools took up the wero to participate at the festival, and these six- to 12-year-old boys and girls have been hard at work during the year developing and polishing their waiata, haka and poi skills.

The children’s hard work was rewarded on Saturday although, due to weather and other issues on the day, only 12 schools took the stage. However, it was still hugely successful and well received. Each school group gave a 15-minute Kapa Haka performance and received a taonga of participation, and a special award was created acknowledging the eldest kaumatua of Ruapōtaka Marae, Nani Nellie Kirkwood, 92, for her longstanding work in the community of Uku Tōia, Glen Innes. 

The recipients of this award were Tamaki Primary School who were commended for their spectacular performance, and for the off-the-stage commitment of their tutors, their whanau, and principal Rhonda Kelly, who worked alongside the students to hand stitch their performing costumes, make poi and hold weekend practices. Ann congratulated the principal after the presentation and emphasised that this was the essence of what the Te Kōtuku Cultural Festival was all about.

Before the festival a few of the schools requested help with preparing and polishing their performances. One Te Āmiorangi leader, Jordan Makea, 20, took up a tutoring role and visited the schools two or three times a week helping them to practice their actions and pronunciation for the big day.

Jordan has been involved in Kapa Haka since he was about eight years old, but had never tutored before, and he found that he really enjoyed the opportunity of working with the local children. “I could relate to the kids and they appreciated me telling them about my first performance. It made them feel more comfortable about it. I told them everyone has to start somewhere.”

"Everyone, Māori or not, can take up new learning experiences".

Jordan says it was a good feeling to be passing on knowledge. “It was amazing to see kids who weren’t of Māori descent, showing 100 percent effort; they were keen to learn something new and learn about the native culture of New Zealand, even though they may have been from the Pacific Islands or were European, with no Māori ancestry. But they really loved the experience of learning about the Maori culture and the songs and dances, and I loved seeing that.

As well as the Kapa Haka groups’ performances, entertainment at Saturday’s festival included an appearance by singing duo Pere and Awatea Wihongi. Other organised activities were a smoothie bike and stalls for local community craftspeople. NZ Police had a recruitment tent, and there was also plenty of food to tempt visitors including a traditional hangi and kaimoana.

Te Āmiorangi was set up about two years ago to help reconnect young people through Ruapōtaka Marae to their tikanga, culture and traditional values. Ann has worked with local schools to identify young people at risk and has created varying programmes as a medium of communication with them. The kaupapa is then run by the Te Āmiorangi tuakana (leaders).

Area Prevention Manager for NZ Police Inspector Joe Tipene awarding the Tamaki Primary School kapa haka leaders 'Te Mura õ Tāmaki' the Nani Nellie Kirkwood Taonga Tuku Iho.

“Over this time we have worked with youth at risk on all different levels;  Ann says that having a marae-based programme sets the right foundation for youth engagement. “They automatically know there is no smoking, no access to alcohol or drugs and zero tolerance to violence on the marae, so we just get on with the mahi.”

The group now has a core of about 30 young people aged between 10 and 26 years old. “Some of the youth have been referred to us, some are walk-ins, some have been brought along by friends and family” she says. “There is also a huge mix of ethnicities – Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island Māori, Niuean – not just Māori.” And, says Ann, “it’s not only Māori culture they’re learning, we’re also teaching them about their own cultures as well. It’s great to see that the youth are interested in each other’s cultures, too. They feel valued and appreciated.”

During the year, the Te Āmiorangi group, led by Jordan and festival administrator Ngakirikiri Kershaw, met regularly and different members have taken responsibility for all aspects of the festival from creating the tohu (emblem) to stage management, catering, tutoring, photography, security, moko printing, set-up and pack down, helping the performers get ready for their performances, and organising the activities on the day. “The feedback from the young people is that they were ready for the challenge and they appreciated being listened to,” says Ann.

Activities that the group has chosen for its programme this year have included mahi toi (arts), hākinakina (sport), ahurea Māori (performing arts) and collaborative projects with other community groups, like the Pacific Dance Company and the Bradley Lane Project. The young people also hosted 50 Filipino youth in 2017 and went to the Dinagyang Festival in January this year.

Te Āmiorangi Hõtaka Rangatahi, organised and executed the very 1st Te Kõtuku Cultural Festival 2018, here they are finally relaxing after the festival.

“Our aim is to look after their holistic wellbeing, while ensuring they have a safe place of belonging, inclusion and the opportunity to make a difference,” says Ann.

“Most of the Te Āmiorangi tuakana are well versed in performing arts here in Aotearoa. Participating at the highest level of Kapa Haka they’ve had the opportunity to take both Māori and Pacific culture around the world. It’s just as important to ensure their wellbeing is being enhanced in the process so, in turn, they can help others and use their talents,” says Ann.

Ann wants to acknowledge and thank all of the sponsors of this year’s Te Kōtuku Cultural Festival, particularly Creating Communities who were also instrumental in helping the marae to get theTe Āmiorangi youth to the Philippines this year, Pak n Sav Glen Innes, Maungakiekie Local Board, Waipareira Trust, Tāmaki Regeneration Company, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Te Wānanga o Awanuiarangi, Pipi Mā, Pacific Rim Productions, NZ Police, NZ Touch, Nutrimetics NZ, Oranga Tamāriki, Denise Nathan, Jamael Thompson and the Palmer Whānau.

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