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An admiration for Maori culture by Australian Soldiers serving with their New Zealand colleagues in Timor-Leste has seen a unique welcome performed for a party of visiting New Zealand Army VIPs.
Members of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) are famous for taking Maori cultural performance with them wherever they serve in the world and Timor-Leste is no different. NZDF personnel serving there as part of the Australian led International Security Force (ISF) have formed a Kapa Haka group which regularly performs Haka Powhiri for visiting dignitaries.
Interest in the Kiwi’s performing skills and the cultural aspects of their performance by Australian servicemen led to an invitation being extended to the Australians to train with the New Zealanders and learn about Maoritanga and performing arts said group coordinator, Air Force Sergeant Wai Paenga.
“When we performed we would always get questions from the Aussies here, so one day we told a group of them that if they were interested we would teach them about our culture and they could perform with us”, said Sergeant Paenga.
“I was always taught that Maoritanga was inclusive and revolved around whanaungatanga, family values. Being part of the ISF, this made the Aussies part of our whanau, so it for me it was an easy decision to include them in our group. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but if anyone is keen to learn and give it the respect our culture deserves, then I am more than happy to teach them what I know.
“A core group emerged who were really focused and we worked on getting them to the stage where they could perform with us. They understand that it can only be done with us and are happy, even honoured, to be given the opportunity, just as I am happy and honoured to teach them. Coming from the East Coast, I started them off with “Paikea” to get a bit of movement and co-ordination going, because we Coasties like that.
“The opportunity for the Australians to join us in a formal haka powhiri came with the visit to Dili of New Zealand’s Chief of Army, Major General Lou Gardiner who was accompanied by the Sergeant Major of the New Zealand Army, Warrant Officer Class One Bo Ngata.
“In the lead up to the visit, we focussed on a haka powhiri. We chose a classic Ngati Porou female haka, “Ka Panapana”. The version we performed was written by Sir Apirana Ngata and was performed at Ruatoria for the whanau of the late Lt Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu VC, when they were presented with his posthumous Victoria Cross.
“When we were told we would be performing a welcome for a group that included Warrant Officer class One Ngata that put a bit of pressure on us because he is a very strong and proud East Coast man - we all hope we made him proud on the day”, said Sergeant Paenga.
After the Haka Powhiri, the Chief of Army and the Sergeant Major of the Army both expressed their pleasure at the warmth of the welcome and the ANZAC composition of the group.
The group rehearses in Dili whenever time and operational commitments permit and while there are no plans for another haka powhiri welcome to be performed anytime in the immediate future they remain ready and willing, the living embodiment of the ANZAC spirit.