How COVID-19 is impacting kapa haka, New Zealand's most popular performing art

Could the world's biggest kapa-haka competition Te Matatini be forced to ditch the crowds and stream online in the face of COVID-19?

Te Matatini is a four-day festival where the best kapa haka teams battle it out for the top prize with thousands of competitors taking to the stage. The next staging of the prestigious event is set for Eden Park in 2021.

However, many regional qualifying competitions were postponed because of COVID-19 and the competition is running behind schedule.

One way the competition could go ahead is through streaming it online without any crowds.

At the last Te Matatini 2019 competition in Wellington - more the 60,000 people packed into the Cake Tin.

Amomai Pihama who is a former member of current Te Matatini champions Ngā Tūmanako says she's not sure what an online version of the kapa festival will feel like.

"What would the wairua of that sort of thing be?"

The self-confessed haka mum says her kids are missing out on the whanaungatanga of kapa haka since being in isolation. 

"You've gotta keep haka going it's the life-force for so many of us."

Kapa Haka competitions at high school and primary school level have also been cancelled.

"That's thousands and thousands of tamariki Māori who are now stuck in their home not with their mates not doing their haka which gears you up for that Matatini level," Pihama says.

Te Whānau a Apanui leader Tamati Waka is used to performing on stage in front of thousands of people.

"I can't do storytelling without a live audience, the interaction and getting the energy this ihi thing you give ihi and you receive ihi."

Te Matatini broadcast presenter Chey Milne says kapa haka helps to connect Māori who may have lost connections to where they're from.

"It's like the new marae of our hapori - that brings people together - brings our whānau together."

Milne believes streaming the competition without an audience can work.

"The streaming kei te pai tēra - we just need to figure out how we're actually going to get the stage."

Amomai Pihama says health is a priority - but knows kapa haka performers are resilient.

"Māori have done so well - wait it out and we'll get there and haka will come back bigger and better than ever."

The Hui