Their ultimate goal is to perform on the world’s biggest and most prestigious kapa haka stage.
And for Wairarapa group Te Roopu Manaaki, they were one step closer by scoping out the national competition at this year’s renowned Te Matatini event in Wellington.
Te Matatini Chief Executive Carl Ross kindly gifted the roopu 23 tickets to one of the day’s performances.
Even the capital’s rain and wind couldn’t drown out the spirits of the team, who despite having to climb higher into the stadium to avoid getting wet had an amazing time.
Kaitātaki wahine (female leader) Faith Konia says being at Te Matatini was a dream come true.
“It was so cool watching our idols on the stage, the ones we look up to."
“It was a great event to be a part of.”
Te Roopu Manaaki Coordinator and IDEA Services Senior Support Worker Arlene Whitney says the whole team is still buzzing.
“When they got back home they were watching the rest of Te Matatini on TV and were saying ‘I’ve been there’ and ‘I saw that,’” says Arlene.
“Some of the team bought merchandise like hoodies and bags and have been walking around the day base with it on and showing other people.
The team stood out from the crowd in their bright pink uniforms and hats, and before they even entered the gate were approached by RNZ and Maori TV for stories.
Once in the stadium, Maori TV’s Te Kaea programme did a live interview with Faith alongside the rest of the team.
Faith says it was really nerve-wracking, but managed to get through it all.
“I really enjoyed it, and it was a great opportunity to represent Te Roopu Manaaki,” says Faith.
Last December, Te Roopu Manaaki performed alongside 15 other teams at the inaugural Te Anga Paua o Aotearoa National Kapa Haka Festival in Hamilton.
The event brought together more than 300 performers with intellectual disabilities, to showcase various kapa haka and waiata that were native to their hometowns.
Faith says she hopes attending Te Matatini will allow people with intellectual disabilities to be more visible.
"The diversity of disability is out there. We shouldn't be in the shadows so I hope disability gets more out there," says Faith.
“I feel when I perform on stage I don’t have a disability – I feel free like any other kapa haka performer."
“To see people with disabilities on Matatini stage would be awesome and a privilege.”
IDEA Services Kaitakawaenga (Senior Māori Advisor) Taki Peeke says it doesn’t matter what ability a kapa haka performer has – the passion and commitment transcends across all who do kapa haka.
For kaitātaki tāne (male leader) Caleb McNamara, he says it would mean the world to him to one day perform at Te Matatini.
Caleb says it’s an opportunity to show that despite being discriminated against and put down by society, they are standing tall to tell their story.
“We decided that we wanted to have a voice and speak up for others like us,” says Caleb.
“We are one nation, we are one family, and that’s how I look at it with our group. We are diverse and we stand together, stand tall and stand proud.”
The next step for Te Roopu Manaaki is to prepare for the IDEA Services Kapa Haka Regionals in Taranaki. The other two regional festivals are in the northern and southern regions.
Arlene says the team is already hard at work practising new routines.
“The tutors Tama and Trina are preparing new songs that represent the relationship between Wairarapa and Taranaki, which is really important,” says Arlene.
Following the regional festival, the second Te Anga Paua o Aotearoa National Kapa Haka Festival will take place in 2020 in the central North Island.