Mikey Jr Kawana is wrapping up his first of two years in the
New Zealand Diploma in Performing Arts (Māori and Pacific Dance).
Before signing up, he was already well-known for his skills in Māori performing arts throughout the Wairarapa and was a regional winner of Kaitataki Tane on the competitive kapa haka stage. Mikey has found studying Pasifika cultures, dance techniques, and repertoire is giving him a wealth of skills and knowledge that will lead him to many more opportunities.
Mikey is of Ngāti Tu, Ngāti Rangitengaue, Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi, Rangitane o Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Arawa, and Ngāti Raukawa descent, born and bred in the Wairarapa.
One of seven siblings, Mikey grew up learning at Te Kura Kaupapa o Māori o Wairarapa – an immersion school from primary through to high school.
Speaking of those years, Mikey says he was a little ratbag.
“I didn’t pay attention, it just wasn’t for me, ya know? In hindsight, I was given all these opportunities that I wasn’t interested in taking.”
“After I finished school, I enrolled in a sports science course at UCOL but didn’t finish. I was getting into a bit of trouble and had become completely disconnected from Te Ao Māori. It wasn’t serving me well at all.
“I got a job working in forestry and did that for a couple of years and then when onto JNL timber mill for another few years. I could really feel the disconnect in my life and at the same time, I was watching my dad, who works at Te Runanga o Rangitāne, and is a kaumatua within the community – he is so busy.
“I began to really feel the weight of being disconnected, and my ability to carry on the parts of Māoridom that are so important. In my attempt to follow in his steps, I enrolled in Level 4 Māori to re-learn my reo
(language) and joined the Wairarapa kapa haka group, Te Rangiura o Wairarapa. I also began working at Te Runanga o Rangitāne as a support worker.
“I had this opportunity to help rangatahi who were becoming disconnected and share my own story with them. At this point in my life, the connections back to Te Ao Māori were growing stronger and stronger. Being in that role, being part of the kapa haka group, it was all coming together.
“However, I found the expectations to fill my dad’s shoes were just way too much. Those expectations came from me, him and everyone around us. As a kaumatua, he’s leading these blessings and ceremonies, talking in front of crowds of people; it’s just not for me. I didn’t want to become a community leader in that space, and I really started to struggle with those expectations.
“After three years, I started to pull away a bit as those expectations became higher and higher. I stopped kapa haka but thankfully, my wife, Shari, and Dad pushed me towards a new role teaching Reo Māori for
Tū Mai Rā Trust,
where I was mostly teaching the older generation who weren’t allowed to learn the language when they were younger.
“I still work there but needed another avenue to continue my passion for performing arts. Shari suggested I come and do the Performing Arts Diploma here at UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa. It’s not just Māori kapa haka — the programme covers dance techniques from the islands and contemporary movement. It’s about being open to learning and stepping out of your comfort zone.”
Throughout the year, the diploma has seen Mikey continue to perform around the Wairarapa.
“We have eight community performances that we do as part of our grading. Some are at schools, some are at bigger events. Performing in schools is definitely a highlight for me – generally, the kids get so into it. There’s a lot of vocal action and movements, they’re really high-energy performances and the kids just thrive off that. They’re a rare audience who give you back the same level of energy that we’re putting out on stage. It’s really special and cool to see.”
“Another highlight for me so far has been an assignment around the Cook Islands, with the goal of learning more about our connections to them. I traced my whakapapa back 22 generations all the way to
Whātonga who travelled to Aotearoa in his waka Kurahaupō.
I created a whole performance depicting his journey, his travels. There’s a whole legend written around him so that was really cool too.”
With one more year of study to go before he graduates, Mikey has already been approached with a few opportunities in the teaching space. His ultimate dream though?
“She’s a pretty big dream, but I’d love to open a whare that has a range of things to bring people together; like a kapa haka/performing arts studio, whare tapahi makawe, whare whakairo, a tā moko studio, recording studio and a wharekai. Somewhere where people can feel safe, connect with Te Ao Māori, utilise their skills, and learn something new to help them on their own journey.”
Mikey, alongside his Dad - Mike Kawana: