Meet the Team: Te Aranga O Otene Kane Hopa (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi, Waikato)
Otene Hopa says he grew up on the marae – and for him, kapa haka is his marae.
"Kapa haka is the taonga that has been with me since my first breath. It has been the door that has allowed me to live, breathe and experience my culture day and night. It is the foundation of my aroha and love for my culture, my language and my identity.
"My parents were into it. Also, my cousins and aunties and uncles – most of them weren’t blood, but they have been my whānau through my whole life."
Born in Sydney, Otene moved to Auckland when he was five years old, with his two siblings and mum, following the death of his father.
Following a stint in Auckland, which included studies at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Maungawhau, the whānau moved to Whangarei where Otene finished high school as Head Boy of Pompallier Catholic College. Together with his whanau, he also established their own kapa haka team, Hātea Kapa Haka, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
With kapa haka came marae life, and lessons and responsibilities that would define his future.
"We have a responsibility to teach the next generation, ensuring our culture lives for generations to come. Our whānau was brought up with strong Christian values and this is really important to us."
With such an upbringing, it is no surprise that Otene has a strong interest in developing rangatahi. Following tertiary studies in communications at Waikato, and a Bachelor of Māori Performing Arts from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Otene worked with Careers New Zealand as a Careers Advisor, and taught at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.
But beyond making a difference in New Zealand, life had some other plans too. In 2015, a friend offered Otene tickets to attend the Rugby World Cup final in London. As he was returning home to Auckland from that trip, he decided he would go back to London to live and work – and his determination would mean he was back there within six months.
Otene spent the next three years based in London – performing haka and sharing the knowledge and wisdom as a basis for team building sessions for corporations throughout the UK, Europe, US and even India.
"The whole notion of haka is about overcoming adversity, moving as one, thinking as one, and being as one. And this was an amazing opportunity to do haka, travel and share my culture – all while being paid for it. Haka is more than a performance on stage, it’s about sharing mātauranga."
The stars had well and truly aligned for Otene. At one of his events, he was speaking and performing at a conference in Los Angeles with 1500 delegates!
Returning to New Zealand in late 2018, Otene joined TupuToa and says he is honoured to work for an organisation where valuing culture is actively encouraged.
"We are like a beacon for Māori and Pacific students who might not realise just how important and valuable their culture is, and that it is something to be proud of. I want them to be part of this waka and not be left behind!"