Advocating Māori excellence
For Watson Ohia, kapa haka is not just about what you see on stage, it’s a way of life; it’s something that we as Maori do far beyond the stage, when we honour, when we celebrate, when we grieve, when we have something important to say. We can say it our way.
“It’s a key part of how we do things,” he says.
Watson (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Rarua, Ngaiterangi, Ngāti Pukenga, Te Arawa), is one of the judges at Te Matatini 2015 – he’s calling it a major highlight in his calendar – and he’s eagerly anticipating the creativity and talent that will come together in Christchurch on March 4-8.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the groups will bring to the competition,” he says.
“What we’ll see from the teams will be the culmination of many months of hard work and that’s going to be a highlight for many people.”
Watson has been involved in kapa haka all his life. His parents were very active in the community including kapa haka and Ratana Church circles and in his early years, growing up in Marlborough, he and his family were immersed in the kapa haka scene. He still remembers photos of himself performing kapa haka at just five.
“My parents tutored kapa haka, so we were involved as a family all through my childhood. Then, as a teenager, I went to Aranui High School in Christchurch (1983-84), and I was involved in a lot of Māori cultural activities,” he says.
Now principal of the highly-regarded Māori secondary school, Ngā Taiātea Wharekura in Hamilton – known for its outstanding cultural and scholastic achievements – Watson maintains his passion for cultural activities and raising Māori achievement.
He says his early experience in kapa haka prepared him well for life, giving him the maturity and confidence that comes with a well-defined sense of self.
“Kapa haka went a long way toward helping me feel good about who I am as a Māori. It makes me feel proud of who I am, and hungry to learn more. As young teens we had a lot of outstanding role models in kapa haka and that instilled in me a drive to keep learning.”
Watson has performed at Te Matatini eight times since he was 18, as a member of two kapa haka groups in Hamilton– Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato and Rangimarie. He has been judging kapa haka for ten years and first judged at Te Matatini in Tauranga in 2009. He has since judged at Te Matatini in Gisborne in 20011 and at Rotorua in 2013.
At Te Matatini in Christchurch in March, Watson will be judging the exit and choral sections and he will be looking not only for solid, quality performances but performances that come from the heart.
“It’s important for performers and judges to know their craft, they’re knowledgeable, confident, and that the key messages in the performances are communicated clearly and effectively. But I’ll be looking for the whole package – group performances that stand out for their well-honed skills and presentation, and the way they express their message on stage.”
For Watson, Te Matatini 2015 will be a celebration of hard work, of whānau and community, of traditional and contemporary Maori cultural expression, and most of all, a celebration of being Māori.