Kirsty Willison

Cultural Grant Recipient

Kirsty Willison

Taking kapa haka to the world. Read Kirsty's story about performing kapa haka in Italy.

I te taha o tōku Pāpā ko Ngāti Rārua, ko Ngāti Maniapoto, ko Ngāti Mahuta ki te taihauauru, ko Ngāti Te Ata, ko Ngāti Mutunga ōku iwi.
I te taha o tōku Māmā ko Te Rarawa, ko Ngāti Ranginui me Ngaiterangi ōku iwi.
Ko taku hononga ki a Ngāti Rarua ko tōku tipuna kuia, ko Ripeka Hikoia.
Ko Desmond raua ko Sylvia (nee Ngatoko) Willison ōku matua. Ka puta raua i ngā tamariki e wha, ā ka whangai raua i tetahi atu tama.
Ko Charlie tōku hoa rangatira, kei a māua e toru ngā tamariki – Rakera, Tuara me Kahuera.
Kei Tauranga Moana mātou e noho ana.

I am currently working as Administrator for Huria Trust in Tauranga which is a kaupapa Māori based organisation that offers health, education and advocacy services to our hapū and the wider community. At home I am kept busy with my 6 and 8 year old tamariki but love spending time with whānau, getting out for hikoi or just engaging in different kaupapa. The majority of my whānau, like me, have a love for Kapa Haka as we were brought up with it at an early age.

Our Nan was one of the founding members of the Ngāti Ranginui Junior Kapa Haka. Her vision was to keep the rangatahi within our rohe out of trouble and provide an environment for them to thrive – to learn, sing and haka about who they are through the vehicle of Kapa Haka, so I have been performing Haka since a very young age and encourage my tamariki to participate too.

The International Folklore Festival in Southern Italy
My specific role and contribution to this project was in the lead up to the event in that I helped with organising the group flights and itinerary as well as the finances. Aside from that I was one of kaihaka that performed to the many crowds we came across in some of the small towns in Southern Italy. I also helped co-ordinate the group in line with our itinerary – where and when we needed to be somewhere etc.

On arrival to Rome we stopped in at Monte Cassino to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers including those of the Māori Battalion, which was made a bit more special for us as one of them was our great great grand uncle. From there we travelled to our first town Alberobello which is where we stayed and from where we travelled to Palagianello and Noci, two small towns nearby. Altogether we ended up performing three shows and two parades. We were treated to meals at restaurants and in keeping with tradition we would always thank them with a waiata after our kai. From there we travelled right down to the toe of the boot to a town called Pellaro in the province of Reggio Calabria where we did our final performance and parade, with Sicily as our backdrop.

This was an international folklore festival therefore we performed amongst other countries namely Peru, Panama, China, Serbia, Kenya and Italy so as you can imagine it was an amazing cultural exchange. Besides the performances we had time to do lots of whakawhanaungatanga as we had shared accommodation with the other countries. From Pellaro we travelled to Rome and spent our last three days touring the beautiful city. We were all so privileged and honoured to be able to represent Aotearoa and our individual iwi and hapū.

The trip was absolutely amazing and a once in a life time opportunity. It opened my eyes up to how much there is to experience out in the world and reinforced how special our culture is. We have a beautiful culture and it is recognised throughout the world. We have many similarities with other cultures – we love our food, we love to sing and dance and are all pretty friendly.

Besides getting to see the beautiful sights of southern Italy and Rome and the cultural exchange with the different countries I think the bond we built as a roopū was a great reward. Also seeing members that would not usually step outside of NZ really soaking up the opportunity.

Advice for others embarking on a similar trip would perhaps be that Kapa Haka should not be underestimated – it can actually take you around the world and if you ever get the opportunity to participate in an exchange like this then do it!

Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi - with red and black the work will be complete.
Which talks of co-operation - if everyone does their part, the work will be complete.

This journey has reinforced that I am proud of my culture and whakapapa which is quite rich in that I have hononga to many Iwi within Aotearoa. My father has been instrumental in helping us find or stay connected with our Ngāti Rārua and NRAIT whakapapa – from learning who our tipuna are to how we connect with them and the whenua. He would either tell us at whānau hui or Wananga and we are learning more each time we return home.

Being Māori and proud gives me hope, our tamariki are the up and coming leaders and are being taught kapa haka at kura, I have no doubt that they will be given the opportunity like to me to experience the world when the time is right.

At the moment, my focus is on mahi and whānau but I am also hopeful I will be looking at my study options again soon. Other than that, I will be supporting our kapa haka roopū as they gear up for another regional competition and await the next International opportunity that comes my way.

E kore e mutu ngā mihi ki a koutou te poari, ngā ringa awhina i hapai nei i a au me tāku haerenga ki Itaria. Tēnā koutou katoa.


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