Legendary kapa haka exponent Ngapo Wehi passes away

By Aroha Mane
  • Auckland

Dr. Ngapo Wehi, QSM (Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Whakatōhea, Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Kahu), is the most decorated exponent of Māori performing arts and holds the record for the most national wins in the history of kapa haka. Today the legendary composer passed away surrounded by his loving family in Gisborne. Dr. Wehi was 82-years-old.

Raised in Waioeka, the musician, composer, choreographer, author, teacher, father and grandfather was born in was raised in a small three bedroom home with 15 siblings. Educated at Waiti Primary, Waioeka Primary and Ōpotiki College, Wehi was said to be an exceptional tennis and rugby player. When he moved to Gisborne to find employment he was chosen to represent Waihirere Marae in tennis.

At 17-years-old Wehi met the love of his life, Pimia. It was from here his journey with kapa haka began. As a child Ngapo had shied away from kapa haka, but with encouragement from Pimia he became a member of the Waihirere Māori Club.

An opportunity arose for Ngapo and Pimia to tutor Waihirere, from here the couple took the team to win the National Kapa Haka competition in 1972-Rotorua and 1979-Gisborne, before retiring and moving to Auckland. 

The notion of retirement never eventuated, they set up a whānau group out of a garage in Waitakere in 1981. The following year Te Waka Huia went on to perform at their first regionals at Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland.

In 1986 they qualified for their first Nationals in Christchurch, where in their first stand they won the supreme award. After securing two titles with Waihirere and with Te Waka Huia in Christchurch, Wehi went on to win, 1992 - Ngaruawahia, 1994 - Hawera, 2009 - Mt Maunganui, 2013 - Rotorua.

In 2002 he performed for his last time at the Te Matatini Nationals held in Tāmaki Makaurau.

"Free the mind, be strong of spirit and you can achieve anything," was Wehi's favourite quote and a philosophy he lived by. 

Wehi credits his various attributes to the late Bill Kerekere, Kani Te Ua, Ngakohu Pera and his beloved wife who passed in 2011.

Wehi is survived by his five children Karen, Vicki, Wiremu, Richard, Pimia, Tapeta, and many mokopuna. He will lie in state at Parihimanihi Marae, Waihīrere.

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