A ‘meeting of all the tribes’: Māori basketball’s whānau-friendly tournament

Māori basketball is showing the way with a whānau-friendly, incredibly inclusive national tournament that is being described as a “meeting of all the tribes.”

A special feature of the Poitūkohu Māori National Championships hosted in Rotorua over Auckland anniversary weekend - and which caters for the very young through to the more senior, as well as those with various health challenges - is a kapa haka evening, mid-tournament.

“It’s really two separate tournaments. We run the first three days for under 7s, under 9s, under 11s, under 13s, under 15s, so more the young ones. And Wednesday night, we have a kapa haka competition,” says Rotorua Basketball’s Rangitihi Pene (Te Arawa).

“Thursday, it’s under 17s and it goes right up to mixed and masters, pakeke. And we also even have te hunga hauā.”

Pene has been involved in Māori basketball for more than 40 years, and his wife Sue Pene is tournament director of Poitūkohu Māori Aotearoa.

He says it is common to see spontaneous outbursts of haka throughout the tournament.

“It’s because iwi, they all break out their haka at the end of the games, especially if it’s a close game.”

The unique tournament has a distinguished whakapapa.

“It’s 12 years in the making and it started with one of the all-time greats of Māori basketball, Willie Taurima. He’s from Kahungunu, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine. He married into Porirua, Ngāti Toa. And he used to run the rec centre down there.

“He came up with the concept of reviving the national tournament. And along with people like Jeff Green, my wife [Sue Pene], Hori Thompson and a few others, decided ‘yeah, we’ll do it’.

“So we started with about 50-odd teams, and now we’re up to over 408, I think, this year.”

Pene says this year’s tournament was, as always, a joy to see unfold.

“But always, all I really enjoyed was you still have a strong iwi, basketball strong, Ngāti Toa Rangatira.

“And then you have a surprising winner this year, Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga from Ōtaki. They did well on the court, they did well at kapa haka, and they did really well at helping out, providing support personnel for the tournament. You get marks for all three of those.”

“It’s like the meeting of all the tribes coming in, because you get some of the ones who have been in basketball, like Jeff Green, for 40 years. You get tribal leaders like the Thompson family, mōrehu from Rātana, they always bring their ones in.

“For us, it’s something we look forward to every year,” says Pene.