A haka pōwhiri kicked off the ASB Polyfest 2018 on Wednesday morning in Manukau, Auckland. 

Sixty-nine schools, 242 groups, and over 10,000 students are expected to take the stage over the next four days. Hammond Matua, an organiser for the Māori stage from James Cook High (Te Kapunga), says that this Polyfest is set to be one of the biggest yet. 

"Koinei te tino pāreherehetanga te Polyfest tino nui rawa atu i tēneki tau ki a tātou nā te huhua o ngā kura kua uru mai ki roto i te whakataetae." 

This year the Māori stage will be jointly hosted by James Cook High and Kia Aroha College, and not far from the minds of students and staff from both schools is former Te Kapunga teacher Hori Pomana who passed away early last year. 

"Ka hoki aku mahara ki nga wa o mua ki a Hori, ki a Haley, ko rāua rāua i roto i ngā mahi nei nō reira kua piri māua anō, aua kura tonu." 

Four teams from James Cook have entered this year's competition. Part of their performance will pay tribute to the late Damon Heke. Hammond Matua says the late kapa haka star was instrumental in teaching and training tomorrow's kapa haka leaders at the school. 

"Me pērā ka tika te nuinga o āna akonga kei roto i a Te Kapunga, nānā tonu rātou i poipoi, i whakatipu ki tēnei ao o te kapa haka nō reira nō rātou anō te whakaaro ki te tito mai i tētahi waiata mōna me taku kaha whakaae ki tērā." 

Organisers of the Māori stage say that while it is a competition, the true essence of the event is about coming together. 

"Ko tō tātou reo kei te kōrerohia, kei te werohia, kei te mātakihia," hei tā Matua. "Ko te Māori e taea ana te whakawhanaunga ki a tātou kia kite mai ai tātou i te takitini, takimano, Māori mai." 

Minister for Pacific Peoples, Hon Aupito William Sio was full of praise for the next generation of Pacific and Māori peoples at Polyfest. 

"In order for this country to realise its fullest potential we have to do all that we can to make sure that young brown, beautiful, brainy, billingual generation, that young Māori and Pasifika population have to be supported to reach their full potential." 

While Peeni Henare, Minister for Youth, pointed out that the current site for the ASB Polyfest is earmarked for development, and had questions for the event organisers over what will happen to the cultural festival. 

"Mōhio ana ahau āinī ka whakatū whare ki tēnei papa tonu nō reira ko te pātai nui ka anga atu te kaupapa ki hea? Ki tētahi atu wāhi? ka pēhea nei ngā rangatahi i roto i ngā tau e tū nei?" 

Despite questions over the future venue of the event, the competition this year looks set to be big.

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