ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

30/03/2021 - 10/04/2021

Te Pou Tokomanawa Theatre, Corban Art Estate Centre, 2 Mount Lebanon Ln, Henderson, Auckland

02/06/2023 - 11/06/2023

Opera House, Wellington

15/06/2023 - 15/06/2023

Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre, Rotorua

21/06/2023 - 21/06/2023

The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

27/10/2023 - 11/11/2023

Auckland Arts Festival 2021

Production Details

Writer & Director: Katie Wolfe (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Toa Rangatira)
Kaiako Kapa Haka/ Kaitito Haka: Nīkau Balme (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Toa Rangatira)

Tasman Ray

The last New Zealand war took place in Auckland in 1979. It lasted three minutes.

There’s a long, rich history of Māori resistance in New Zealand but, for every Bastion Point or Ihumātao that makes headlines, other incidents quickly fade into the mists of history.

The Haka Party Incident resurrects the eventful day when a group of University of Auckland engineering students rehearsing their annual tradition of a mock haka are confronted by the activist group, He Taua.

Violence erupted that sent ripples through the nation and changed race relations in New Zealand forever.

Crafted by film-maker and theatre director Katie Wolfe (Rendered, Anahera, Waru), The Haka Party Incident combines documentary and stagecraft to thrilling effect. Provocative, resonant and unforgettable, The Haka Party Incident is a not-to-be-missed theatre event.

The Haka Party Incident was commissioned and developed by ATC Literary.

The Haka Party Incident includes offensive views, some bad language, institutional racism, cultural appropriation and historical examples of how haka and Te Reo Māori were incorrectly used and performed in the past.

2023 TOUR:

“…the relatively young ensemble never falters, effortlessly moving through distinct characters in the blink of an eye, and powerfully evoking the pain and conflict experienced by all sides.…a prime example of theatre’s power to inform and enlighten audiences as well as entertain.” – NZ Herald

Haka, he taonga tuku iho or ‘a treasure from ancestors’ is not only at the centre of the historic incident but also forms the play’s structure which sees the cast perform historical and contemporary haka to thrilling effect. Wolfe’s son, Nikau, composed the final haka, ‘He Taua’ performed in the play.

‘I wanted to use the medium of Māori performing arts to make the point that ignoring cultural appropriation and disrespect does matter… it reminds us that racism is a continuum; it is founded in fear, and we must always be vigilant to check our prejudice, to face our fears,’ – Katie Wolfe

PANNZ (Performing Arts Network New Zealand) is delighted to offer this work to four of the six centres as part of its 2023 touring programme. Kaiārahi Māori, Dolina Wehipeihana says “PANNZ is honoured to assist this work in being seen on our arts touring network. Work of this quality should be experienced by all New Zealanders.”


TĀMAKI MAKAURAU (Auckland) 8-11 June, Te Pou Theatre, presented by Tasman Ray. Book at

PŌNEKE (Wellington) Kia Mau Festival presented with PANNZ, Thurs 15 June. The Opera House. Book at

ROTORUA Wed 21 June, Sir Howard Morrison Centre presented with PANNZ. Onsale date to be announced.
(Gisborne) Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival presented with PANNZ. Venue and dates to be announced.

NGĀMOTU (New Plymouth) Wed 28 June, TSB Theatre presented with PANNZ. Book at

ŌTAUTAHI (Christchurch) 25 October – 11 November, Court Theatre, presented by Court Book at:

Roimata Fox
Neenah Dekkers-Reihana
Aidan O'Malley
Patrick Tafa
Richard Te Are
Lauren Gibson
Jarred Blakiston
Finley Hughes
Te Ani Solomon
Kauri Williams

Katie Wolfe:  Writer & Director
John Verryt:  Set Design
Alison Reid:  Costume Design
Jo Kilgour:  Lighting Design
Kingsley Spargo:  Sound Design
Whetu Silver:  Engine Room Directing Intern 

Character List

Hilda:  Hilda Harawira, He Taua  and Auckland Uni Student
Georgina:  Georgina Walker-Grace, He Taua
Zena:  Zena Tamanui, He Taua
Ronnie:  Veronica Leef, He Taua

