Reikura Kahi is more than just an advocate for te reo Māori. She’s a sister, wife and mum, a Westie, and an indefatigable practitioner as a kapa haka tutor and a storyteller through TV and film. There’s not much she can’t do — and do exceptionally well. Here she tells Dale how it’s come about that she’s been on this path, forever really, and why she’s sticking to it.
Tēnā koe, Reikura. Your dad, Tuku Morgan, has been a prominent figure in broadcasting, starting way back with Te Karere, so we know a bit about your background already. But let’s hear a little more, please.
No problem. My father, who’s Waikato-Tainui and a Cook Islander, is from around Rāhuipōkeka/Huntly, Whatawhata, Mangapiko Valley, as well as Mangaia and Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
My mother, Carolyn, is Ngāti Porou, Whānau-ā-Apanui, and Ngāti Hine. Her father, my grandfather, is from Moerewa, in Te Tai Tokerau, and her mother is from Te Kaha and Te Araroa on the East Coast.
I was born and bred in West Auckland — and one of the most influential figures in my life is my nana, Ereti Brown, a fluent Māori language speaker. She didn’t speak Māori to my mother, or to her other children. Yet, when I and then my brother, Kawariki, came along, she was adamant that she’d speak Māori to us. And that’s what she did.
Nana was a key Māori community figure in Tāmaki. She established the Māori Women’s Welfare league branch in Te Atatu, supported Māori youth through the court system, and was a co-ordinator for kōhanga reo in Auckland, before the Kōhanga Reo Trust was established in 1983.
She insisted on us attending kōhanga reo. The first in Auckland was up at Ōrākei Marae. We spent time with tamariki, whānau, and especially the kuia and kaumātua there at Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei.
Nana, along with other West Auckland community leaders and whānau, established Hoani Waititi marae in Glen Eden and that became a cultural home and a haven for Māori language and tikanga for many living in the city.
Māori Language immersion schooling was a priority for the whānau of Hoani Waititi Marae, which led to the launch of Kura Kaupapa Māori. We were among the first to graduate from kōhanga reo all the way through to whare kura, which is high school level.
I’m one of many who’ve benefitted from the efforts of our community leaders within West Auckland, from so many different iwi and hapū, who came together to establish this marae for whānau who’d grown up in this city.
Many Māori who visited Hoani Waititi Marae didn’t know where they were from — so that, for them, was a step towards uncovering their whakapapa and tribal affiliations. The marae became their second home, where they could farewell those who’ve passed on, and where their tamariki could be nurtured in te reo Māori. That was an extraordinary and welcome development.
Tā Pita Sharples and Te Aroha Paenga invested so much into so many of us who grew up on the marae. They pioneered the first Kura Kaupapa Māori at Hoani Waititi. They created Manutaki, the cultural performing group based in West Auckland, which became a mouthpiece for Māori issues. And the foreshore and seabed march prompted the birth of the Māori Party with Pāpā Pita and Dame Tariana Turia as its inaugural leaders.
Pāpā Pita continues to guide and influence each new generation of Māori tamariki and whānau at Hoani Waititi. He inspires us to be selfless and generous and, more importantly, unforgiving in the pursuit of tino rangatiratnga, of our taonga tuku iho, our whenua, our te reo Māori and tikanga. He has been our Māori Superman.
Our raukura, our past students, continue to ensure the kura and marae are well supported. We are kaiako, volunteers, tutors, kaikōrero on the paepae, kaikaranga — and many of us have our own tamariki at the kura and the whare kura where they’re nurtured within te reo Māori.
Pāpā Pita instilled a belief and an understanding of the importance of being Māori, of expressing our Māoritanga, of speaking Māori and supporting those in the city who otherwise wouldn’t even consider being part of a cultural group or a whānau like Hoani Waititi.
So, growing up in West Auckland has been awesome.
And then, because my father, Tuku Morgan, has such a strong connection to his Waikato-Tainui side, we’ve spent a lot of time on our marae there as well as attending the koroneihana every year of Te Arikinui Te Atairangikāhu and now Kīngi Tūheitia.
Poukai have also been important events on the Waikato-Tainui calendar. They were established by Kīngi Tawhiao to feed his people, especially the pōhara and the widowed. And the poukai continue to bring our people together under the Kīngitanga movement, where kai and kōrero are plentiful. It’s also a time to remember those who’ve passed on, our mate, and celebrate their achievements and contributions to their iwi.
The poukai and the koroneihana are hui where we celebrate the Kīngitanga and reaffirm our Waikato-tanga. I was brought up learning the importance of connecting and reconnecting with whānau, hapū and iwi, and going back to your ūkaipō, your home soil.
Those first kids from the Hoani Waititi kōhanga will be around 40 soon, wouldn’t they?
Yes, well, Amomai Pihama and I were the first to graduate, and I’m 42 this year. My brother was in the second graduating group and his lot turned 40 last year.
Transmitting te reo Māori from one generation to the next in our homes, on our marae, and in our kura and kōhanga reo is necessary for our language to survive, and we have to keep reinforcing that need.
