Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti: Behind the lines

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti are gearing up for Te Matatini and for many of the team, cultural performing arts is a way of life.

Standing for her tenth year, Mania Campbell-Seymour says, “We grew up in our communities in Ōpōtiki, Ruātoki, Whakatāne, where haka is what children do."

Now in his fourteenth year as a performer, Hemi Hill says, “We grew up doing this since we were kids and it's about improving our health, developing our minds - it's a good upbringing for our children and grandchildren as well.”

Behind the scenes with Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti - Te Kāea facebook

Through their creative cultural performance, Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti are celebrating Māori religious and political movements such as Kīngitanga, Ratana and Ringatū.

Tutor Te Kahautu Maxwell says, “Those are the oldest of all Māori movements and were born out of the fight for Māori independence and autonomy.”

“The Māori religions set out the rule of learning, the rule for improvement, the rule for personal development that enables us to go out into the world that's the beauty of the religions,” says Hemi Hill. 

Mania Campbell-Seymour says, “It's great to hear the celebration our religions in our songs, for our descendants, for my boy to grow up with both of the religions.”

The performance will also address relevant political issues of recent times.

“We are celebrating the Kīngitanga and addressing the insults directed at our King last year with accusations of fraud, all of that,” says Maxwell.

For many of the performers, Māori religious movements are foundations of cultural and tribal identity.

Hill says, “To be able to instil who we are, where we came from, and in those religions, we can revive the historical narratives pertaining to our ancestors.”

Campbell-Seymour says, “On Friday we went to Rātana, which was his (my sons) first time there, as for me I grew up in the Ringatū faith.”

With only three weeks left until the national competition, the group is fine-tuning their bracket.

“They're fending for themselves now to carry the prestige of the tribe,” says Maxwell.

“We're tidying everything up and making it right so we can be successful so that we the remaining Israelites can do the do,” says Hill.

Te Matatini kicks off  February 20 in Wellington.