Hone:  Hone Harawira, He Taua
Ben:  Ben Dalton, He Taua
Rangi:  1920s haka introduction

Miriama:  Miriama Rauhihi, He Taua
Zena:  Zena Tamanui, He Taua
Ronnie:  (Epitaph/police brutality scene), Veronica Leef, He Taua

James:  James Pasene , He Taua
Brian:  Brian Lepou, He Taua
Len:  Len Nukunuku, He Taua
Tingilau:  Tingilau Ness, Polynesian Panthers

Ian:  Ian Bishop, Engineering Student
Alan:  Alan Blackburn, Auckland Race Relations Office
Brent:  Brent Meeken, Engineering Student
Des:  In the 1955 haka party
Simon W:  Simon Woodward, Engineering Student

Simon F:  Simon Faire, Engineering Student
Barry:  Barry Davidson, Engineering Student (1967)
David M:  David Merrit, Craccum Editor
Cop:  Epitaph
Mark:  1970s haka party

Janet :  Janet Roth, Student Union President
Anne:  Anne Salmond, Auckland Uni Māori Dept
Kathy:  Kathy McCrae, Quad Forum Attendee, Student
Karen:  Ian’s girlfriend, lived with engineers
Mitzi:  Mitzi Nairn, Racism Activist

2023 cast:
Roimata Fox (Ngāti Porou, Rongomaiwahine)
Nī Dekkers-Reihana (Ngāi Tu Te Auru, Ngā Puhi)
Lauren Gibson
Patrick Tafa
Aidan O’Malley
Finley Hughes
Kauri Williams (Ngāti Tūwharetoa)

Theatre , Kapa Haka theatre ,

2 hrs, no interval

The Haka Party Incident – bold, ferocious, essential viewing

Review by Erin Harrington 29th Oct 2023

First published on Flat City Field Notes.

In 1979, a group of Māori activists, who would come to be known later as He Taua, went to the University of Auckland to confront a group of engineering students who were preparing for their annual ‘haka party’. This was a longstanding capping stunt in which drunk young men presented a racist caricature of Māori: they would wear grass skirts, scrawl themselves with faux tā moko, perform bastardised haka, and generally race around like assholes causing mayhem. The lead up to this brief incident, the act of resistance, and the considerable (even nation-wide) fallout, are dramatized in the touring production of The Haka Party Incident: a potent, electrifying piece of documentary theatre that combines live drama with kapa haka and song. This show should be essential (and in some cases assigned) viewing for anyone who lives in this country, or who wants to better understand how the past and present are always in conversation.

Writer / director Katie Wolfe’s terrific verbatim script draws from archives, testimony and contemporary interviews. She interweaves 38 individual voices, ranging from members of He Taua and the engineering students involved, to journalists, lawyers, activists, translators, expert witnesses, academics, and bureaucrats. The play is performed received, with the actors wearing earpieces and channelling the voices of interviewees in real time, stutters and tics and all. [More]


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Me hoki whakamuri kia anga whakamua: Look to the past to move boldly to the future.

Review by Waitahi Aniwaniwa McGee 19th Jun 2023

“Who do you think is responsible for the racism in New Zealand?” – David Merritt Craccum, 1979.

Ah, not familiar with the Haka Party incident in 1979? Neither was I. It was “the last New Zealand war… and it lasted 3 minutes”. The Haka Party Incident refers to a moment in history when a group of University of Auckland engineering students rehearsing their annual tradition of a mock haka are confronted by the activist group, He Taua.

Written and directed by Katie Wolfe, performed by Roimata Fox, Nī Dekkers-Reihana, Lauren Gibson, Aidan O’Malley, Patrick Tafa, Kauri Williams, and Finley Hughes, The Haka Party Incident is a highly anticipated show for Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Celebrating a sold out show at Kia Mau Festival, the show’s second stop on its PANNZ national tour across Tāmaki Makaurau, Pōneke, Rotorua, Te Tairawhiti, as well as Tauranga and Ōtautahi later in the year.

This piece of verbatim theatre facilitates a wānanga between tangata whēnua and tangata tiriti regarding how oh so present racism was in this country of Aotearoa New Zealand.

To my understanding, the very top of this show Fox lays forward a mihi to the emotional journey we’re all about to embark on – I would describe it as a marathon, a commitment of sorts. Thanks to the insane skill of this cast, shifting between verbatim recounts, character changes, such joyous Māori humour and incredible haka theatre (Kaiako Kapa Haka/ Kaitito Haka nā Nīkau Balme) we are constantly engaged in an invigorating retelling of almost 40 people’s experience of the Haka Party incident in 1979.

We’re brought in by Tainui haka ‘Tau ka Tau’. Now I want to make it very clear, this haka is ON. Like, so crisp, a cast of seven performers – who are mic’d but – are still able to envelop both the stage and sold out audience of the Opera House with their haka. It is a sight to witness. Oh did I mention three of those seven cast have Pākehā whakapapa, not Māori whakapapa, yet are still so clean and crisp with their haka… It is a privilege to witness te ihi, te wehi, te wana of this powerful cast.

I don’t reckon it is an accident that right at the top of the show we are shown the exact calibre of haka ability this cast has because, as a Māori arts practitioner, it makes it that much easier to watch the bastardisation of the haka the AUT students eventually do throughout the show – and far out, it boils my blood, eh – but in a way where it is just hate at the characters. That riri doesn’t spill into the current world cause Wolfe has already let us know her cast KNOW HOW TO HAKA. And so I understand that within this piece, it’s doing a job of retelling history; that showcasing this horror of a haka is to show us how far we’ve come.

That haka party incident happened 44 years ago. That’s still FRESH, bro. That’s like yesterday in the context of time passing. In an interview with Wolfe regarding this show she says, “It was a significant part of that push in the 1980s for initiatives like kura kaupapa, kōhanga reo and the Police Complaints Authority. But, unlike the Land March, Bastion Point or the Springbok Tour, the haka party incident played little or no part in the mainstream consciousness.” 

So hang on a sec, something that happened so recently in Aotearoa New Zealand history and yet no one knows about it … That’s maybe one of several potent kōrero this show dives in to talk about.

It’s funny … As I watch this piece I want to cast blame, to find a baddie and a goodie, to be told who to love, who to loathe… But Wolfe is able to tell this story in such a way that she to captures the literal miscommunication between AUT Engineers and the group of Māori who later form He Tauā. They both are legit coming from two very genuine, very understandable sides…

“But Waitahi, that Haka Party thing is like inherently racist!”
Yeah, I know, but Wolfe is able to tell this story in a way where we as an audience can hold compassion and understanding about the ordeal.

The thing that gets me back to angry, though, is the recounting of how our Māori whānau were treated after being put into the ‘justice’ system. How they had to endure unlawful treatment and violence at the hands of racist policemen, how they were disproportionately sentenced in comparison to their Pākehā counterparts.

The Haka Party Incident gives us first hand examples of how racist our country is, not in an everyday sense but in an infrastructural sense. It raises a mirror to New Zealand and dares us to look. Can we truly stand at look at ourselves?

Hell I could wānanga about this show for YONKS, eh. In essence, this show is the very EMBODIMENT of Tangata Tiriti and Tangata Whēnua working together. Is that something you’re ready to come and see bro?

Me hoki whakamuri kia anga whakamua: Look to the past to move boldly to the future.


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Confronting realities and big themes that encourage us to look more deeply into them even after we have left the theatre

Review by Nga-Atawhainga Hineāmore 04th Jun 2023

“People like me are refusing to accept the fact that we have to all be brown skinned Pākehās to exist in New Zealand and I want to be a Māori, I am a Māori and nothing else is going to make me anything else.” – Zena Tamanui.

The year is 1979 and Auckland University is holding their annual capping ceremonies. Pākehā students from the Auckland University Faculty of Engineering have deemed it funny to publicly ridicule and degrade Māori culture for the sake of a laugh by donning crude $2 shop-type Hawaiian-esque raffia grass skirts to emulate the intricate art of traditional piupiu. Waving sticks around to imitate the highly skilled weaponry art of taiaha, they have painted black stripes across their faces and written bigotry comments with lewd drawings of sexual organs across their bare chests and backs in place of the traditional tāmoko. Their attire is farcical and offensive and so too are their actions and words as they make an absolute mockery of Māori culture and what is to become an internationally iconic part of our national identity: the haka. 

Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, a distressed fellow Māori student and witness, passionately confronts the group requesting they stop – to no avail. Hilda returns home in tears, grieving that such racist actions are being supported and condoned by her place of study, a place that every student has a right to feel safe in.  Fortunately, Hilda also has a sense of something far greater than despair. Hilda is determined no one should ever have to witness such blatant racism towards Māori culture on Auckland University campus again.

The events that followed, as a result of the conversation Hilda took home with her that day, is the basis of the aptly named play The Haka Party Incident, written and directed by playwright, actor and film maker Katie Wolfe (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Toa Rangatira).

Arriving at the newly opened Te Pou theatre based in Henderson, Auckland, my main sense is one of curiosity. How exactly does one start an on-stage conversation to confront big social issues like institutional racism, police brutality, racial profiling, media misinformation and race relations? Let alone the micro themes that pack even bigger punches for those bearing the weight of living through the nuances of racism rather than just observing them; the silence of bystanders, the exposure to jeers and racial slurs from peers and staff members, the daily and ongoing afront of wilful cultural ignorance. Could all of those themes really be encapsulated within a 105-minute theatre show?

It comes as a pleasant welcome then, that Wolfe has taken an approach reflective of the values we love most as descendants and citizens of Aotearoa: direct, inclusive, humble and with no nonsense. 

The Haka Party Incident has 7 cast members playing an impressive 38 characters. Ni Dekkers-Reihana, Roimata Fox, Patrick Tafa, Aiden O’Malley, Lauren Gibson, Finley Hughes, and Kauri Williams deliver an electric display of verbatim theatre, innovative in its use alongside haka.  Presented in an understated and well-lit setting, in a documentary style of storytelling, Wolfe offers more than just an isolated incident. She provides a crucial key element which tangata whenua have historically lacked when it comes to media or public representation, and that is context. This is an intellectually engaging play with an insightful 360-degree scope of the social context, political mood and environmental influences at play in Aotearoa 1979.

Using over 28 personally conducted interviews from various witnesses, participants and people effected by the events of 1 May 1979, along with current affairs newspaper clippings and news articles, Wolfe cleverly interweaves the dialogue from each to create a sense of live interviews which the actors embody by using the same stutters and hesitations as the original interviewees. With a lengthy running time of 90mins and no intermission this show is best suited to a mature audience, to fully appreciate the dynamics and nuances of character changes.

The props are unobtrusive and subtle. A well-placed big screen suspended centre stage displays the relevant timeline throughout.  A change between relaxed era-relevant clothing, the holding of koikoi and the use of pūrerehua and hue puruhau are effective in their simplicity. The pūoro, made by Whetu Silver, immediately establishes the play as being a Māori experience.

Wolfe juxtaposes racism with tikanga Māori using both spoken language and haka throughout the play. using both spoken language and haka throughout the play. For instance, following the events of 1 May 1979, Hilda and her peers start a group called He Taua. An interview takes place between Ben Dalton and David Merritt, who is writing for the university rag Craccum. Repeatedly Dalton has to correct and educate Merritt on how to correctly pronounce He Taua vs Hee Tower. It is a subtle but very effective way to convey the message of that era which exposed how the general attitude towards Māori went deeper than mere ignorance; how any respect for Māori language and culture was simply not a thing. 

Similarly, having the actors performing the haka both as a farce and in its full and rightful glory proves to be a strongly emotive way of tracking the obvious social and cultural divide. Visually, seeing Māori actors perform the farcical version has an unsettling effect whereas watching the fairer skinned actors perform haka properly feels encouraging. I think it’s a powerful stitch in the story to see Pākehā actors give so fully of themselves as they represent not only the characters from 1979 but race relations in general. I hope to see more bi-cultural haka theatre in the future as a result.