And, by doing so, we’re fulfilling the moemoeā, the dream and aspirations of our old people. It’s up to us to keep fighting for our language and ensure its survival. Our language is essential to our identity as Māori.
Over the years, I’ve spent more time on Hoani Waititi marae than I have on my own marae in the Waikato. For many of us, it’s our kāinga rua — our home away from home.
But you started small, didn’t you?
When I look back at the number of tamariki who were there in those days and compare that to now, the growth has been amazing.
We started with eight. Then there were around 10 of us. And, by the time we got through to whare kura, there were still only 40. And now, you know, they’re in the hundreds. There are kura kaupapa all over Aotearoa now. Iwi-based, and urban-based.
We often talk about the survival and revival of te reo Māori, and the need to reclaim who we are — and that’s important. But I believe that there will come a time when the reo is strong and we’ll have over a million te reo Māori speakers. And we’ll have 50 per cent of our tamariki under the age of seven whose first language is Māori.
That’s the aim. And I hope to see that within my lifetime. Then we can say the moemoeā of our kaumātua have been absolutely fulfilled.
I note that, as well as the reo grounding you got at Hoani Waititi, you also attended Te Panekiretanga o te Reo. That was the Wānanga o Aotearoa course in Māori Language Excellence. And, over the years, it’s produced several hundred graduates. You had access to another level of te reo Māori there.
That was a great opportunity for me and others. It was created as an exclusive wānanga for those in the pursuit of excellence in te reo Māori. There were Māori broadcasters, lawyers and teachers invited to learn from Timoti Karetu, Pou Temara, and the late Wharehuia Milroy.
It was a one-year intensive reo Māori and tikanga wānanga, where they demanded perfection and high proficiency in both Māori and English. And they armed us with the tools to be the reo Māori champions and reo Māori advocates for our marae and iwi.
Te Panekiretanga o te Reo made a huge impact on the future of Māori language excellence. Over 350 students graduated in the 15 years it was operating. As a result, many iwi throughout Aotearoa now have reo champions — graduates who are among the most highly regarded Māori speakers in the country.
Timoti, Pou, and Wharehuia were generous with their time and knowledge. They were determined to push us to our limits. And all the wānanga were intense, with some discussions carrying on into the early hours of the morning.
You and your brother, Kawariki, are renowned for your kapa haka skills, starting off with Ngā Tumanako. What have you liked about that mahi?
Ngā Tūmanako represents our love for kapa haka and te reo Māori. We live and breathe te reo Māori and haka. We’ve been performing since we were at kōhanga reo. And, as graduates of Te Whare Kura o Hoani Waititi Marae, we decided to form our own rōpū.
Many of us had performed for Manutaki, Wakahuia, Manuhuia and Whāngārā. It was a chance to take what we had learned from other kapa and create our own. More importantly, it was also an excuse to spend more time together and provide a space outside of kura and home to speak Māori.
Haka practice was a great opportunity to ensure our tamariki had a space to speak Māori with their mates, aunties and uncles.
That was the original intent of establishing our rōpū. To make a space where we could all spend time together speaking Māori. When you live in a city, there isn’t always a chance for young people to sing and speak Māori.
Hoani Waititi is our home base, and we welcome every opportunity to be in our wharenui, Ngā Tūmanako. But we also visit other marae and learn their kōrero as well. We travel around to various places in South Auckland and also to our marae in Huntly.
Over the past 15 years, we’ve honed our skills in composing waiata and tutoring. Pāpā Pita and Whaea Aroha, the leaders and tutors of Manutaki, inspired many of us to pursue competitive kapa haka. We spent time as well with Koro Ngapō and Nanny Pimia Wehi. They have all influenced our compositions and the way we perform.
We decided to compete at the Tāmaki regionals not too long after we formed the rōpū. Once we made that leap, nationals became a reality and the pursuit of winning Te Matatini nationals, as Manutaki and Wakahuia had done, was the dream. Then, for the first time, in 2015 in Ōtautahi, we made the top nine. Amazing.
And we continued to make the top nine. But the top three spots seemed out of reach. So, we looked at how we could be more competitive. And, in our training for Te Matatini ki te Ao (in Wellington, 2019), we invested a lot of time in our taha wairua through karakia and pure.
We also focused on our wellbeing and fitness through exercising and eating well — and on convincing our whaea and whānau in the kitchen that we needed more salads and fewer boil-ups.
Our mindset and preparation improved heading towards Wellington. I’m not sure that I was convinced we could take it out but, when we were told we’d won the first round of competition, I thought: “Wow. We have a chance at taking that trophy back to Hoani Waititi.”
Then, hearing our name read out as the winners of Te Matatini was truly amazing. Like winning Lotto. And being able to take back to Hoani Waititi the newly carved trophy (commemorating the contribution to kapa haka of Koro Ngāpo and Nanny Pimia Wehi) was the fulfilment of a dream.
As for me and Kawariki, we have a unique way of tutoring together. We don’t always agree, but we do eventually find a middle ground. Many of us in our rōpū have been together since kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa, and whare kura. Our tamariki are now at kura together. So, we have a unique whānau. And our tamariki are really fortunate to have all their aunties and uncles around them.
