Prisoners spend months rehearsing for nationwide kapa haka competition

Prisoners across the country have spent the last few months rehearsing in their cells for a nationwide kapa haka competition.

It's aimed at bringing inmates together for a positive experience while connecting them with their whakapapa.

It was a very special kapa haka performance inside Christchurch Men's Prison. Inmates putting in an emotional, high energy performance in front of friends and family.

"Oh it means the world to me. Having my son there and his nan. Yeah, I feel so proud," one prisoner said.

Rehearsals for the Whakataetae kapa haka competition have been going on behind the wire at prisons across the country.

Gang members have been putting aside their differences for the shared goal of celebrating their heritage, with Māori making up around half of the country's prison population.

"So many of our tāne and so many of our people inside prison are so disconnected from their whānau, their hapu, their iwi, and their culture," Patrick Te Wake, from Christchurch Men's Prison cultural support.

Inmates have been rehearsing and performing alongside prison staff. It's been a rewarding and humbling project for one 34-year-old who's spent most of his life in Australia.

"Wanted to just find myself I guess and the Māori culture that I'd lost from being over there for so many years," he said.

Christchurch Women's Prison is also taking part.

Along with learning a programme of songs and dances performers have gained confidence and leadership skills.

"Our aim is not really to win, but we do want to be winners. But it's just us being together, being strong women," one says.

And being recognised for working together from behind bars to achieve something positive.