There are a lot of confronting realities within the subtext of the play that help to illuminate what systemic and institutional racism looks like for Māori. For example, Wolfe’s play describes the drunken, often violent and menacing capping week actions of students from the engineering faculty at Auckland University as spilling out onto Queen Street and Karangahape Road. The university was then swarmed with armed police as a result of another situation involving a mock robbery. No arrests or charges were made despite the misuse of taxpayers’ money and potential threat posed yet members of the He Taua group were brutalised by police psychologically and physically, had legal representation withheld and were coerced into giving statements which were used to charge them with rioting, which allowed for a sentence of up to several years imprisonment.

Names of courageous and humble change makers like Hilda Halkyard-Harawira, Ben Dalton, Miriama Rauhihi Ness, Brian Lepou, Mangu Awarau, Vape Kupenga and Hone Harawira should rightly be written into our history books. Hoki Whakamuri kia anga whakamua is not only a Māori proverb reminding us to look to the past in order to move forward, but as I have learnt tonight, it is also the name of the haka graciously composed as a reconciliation piece for the Auckland University Engineering Faculty. 

Wolfe has left me with more questions than answers. Given the scope of all the big themes conveyed in this play, I appreciate the skill there is in encouraging others to look more deeply into a subject even after we have left the theatre. 


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Shines a light on dark day in NZ’s past

Review by Ethan Sills 07th Apr 2021

It’s taken three attempts for Auckland Theatre Company to get The Haka Party Incident to the stage, delayed twice by the level 4 and February lockdowns. Almost as soon as the play begins, you can see why the company was so keen to deliver this work – and why it was the only production from the ATC’s cancelled 2020 programme to be resurrected in 2021.

For decades, engineering students at the University of Auckland had an annual tradition where they would dress up in grass skirts and fake tattoos to perform the university’s haka, Akarana, during capping week. That ended on May 1,1979, when He Taua activists confronted the students ahead of that year’s graduation ceremony – sparking a three-minute brawl that saw the activists arrested and charged with rioting. [More


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The Last New Zealand War

Review by Anuja Mitra 04th Apr 2021

There’s something about watching local history onstage — history so recent that some members of the audience sitting beside you were participants in the events portrayed. Written and directed by Katie Wolfe, The Haka Party Incident is a resonant piece of documentary theatre revisiting what its advertising calls “the last New Zealand war.” This describes the day in 1979 when members of the Māori activist group He Taua confronted a group of University of Auckland students rehearsing their annual tradition of a mock haka. Since the 1950s, Engineering students had donned grass skirts and painted obscenities on their bodies to perform a parody of the haka as a capping day ritual. That “inherited tradition” ended after May 1, 1979.

Though the confrontation lasted no more than several minutes, its reverberations were felt throughout the country. It reignited debates about institutional racism and the relationship between Māori and Pākehā, highlighting for others what Māori have known since colonisation: Aotearoa is far from some unsullied utopia with harmonious race relations. The show contextualises the haka party incident within its wider social, cultural and political environment. [More


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Tireless ensemble brings the mahi of many to dynamic fruition

Review by John Smythe 03rd Apr 2021

The standing ovation that greets the opening night of The Haka Party Incident celebrates the birth of a dynamically presented theatrical taonga. Katie Wolfe’s verbatim theatre play brings greater insight and truth to the events of 1 May 1979 than any mainstream media report has, then or since. As powerfully presented oral history, it highlights yawning gaps in our education curricula – and what a wonderful way to heighten our awareness of who we are! He nui tana mahi whakaari.

Book now – it’s only on until 10 April – then read on at your leisure.  

The incident itself took 3 minutes. Yet by interrogating what led up to it, and how the aftermath played out, The Haka Party Incident distils the historical essence of race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand, stands as a stock-take of where we are right now and points to where we need to be.

