Exploring Asia through kapa haka

Atera Apirana's love of kapa haka has taken her to Japan and China to perform and been the catalyst for learning about the cultures of those countries, including a special bond she feels for the Ainu people of Japan. Atera's story is part of our series looking at Māori who are succeeding in Asia through embracing their own culture and the cultures of the people they meet.

Ko Matawhāura, ko Maungapōhatu ngā maunga e tū whakahī. Mai i Maketū ki Tongariro, mai i Ngā Kurī a Whārei ki Tihirau, ko Te Arawa, ko Mātaatua ngā waka. Ko Ngāti Pikiao, ko Ngāti Whakaue, ko Tūhourangi, ko Tūhoe ngā iwi. Ko Atera Apirana ahau.

Atera and an Ainu man hongi

My love for kapa haka has seen me travel to Japan and China twice over these past two years.

In 2018, I was one of the eight students chosen by Matua Jamus Webster to travel to China to support and promote New Zealand Week. New Zealand Week is a China-wide promotion of New Zealand food, beverage and culture. We spent about two weeks travelling around China to cities such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Chengdu.

I was so excited when Matua Jamus asked me to be a part of such an amazing kaupapa because I couldn't wait to travel halfway across the world to showcase our beautiful culture. Better yet, I was able to do it alongside some of my Raukura brothers and sisters.

We performed on huge stages, small stages, inside restaurants and supermarkets and even on a balcony looking over a view of the Shanghai tower. It’s not every day you get to perform while looking out at a view like that.

Atera accepting a cup of tea during a Japanese tea ceremony

Atera: "I’m very thankful that my culture and my love for kapa haka allowed me to participate in such amazing kaupapa." (Photo credit: Te Puia)

In April 2019, I was part of a group of 16 students from Rotorua Girls’ and Boys’ high school students who were given the opportunity to travel to Hokkaido, Japan to tautoko the Tuku Iho Exhibition of Te Puia Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. This was by far my favourite trip for so many reasons.

Firstly, we were given the opportunity to engage with the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan. We travelled to Lake Akan at the very start of the trip where we watched a traditional Ainu performance and performed alongside them.

We also got to sit and eat dinner with Ainu students from the University of Sapporo, where we learnt more about each other's cultures.

Meeting the Ainu people made me so thankful for my Māori culture because the Ainu culture and language is struggling. I am grateful for all of the hard work and sacrifices my kuia and koro made so that I am able to express my culture every single day.

The bond between the group was really tight. We did so much together: played at the arcades, went bowling, went shopping and even went to a Ninja Do to learn how to be Ninjas.

Being overseas, showcasing our culture and doing it with some of your closest friends has to be one of the best feelings! This helped a lot towards our regional kapa haka campaign as well because by the time we got home and practices started, we were all prepared.

I also was able to see real life Japanese cherry blossoms, which is a tick off the bucket list!

In August 2019, we traveled back to Japan to support the Tuku Iho Exhibition of the Te Puia New Zealand Arts and Crafts Institute.

A major highlight for me was performing in front of and inside the almost 1300 year old Kanda-myojin Shrine. We performed alongside Wadaiko, a group comprised of students from Senzoku Gakuen College of Music.

It was such a cool experience mixing Māori and Japanese culture. That was a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, so I’m very thankful that my culture and my love for kapa haka allowed me to participate in such amazing kaupapa.

While in Japan, I noticed that shrines are very similar to marae, so when we performed it felt very special to everyone.

Another highlight of our Tuku Iho trip in Tokyo was that we got to be back up vocalists for Māori soul artist Rob Ruha and Japanese J-pop singer Jay-ed at the opening of Tuku Iho.

It's crazy to think that all of us small town, Māori kids are getting to travel the world, showcasing our culture.

Japan taught me how important it is to keep our Māori culture and language alive. I am not fluent in te reo Māori, so kapa haka lets me express my love for my culture and performing arts, and I am able to learn more te reo Māori at the same time.

Atera and her group singing

Atera: "It's crazy to think that all of us small town, Māori kids are getting to travel the world, showcasing our culture."

In November 2019, we spent a week travelling around China to cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou where we supported and promoted New Zealand food, beverage and culture. We got to meet so many new people and try even more traditional Chinese food. Chinese people are very hardworking people. They have so much appreciation for our culture as well.

Some people like to believe that “kapa haka gets you nowhere”. Well I, alongside my Raukura brother and sisters, prove that kapa haka can take you all over the world. Some of us live and breathe kapa haka to the point where it’s our job. These four trips to China and Japan have helped to mould and strengthen my cultural and self-awareness.

This interaction on the world stage has inspired me to start tertiary study next year in a Bachelor in Management double majoring in marketing and Māori indigenous studies, to better enable me to find synergy and opportunities between Te Ao Māori and the wider world.