Kapa haka is for everyone

Meet the new Executive Director of Te Matatini, Carl Ross, as he talks about his passion for kapa haka and priorities in his new role.

Published: Monday, 25 July 2016 | Rāhina, 25 Hōngongoi, 2016

Ko au Te Matatini, ko Te Matatini Ko au.

Making kapa haka accessible to everyone is something Carl Ross (Ngāpuhi, Te Uri Taniwha, Ngāti Rangi) is very passionate about.

“I see Te Matatini as te pītau whakarei, the head of the waka. Leading from the front and welcoming anyone on board who wants to experience kapa haka,” explains Carl.

“Kapa haka is an inter-generational passion, and is for everyone who wants to get involved. Kaumātua, pakeke, tamariki and mokopuna can contribute all throughout Aotearoa and overseas”, says Carl.

“Contribution can mean being on stage or watching the Te Matatini Festival on a mobile phone. During the Christchurch Te Matatini Festival 2015 there were an estimated two million online views with 60 percent being by mobile phone.”

As the new Executive Director for Te Matatini, Carl’s experience of performing kapa haka, nationally and internationally, gives him an acute awareness of the past and current life Te Matatini breathes. After eight weeks in his new role one of his first priorities is to chart the course for the next ten years. Carl is also interested in seeking answers to questions like what fiscal contribution Kapa Haka makes toward the national economy, Māori health index and Māori wellbeing. 

Raised by his grandparents Te Kooti and Puti Cotton in Moerewa, Carl began his journey with Kapa Haka when he was a tamaiti. 

“I first joined Te Rōpū Manutaki under the leadership of Dr Peter Sharples when I was six and I’ve been involved in Kapa Haka since, except for four years where I needed to focus on the implementation of Māori customary fishing rites”, said Carl.

Carl’s kapa haka journey spans over four decades performing on stage for Te Rōpū Manutaki and Waka Huia, both competing at the highest level of competition there is, and winning.  

“I’ve gained so much through being involved in kapa haka, including travelling to Scotland to perform at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and while there, getting to meet Clan Ross – my giant red haired whānau. I might not have had that chance if not for kapa haka,” explains Carl.

“All I wanted to do was feel the dirt of my Scottish ancestors through my fingers.”

Carl met his wife Donna through kapa haka. Together, juggling their family commitments with Kapa Haka, they’ve brought up four children and six mokopuna, while living mostly in Wellington. But as Carl says ‘your kapa haka team mates and teachers quickly become your whānau.’

“My thoughts are with all our rangatira who have dedicated their lives to kapa haka and what we have today.  He waimarie nui, te pakeke ake ki waenga i ngā maunga tiketike, ngā taniwha o te ao Māori, ko Ngāpō Wehi rāua ko tana hoa rangatira a Pimia, me te rōpū tautoko mai i a Te Waka Huia. Ko Tā Hone Turei tērā, ko Kereama Te Ua (Unx) tērā, ko Irirangi Tiakiawa tērā, rātou katoa.”

“All of these leaders gave us more than the opportunity to sing and actively participate in kapa haka.  It is a journey, a way of life.  Behind every performing group we have our Nannies, our Pāpā, Aunties, cooks and uniform artists – all doing their part to support the performers to strut their stuff!”

Through kapa haka Te Waka Huia have bought to the forefront social issues like abuse, health, how to be a good father, a good partner, good parenting and, most of all, to respect and look after our elders. They also became a Smoke Free rōpū in order to show their whānau, hapū and iwi that their health and wellbeing is paramount.

Kapa haka requires the highest level of commitment. Carl talks about it as a discipline that demands a level of physical, spiritual, financial and emotional sacrifice that can be compared to what is required of an athlete training to win gold or a world cup. But the end reward is much more than a trophy or title.

“After everything that kapa haka has given me, I ask myself, ‘how can I pay back what I have received as a kaihaka?’. This new role provides me with the opportunity to contribute to the health, the social wellbeing, and the cultural identity of our people.”