When Wolfe was offered the opportunity to pitch a project for the Auckland Theatre Company’s inaugural The Navigators development programme in 2017, she recalled a story that had intrigued her ever since she’d read about it in a book by Ranginui Walker some 15 years before:[i]

As a contribution to Auckland University’s annual Capping Parade, it had become a tradition for Engineering students to practice up a mock haka of their own invention, dress up in Pasifika-style raffia skirts, paint their chests with silly messages and, fuelled by beer from breakfast onward, stop traffic at every intersection in Queen Street to perform their idea of ‘a bit of fun’. After 20 years of politely-worded letters from Māori students, pointing out their antics were offensive and asking them to desist, an activist group called He Taua – formed in the wake of the Bastion Point occupation (5 January 1977 to 25 May 1978) – decided the time had come for a non-violent visit with the perpetrators on campus, kanohi ki te kanohi. What transpired speaks volumes about the state of Māori-Pākehā relations.

Commissioned by ATC, Wolfe proceeded to video-record interviews with some 28 people who had been involved before, during and after the incident, and edit their verbatim accounts, along with court and media transcripts, into what has evolved over the five years since into a superbly structured script. The seven actors – Roimata Fox, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, Richard Te Are, Patrick Tafa, Aidan O’Malley, Jarred Blakiston and Lauren Gibson – replicate some 38 voices with as much precision as musicians bring to an exacting score, while making each moment sincere and heartfelt across a full spectrum of emotions.

Viewing the videos in the rehearsal process has given the actors body-language cues too. So in performance, as they channel – via ear-pieces – the exact tone, rhythm and cadence of each recorded voice recalling what happened nearly 40 years before, the actors embody the participants as they were in 1979. There is alchemy in the way this physically bridges the decades.

In the lead up to the development season rehearsals, Wolfe asked the actors to ask random people if they had ever heard of the Haka Party incident. Only one person had.[ii] In the five years since, there have been plenty of opinions expressed in mainstream and social media that prove this production remains as timely, relevant and important as ever. (It was poised to premiere last year but COVID-19 put paid to that.)

John Verryt’s minimalist stage design evokes a sheet of graph paper such as Engineers used, laid out mostly in lighting designer Jo Kilgour’s daylight wash. Alison Reid’s costume design are simply effective too, so all the focus is drawn to the thoughts, feelings and very being of the people experiencing what happens.

The space is resoundingly claimed for the voice of tangata whenua through Roimata Fox’s mihi to the audience and the ensemble’s te rākau-weilding rendition of the traditional Waikato Haka, ‘Tau Ka Tau’. In contrast, with ‘1979’ projected on the back wall, a lone wāhine, channelled by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, speaks of her fear that te reo will vanish with the passing of the last generation of fluent speakers, as has their land and dignity. And already my attempt to summarise this korero is but a pale reflection of its profound authenticity in performance.

This being New Zealand, everyone is bound to be related to, know, or know of, at least one, if not some, of the people represented:

He Taua’s wāhine come to us via:
Neenah Dekkers-Reihana (Hilda Harawira, Georgina Walker-Grace, Zena Tamanui, Veronica [Ronnie] Leef) and
Roimata Fox (Miriama Rauhihi, Zena Tamanui and Veronica Leef in the harrowing scene that describes their treatment at the hands of police).

He Taua’s tāne are manifested by
Richard Te Are (Hone Harawira and Ben Dalton) and
Patrick Tafa (James Pasene, Brian Lepou, Len Nukunuku). Patrick also has a cameo as Tingilau Ness of the Polynesian Panthers.

The UOA Engineering Students who participated in the Haka Parties are channelled by
Aidan O’Malley (Ian Bishop, Brent Meeken, Des Mathen [from 1955] and Simon Woodward), and
Jarred Blakiston (Simon Faire, Barry Davidson [from 1967] and Mark someone).
O’Malley also plays Alan Blackburn from the Auckland Race Relations Office and Blakiston also plays the Craccum Editor, David Merritt.  

As all the Pākehā women, Lauren Gibson sometimes switches instantly between Janet Roth, Student Union President; Anne Salmond, Auckland University Māori Department; Kathy McCrae, a first year student who happens upon the Quad Forum; Karen Bishop, who also attended the Forum and was Ian’s girlfriend; and Mitzi Nairn from the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination.

