What makes a great kapa haka performer? Te Karere interviewed some of the best performers who took the stage at the national Te Matatini 2023 kapa haka competition to find out.

Know the basics

In kapa haka you need to know the basics: How to hold a note, how to pūkana, and how to haka. And an extra one for the women: know how to poi. Master these elements before rocking up to your first kapa haka muster and you’re more likely to be in the running to crack the team.

Hospitality rules

Treat the marae, or wherever you’re staying, the same way you treat your own home. All hands are on deck when it comes to cleaning the whare, prepping the wharenui, washing the dishes, making beds, or scrubbing the toilets.

Be yourself

You are unique with your own special skills. Put them on show on stage. Be proud and hold true to your values. Don’t copy others or take on another group’s style. There is only one Kawariki Morgan, one Tiria Waitai, one Lolo Brown, one Tangiwai Ria, one Nuku Kingi, and there is only one you.

“Kaore e pai ana ki a mātou kia rite pū tētahi ki tētahi. Engari me whakakite hoki i ō taera ake, i ō kura huna (We don’t want people who are the same. You need to find your own style and what makes you special).” – Ruth Smith, Waihīrere.

Learn your words

Learning your words is key. If you don’t know the lyrics then you’re not embodying the message behind the waiata or haka. Not only do you risk making a fool of yourself on stage but you’re also letting your kapa down. Learn your words!

Practise, practise, practise!

Same as learning your words, you need to practise your actions – hand and body movements – facial expressions, and poi. Whether it’s at noho or at home, practise! The goal is mastery to the point of it becoming second nature. Make your performance look effortless.

Trust the process

Whether it’s with yourself or with your rōpū, trust the process. The road to becoming a great performer is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and not all rōpū can learn their entire bracket in one noho, it takes time. Follow instructions from your tutors and trust they know how to bring out the best in your kapa.

Stay true to the group

Be true to the group and what it’s about. Learn your words, learn your actions, and show up to haka noho. Foster the bonds you have with others in your rōpū to build trust and cohesion among yourself. Whanaungatanga is important and it’s what makes your group strong.

Watch the summer series Te Matahaka on TV1 on weekdays at 4pm or TVNZ+.


kapa haka – Māori cultural performance group; Māori cultural performing art

pūkana – facial expression used in kapa haka

haka – Māori cultural dance

poi – a light ball on a string, swung in movements to accompany song

marae – courtyard; complex of cultural buildings

whare – house, building

wharenui – meeting house

waiata – song

kapa – group, team

noho – (in kapa haka context) overnight stay, often weekend-long

rōpū – group

whanaungatanga – relationship, kinship, fostering relations