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Kapa haka loses legend Bub Wehi

PEOPLE are travelling to Gisborne from all over the country today to remember kapa haka legend Doctor Ngapo Wehi, QSM, better known as Bub, who passed away yesterday.

Mr Wehi’s name is known worldwide for his work in traditional Maori performing arts.

Kapa haka was his and his late wife Pimia (Nen) Wehi’s passion. The pair led two champion kapa haka groups, Waihirere from Te Aitanga a Mahaki, and Te Waka Huia, based in Auckland.

The Wehis’ accomplishments are legendary. Mr Wehi is the most decorated exponent of Maori performing arts and holds the record for the most national wins in the history of kapa haka.

He passed away yesterday in Gisborne surrounded by his family, aged 82.

He was raised at Waioeka (Ngai Tuhoe, Te Whakatohea, Ngapuhi, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngati Kahu) with 15 siblings, and educated at Waiti Primary, Waioeka Primary and Opotiki College.

It was at primary school that he discovered his own name. Having always been called Bub, he had not realised his name was Ngapo until he went to school.

He was an excellent tennis and rugby player. At 17 he met Nen and it was the future Mrs Wehi’s encouragement that spurred him into kapa haka.

In the ’70s the pair led Waihirere to victory at the national kapa haka competition (1972 and 1979) before the move to Auckland.

Not ready to retireThe idea was to retire but the Wehis were not done yet. They set up a whanau group in Waitakere in 1981 — Te Waka Huia.

In 1986, the group qualified for and won the supreme award at the kapa haka nationals.

They went on to win again in 1992, 1994, 2009 and 2013.

His last public performance was in 2002 at that year’s Te Matatini nationals, a year after he received an honorary doctorate from Massey University.

Together the Wehis were known for shining a light on social issues, using Maori performing arts to travel the world as cultural ambassadors.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the party is mourning along with the rest of Aotearoa.

“They devoted their lives to kapa haka. Our culture will be forever enriched by the likes of these greats.”

Fellow party co-leader Marama Fox says Mr Wehi was the godfather of kapa haka.

“We send our aroha and thoughts to the whanau at this time and we thank the whanau for sharing their papa with us over the many years.”

What is kapa haka?In a quote taken from a 2013 interview ahead of the launch of Ka Mau Te Wehi, a book about the Wehis, Mr Wehi was asked what kapa haka was.

His answer was “kapa haka is about family”.

“Free the mind, be strong of spirit and you can achieve anything”, was another of Wehi’s quotes and a philosophy he lived by.

This morning people began to gather at Parihimanihi Marae, Waihirere to remember Mr Wehi.

Among them was Maui Tangohau, chairman of Tairawhiti Tamararo Regionals for more than three decades, who said Mr Wehi’s passing was a huge loss for the kapa haka community.

Mr Wehi is survived by his five children Karen, Vicki, Wiremu, Richard, Pimia, Tapeta, and many mokopuna.

Doctor Ngapo Wehi, better known as Bub, speaking at Bill Kerekere’s Funeral in 2001. File picture