Renowned Upper Hutt kapa haka group Māwai Hakona in Rotorua after winning the national Polynesian Festival (the forerunner of Te Matatini), held there in 1973.
Upper Hutt Libraries Community Archives
The influx of new arrivals to Upper Hutt in the 1950s and ‘60s included Māori from rural areas, part of the post-war wave of Māori urban migration. Some came here because of a Department of Māori Affairs apprenticeship scheme based at Trentham Camp. Concerned about the prospect of these young Māori becoming detached from their cultural roots, the recently established Upper Hutt Branch of the Māori Women's Welfare League looked for ways of providing these recent migrants with access to Māoritanga.
One outcome of this was the founding of kapa haka group Māwai Hakona. It was led by two longtime members of Wellington’s Ngāti Poneke cultural organisation, ‘Aunty’ Dovey Kotene-Horvath and Jock McEwen (the latter, while Pākehā, was a fluent speaker of Te Reo and a respected scholar of Māori culture, who served as Secretary of Māori Affairs between 1963 and 1975). Under their leadership Māwai Hakona was to go on to not only become an integral part of Upper Hutt’s civic and community events, but also to achieve national and international success.
After winning the highly contested national championships at the 1973 New Zealand Polynesian Festival (now known as Te Matatini), Māwai Hakona performed at that year’s opening of the Sydney Opera House, and later went on to successful tours of Europe and the Pacific. Committed to being inclusive, the club always counted significant numbers of local Pākehā and Pasifika peoples amongst their membership.
This broad cross-cultural support was also reflected in the campaign to establish a marae in Upper Hutt, in which Māwai Hakona played a major role. A long and successful fund-raising drive to support this project culminated in a procession through Main Street in 1970 attended by well over 15,000 people. This led to the opening, in 1976, Ōrongomai, a modern urban marae and centre for providing social services whose tikanga reflects its inclusive origins. Kaumatua Jock McEwen, a skilled carver, oversaw the construction of its whare whakairo (carved meeting houes), Kahukura, which was opened in 1989 and remains an important centrepiece of the Upper Hutt community.