The Māori Land March of October 1975 (the same year the Michael King/Barry Barclay TV series Tangata Whenua went to air) and the Bastion Point occupation (1977-8) are established as the context for He Taua’s decision to stop the 1979 Haka Party taking place. A flashback to the Auckland University College Haka, ‘Ākarana’ – composed by Te Rangi Hiroa (aka Peter Buck) – takes us back to 1924 when such performances were light and polite. It is intriguing to read ngā kupu and the English translation in the programme: who are ‘they’ who have come with their wise men to see Auckland, with nothing to say or do but be confounded and bewildered?

Cringe-worthy by comparison are the Ardmore Engineering School Haka of 1955, ‘Akarana’, and the Engineering Haka of 1979, ‘A Ka Rana’, where insult is added in injury with silly plastic hats. The general state of Kiwi ignorance is represented by an embarrassing All Blacks rendition Te Rauparaha’s ‘Ka Mate’, before it is later given its due, thanks to Buck Shelford’s intervention.

Meanwhile the ex-Engineering students’ recollections of what they did and how they felt about it are counterpointed by the Student Union President’s perceptions. A vivid picture emerges of the beer-fuelled boys’ progress from interrupting lectures to disrupting traffic in the city with their fake and offensive haka.

A snatch of ‘I See Red’ (Split Enz) marks the point where He Taua gets organised and plans their strategy, ngā wāhine especially advocating non-violent negotiation as Plan A, given some of the women are hapū. There is lots of humour in the recollections of how they travelled to campus. In the event, however, Hilda doesn’t get to give her speech, things escalate thanks to the ignorance-fed fear of the students, someone rings the police – and Plan B, to physically impede the Haka Party’s progress, becomes the order of the day.

Of course it is He Taua members who get arrested for inciting a riot. The accounts of how brutally they were treated by the police are shocking – and are a major part of what should be on the official historical record. In the event, the media reported what happened as ‘gang violence’. This is not the first time oral history reveals truths that are missing from written histories.  

By comparison, an account of a student capping stunt in Fort Street that involved replica machine guns and a callout of 50 cop cars, sees the perpetrators fined lightly with no convictions recorded against their names so their future careers will not be jeopardised.  

Two days after the incident, a Student Union-led Forum is held in the Quad over four hours, in an attempt to raise people’s consciousness and seek reconciliation. In a splendidly calibrated scene, Ben from He Taua is interviewed by David, the Editor of Craccum – and because it was published exactly as transcribed, this also qualifies as a verbatim scene.  

But the wheels of justice grind on and the charges against He Taua come to court augmented by extraordinary ‘evidence’ involving so-called weapons found in the homes of those arrested. The roll-call of those appearing for the defence resonates with mana: Sian Elias leads the case; the eloquent testimony of Māori elder Eruera Stirling (spoken by Dekkers-Reihana and Te Are), attempting to explain tikanga to a tone deaf court, is translated by Rev Kingi Ihaka (Tafa) – and again a rich vein of humour is mined over questions of translation. Yet convictions are upheld and the penalties are severe.

Throughout the play’s two hours upon the stage, five songs are judiciously placed by Wolfe and vibrantly sung by the ensemble, under the musical direction of Kingsley Spargo (also the sound designer, which includes managing the live feeds of the verbatim interviews to the actors):

The crassness of the Ardmore Engineers Song, ‘We are We are The Engineers’ (who “don’t give a damn for any old man who don’t give a damn for us”) is placed between two waiata composed by Brian Potiki for the activist theatre group Maranga Mai in 1979, ‘In the Past’ and ‘Hey Māori People’, and Spargo’s sublime arrangements of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ (1971) and Julia Ward Howe’s ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ (1862).

As Kaiako Kapa Haka, Nīkau Balme has instructed and coached the ensemble in seven haka, ranging from potent through pathetic to potent again, bringing comedy as well as drama to the party. Had I read the programme more closely before the show began, I’d have taken better note of ‘Me Hoki Whakamuri Kia Anga Whakamu’, composed for the UoA Faculty of Engineering by Tapeta Wehi in 2019. I wish I had understood its significance, while it was being performed, as an invocation to look to the past in order to forge the future.