They join in as much as the adults do, and sometimes, they learn the waiata faster than their parents do, and that’s a good challenge for all the māmā and pāpā in our rōpū. They better sharpen up, or their tamariki will take their spot.
Ngā Tumanako has always been about us being together as whānau — but it’s also been an opportunity to share our view on Māori issues, and reinforce the importance of speaking Māori to our tamariki.
There is no excuse these days not to learn Māori. There are so many wānanga out there, and a lot of them are free. There’s no time like the present. And we’ll be there to support you on your reo journey.
You come across as quite a decisive person, Reikura. But, in kapa haka and in other activities, you’ve gotta have a boss, don’t you?
When I was growing up, our kapa haka nannies were task masters who pushed their kaihaka to be the best they could be. Like Nanny Tuini Hakaraia of Manutaki and Nanny Pimia of Wakahuia. They were very strict and were always in the pursuit of excellence — and that’s one of the reasons Wakahuia was the best in Aotearoa and why they’ve taken the trophy at Te Matatini so many times.
You need a tutor who pushes everybody to be better. It was all done with a lot of aroha. I’m not sure I show my kapa enough aroha. I do try to be more encouraging, but if we’re aiming to be the best and fulfil our potential, then we need to be pushed.
You and Kawariki are the dynamic duo who keep it all together. And you and your tāne, Tearepa Kahi, have developed a fine reputation as filmmakers. Then, of course, at Māori Television, you produced some neat pieces. Like the Poi E production and Herbs’ Songs of Freedom. What’s been the appeal of doing ambitious productions like them?
The opportunity to tell our own stories always beckoned to me and even more so to my husband, Tearepa, being a writer and director. He has a gift for telling our Māori stories. So, we seized the chance to spend time with the Pātea Māori Club, the whānau of the late Dalvanius Prime, and the people of Pātea — to tell the Poi E story.
Dalvanius was truly ahead of his time. He saw the opportunity to expose our people to the Māori language through waiata. He teamed up with one of our most revered composers, the late Ngoi Pewharangi — and Poi E was born.
Their story is unique and Poi E became such a well-known song and the first te reo Māori pop hit. Even wider New Zealand sees it as “our” song. And so they should. It’s played everywhere. We hear it at the All Blacks’ games, and when the Kiwis and Silver Ferns play. It’s such an iconic New Zealand song and it’s all in Māori.
Yeah, it was awesome spending time with Pātea whānau — and also to have the good fortune of hearing the story through the words of Dalvanius himself in an interview he’d recorded for radio. He was such a flamboyant man. And the song is an absolute taonga.
Of course, after our Māori whānau had seen Poi E, another opportunity followed soon after. And that was the offer to film the 40-year anniversary of Herbs, which was 40 years since the protests on Bastion Point. Herbs is an iconic band not only for Māori but for Pacific Island people, too. And their freedom songs were played throughout the world.
The founder, Toni Fonoti, from Sāmoa, wrote many of the freedom songs like French Letter and Whistling in the Dark. Dilworth Karaka also joined and then led the band through to many of their hit songs, cementing their place in homes throughout Aotearoa.
Herbs isn’t just music, though. It’s the message, too.
Yes. Most of us are familiar with Herbs’ upbeat tunes like their collaboration with Dave Dobbyn in Slice of Heaven or Sensitive to a Smile. But Herbs have deep activist roots and their freedom songs shared our struggles for land and identity with the world. Dilworth stood with his whānau up on Bastion Point during the land occupation. And French Letter and No Nukes speak to the struggles of the people of Tahiti with the nuclear testing at Mururoa.
Film is a valuable cultural vehicle to share our stories and language with our people and also the world. Film can reinforce the importance of identity and language to our own people.
The late Merata Mita was an important Māori filmmaker and mentor for both me and my husband. Her legacy lives on in the growing number of Māori filmmakers. The recently released film Cousins is an adaptation of the novel by Patricia Grace, one of our great Māori writers.
It was directed by two Māori women, Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner. And it’s been a fantastic achievement. Seeing our stories and people on screen inspires the next generation to tell their stories and become the new writers, producers, directors, and actors.
Thank you for your kōrero. You’ve already achieved a great deal. But I imagine that you have other goals in mind.
Being selected as the ministerial appointee (by Nanaia Mahuta) for Te Mātāwai was a great opportunity to continue to advocate for te reo Māori to be spoken and used by our own people. Kia ūkaipō anō te reo is the aim. To restore Māori language as a nurturing first language. Te Mātāwai endeavours to re-establish and support whānau, hapū and iwi to speak and nurture their whānau in te reo Māori.
My commitment to te reo Māori began with my nana and my parents and carries on through my tamariki whose first language is Māori. I hope that they’ll continue to share that commitment with their tamariki.
So, I encourage all Māori to take that first step forward to learn Māori. Kapa haka offers a great entry point to the language. Learning a waiata or two is fun. Learning with others also encourages camaraderie — and provides a good support system, too.
Kapa haka is such a great way to fuel a love for te reo Māori. So, please take that first step with your whānau and get into a kapa haka.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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