For the participants at the Te Haupoi Maori o Aotearoa, or National Maori Hockey Tournament, it is not just about the hockey.
As one of the players explained: “For me, playing Maori Hockey is about getting in touch with my roots, embracing Maori culture and playing the sport I love.
“Like many young players, I grew up admiring Black Sticks players such as like Caryn Paewai. It was Maori Hockey that presented the opportunity to play alongside Caryn for the New Zealand Maori Wahine (women) under the captaincy of Pare Rangitauira.”
The four-day tournament takes place at the end of the hockey season in New Zealand and is hosted at a different venue each year. The 2016 edition was hosted by Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) at the home of North Harbour Hockey, on Auckland’s North Shore.
For Casey Haumaha, a former Black Sticks age group representative, the draw of this event is enough to bring her overseas from Australia where she now lives.
“It’s a great opportunity to catch up with whanau (family)” says Casey, “not only that, this year was a chance to reunite with friends I hadn’t seen and played with for a really long time. It’s the first time I’ve played for Takitimu (Hawkes Bay) in years and to claim the wahine (women’s) title was an added bonus.”
With 19 teams and more than 300 competitors taking part in the 2016 edition, this was a chance to celebrate and raise awareness of Maori Culture. The teams come from across eight regions of New Zealand and have been doing so since the 1930s, although the event got a major rebrand in 1992.
Matches start with the tradition that most non-Maoris recognise, the Haka, but the tournament is about much more than that. While the competition is fiercely contested and often sees family members compete against each other, there is an underpinning philosophy of hospitality, generosity and mutual respect for all those involved, which stems from Maori protocol (tikanga) and is called Manaakitanga.
For, Connor Herewini, a rising star in New Zealand hockey and former Junior Black Stick, it’s about “playing alongside the Maori brothers”. “I guess it's the only opportunity to play with my whanau (family). It’s rare, it happens once a year. It makes me feel Maori,” says Connor.
During each tournament, travelling districts are welcomed and cared for by the host rohe and this year was no different as the Tamaki Makaurau tournament committee accommodated a record number of teams. The facilities that are home to North Harbour Hockey Association provided three premium pitches for the weekend of high octane competition.
The last few years have seen increased participation, a rise in the calibre and number of high performance athletes involved and a high level of commitment and passion with which the sport is played during the event.
Talented young player, 14-year-old Bella Ambrosius, was taking part in the tournament for the second year, playing for Te Waipounamu.
“We come together as one big family. Even though our team travels all the way up from the South Island, everyone calls you ‘bub' or ‘cuz’, but once you hit the field it’s ‘game on” laughs Bella, “No other tournament compares, it’s really physical.”
The administration of the game follows national and international rulings but distinct from all others and at the heart of this competition is Maori culture.
Before matches, it is not uncommon for teams to lay down a challenge through Haka (warfare performance), while the tournament’s opening ceremony is also a customary affair, referred to as a “Powhiri” which is enriched with song and prayer to honour those who have passed and those who are present.
It is the Powhiri that sets the tone for the competing teams and officials and, as with Maori culture, it extends out to encompass supporters and fans.
Tamaki Makaurau won the men's title, battling out an intense and crowd gathering final against Wairiki with a final score of 3-2. In the women’s event Takitimu A went on to defeat last year’s champions, Te Taitokerau A, by a 4-1 scoreline.
Events like this are great examples of communities coming together as part of organised events, a key component that the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy aims to develop.
For more information about this event, click here.
New Zealand's BlackSticks performing a Haka at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games Source: YouTube