Balme is also Kaitito of the final climactic haka, ‘He Taua’, which pays tribute to the activism that has grounded people’s belief in their land, empowered Te Reo Māori and its customs, rejected the monster known as racism and ensured the survival of Māori culture. That it was composed this year, after last year’s cancelled season, proves Katie Wolfe and her team don’t rest on their creative laurels.

Front and centre of The Haka Party Incident, bringing the mahi of many to dynamic fruition, is the tireless performing ensemble who rise to the wero laid down by Wolfe as writer and director with inspiring energy and focus.

This production is a gift that every New Zealander deserves to enjoy and I sincerely hope it will have a long life beyond this all-to-short season.

[i]  Spinoff interview, 17 October 2017

[ii] Ibid.


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No moment of this play is remote history.

Review by Dr Mark James Hamilton 02nd Apr 2021

The ASB Waterfront Theatre auditorium is built very like a forum. Everyone present is embraced by its semi-circular curve, the gentle bank of the seats and a wide-open stage. Such a context adds greatly to the way in which this verbatim play, directed and written by Katie Wolfe, presents layers of recollection and reflection for the audience to digest. The words gathered, from real people (both those with us and those passed), are not crafted into tidy narrative arc. This is not history dramatized. The stage is empty of scenery and the actors are dressed simply in checked shirts. The words spoken are just as straightforward. This play is a tapestry of the researched perspectives of a wide range of people about the place of haka in NZ. It is a documentary meditation on the immeasurable value of this taonga. Its abuse and misuse are explored. So too are the actions of redress taken to protect it. This work is also a performative demonstration of the ways in which haka is becoming a core part of knowing and expressing what it is to live in Aotearoa.

The narrative line of the play are the events that called an end to the engineering students of Auckland University lampooning the haka as a part of their student stunts and disruption of campus life and capping day. The voices of Pakeha men who took part in these events are brought to the stage by the actors. The beer-drinking, girl-grabbing and lecture-raiding of their annual customs are detailed blow-by-blow. So too are the voices of He Taua – the Māori and Pacific Island people who drew a clear line and took direct action to end this behavior. They put an end to the men dressing in grass skirts and body paint. They stopped the desecration of culture.

There is enormous warmth and delight for an audience hearing voices from Auckland’s past brought to life with all the nuances of diction and character by the actors. The verbatim process deployed uses playback recordings fed into in the actors’ earpieces. This enables the performers to recreate the eyewitnesses’ words with every “er”, “um” and “you know”, with every repetition and broken sentence, that makes our daily conversations so dense and complex. There seems little tidying up of speech by Wolfe and assistant writer Catherine Grealish. The messiness of human communication is very much part of the telling of the tale. This aspect of the texture of the play also releases raw and painful experience directly into the theatre. We hear how the men and women of He Taua were violently attacked by police officers inside the police station. This is recounted word for word. It is like listening to the research recordings of the interviewees. Such focus on each detail presents us with the facts and the pain without any added poetic sheen.

No moment of this play is remote history. Everything spoken about resonates with pressing contemporary questions, tensions and issues. Section by section, the play leads us through to the moment when the projector – that hitherto has largely cast dates onto the stage rear – shines out the single word “Racism”. Conflicting voices are aired. There are those who embrace the power of this word to reveal the ways in which injustice rolls on through the embedded prejudices of this society’s systems. There are those who look back on their active abuse of haka and their deliberate ridiculing of Māoritanga as being devoid of racism at all. There is no dialogue between these opposing stances, but the production makes clear that the way forward is to acknowledge the wrongs of history and be bold about making a future for all. A projected caption during the company’s striking closing haka makes this the message to take home.

It is the cast’s moments of dynamic performance – rich and vital with karanga, with taiaha, with waiata, and (of course) haka – that give us more than verbatim theatre. The actors – of Māori, Samoan and Pakeha descent – enter together into the rhythms, stances and actions of haka as one unified kapa. They work together to share with us the words of others and to tell their stories of hurt and harm, activism and redress. But so too, the cast join together to give us a vibrant image of Aotearoa becoming a land where the culture of tāngata whenua is the force that binds. To see such a possibility embodied does nothing to erase the pain and violence recounted in this play. It does, however, point to a future that can become a present.


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