Connecting through kapa haka

Do Māori have an edge when engaging in Asia? We ask Tāpeta Wehi who is making a living out of doing just that.

Through their company Te Wehi Haka, Tāpeta and his wife Annette, they accompany high level delegations to all corners of the globe

Kapa haka is an excellent medium for connecting with Asia, according to kapa haka exponent Tāpeta Wehi (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Whakatōhea, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) “they love it”. So much so that these days, New Zealand’s business and political delegations rarely leave our shores without a Māori cultural attaché. It has become a fundamental part of the way that we engage. When you look at the cultural underpinnings of haka and waiata as a means of welcoming and building rapport it makes absolute sense - and Asia gets it.

It’s no surprise then that Tāpeta and his wife Annette have been able to make a thriving business out of travelling the world with kapa haka. Through their company Te Wehi Haka, they accompany high level delegations to all corners of the globe.

The son of doctors Ngapo and Pimia Wehi, who founded the widely regarded Māori performing arts group Te Waka Huia, Tāpeta Wehi grew up travelling the world with kapa haka. He says demand is only increasing.

Though the physical travel component was disrupted by Covid-19, Tāpeta and Annette were able to innovate and pivot quickly, and now offer international haka experiences online, working within commercial giants such as Microsoft, Air New Zealand and Vodafone to name a few.

Recently, Te Wehi Haka performed a virtual pōwhiri to supplement a significant corporate event for IBM in Sydney. He even had a recent enquiry from Shanghai.

“Haka is about bringing people together, and if ever there was a time for us to come together it is in this Covid environment. That’s how I got everyone on board.”

Before Covid hit, Tāpeta had accompanied many international delegations to Asia – too many to recount. One that really stands out is a recent performance in Xian where he came face to face with the Terracotta Warriors and felt an immediate spiritual connection with Chinese culture. 

“The familiarity of being in the presence of such esteemed taonga (treasures) allowed us to acknowledge our taha wairua and a spiritual connection between both races. We were honoured to meet the humble farmer who discovered the taonga and there was an eerie feeling of transcending back in time for just a moment.”

A group in traditional Maori dress in front of a fun park mountain and waterfall

Tāpeta Wehi: “Haka is about bringing people together, and if ever there was a time for us to come together it is in this Covid environment."

The values that are core to Māori culture and Te Wehi Haka of Whanaungatanga (relationship building), Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and Manaakitanga (caring for yourself and others) speak volumes to Chinese culture and, in Tāpeta’s experience provide an excellent foundation for relationship building.

“It is because of our strong moral foundation that we have a natural affinity to the Chinese who build businesses and friendships through developing a strong relationship first as well.

“When visitors come to our marae and homes in Aotearoa we like to ensure they are well looked after and so we go out of our way to ensure they are well-fed, have the best experiences and feel like family. The Chinese are similar in that many tikanga (protocol) regarding hospitality and sharing of taonga (treasures) and having cultural exchanges are valued from both sides.”