09/07/2020 7:23 PM AEST | Updated 28/07/2020 3:03 PM AEST

Home And Away Featuring The Maori Haka Is More Than Just A Nod To On-Screen Diversity

Filming the episode was particularly emotional for actor Rob Kipa-Williams as he embraced family, grief and culture.

Thursday night’s episode of ‘Home and Away’ will feature the show’s Maori family performing a Haka for the first time in Summer Bay.

Two Maori advisors (Kani Collier and Tainui Stephens) helped write the storyline into the Australian soap, where the Parata family will honour late family member Mikaere Parata with the Haka after being unable to return to New Zealand for the funeral. 

Filming this was emotional for actor Rob Kipa-Williams (Ari Parata) who dedicated his performance to his Aunty Leah who recently passed away. Rob wasn’t able to attend her funeral in NZ due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

“This sudden passing was heartbreaking, a huge shock and sadly I missed her Tangi (funeral),” Rob told HuffPost Australia.

Channel 7
'Home and Away's Kawakawa Fox-Reo, Rob Kipa-Williams and Ethan Browne

“My cousins video called me as they carried my Aunty to the hearse from our tribal meeting house and the men of my family broke in to Haka. I joined them through the phone screen.”

Rob said Home and Away’s Haka scene is “art really imitating life”. 

″[I’m] sending my love across the sea to her as we do in tonight’s episode for Mikaere. I dedicate this episode to my Aunty Leah. I love her and miss her dearly!” 

In Thursday night’s episode of Home and Away, Rob, along with co-stars Ethan Browne (Tana Parata) and Kawakawa Fox-Reo (Nikau Parata) try to fly to NZ to lay their brother/father’s body to rest. Gemma Parata (Bree Peters) successfully is able to board the return flight home to NZ but the Parata men are stopped at immigration.

When their passports are held due to an ongoing investigation, they are unable to leave the country and instead honour their loved one in a way that sings true to cultural traditions and their heritage. 

“Before we shot the Haka in this episode we acknowledged the Aboriginal people of the land,” said Rob, adding, “I hope to see more of their faces on Australian screens soon”. 

In a Q&A shared on the show’s Facebook page, actor Kawakawa Fox-Reo also said it was “a big deal to us to bring this kind of material onto this program” as it not only represents their culture but educates viewers. 

“I don’t think a lot of people outside of New Zealand have seen Haka done in a different context as opposed to rugby,” added co-star Ethan Browne.

“They’ve seen a lot of you know, All Blacks games and that but not really something like this – like a goodbye to a loved one, a lost loved one.”

Rob told HuffPost Australia “there is a weight of responsibility felt” in carrying out this storyline. 

“Will it be received well not just by my own people but the international audience? This really is an Australian first and it feels at times a little daunting,” he said. 

“I think what’s great about this Haka and hopefully where the storyline takes us is the Haka speaks of moving from dark to light, from wrong to right and I guess this is where I’d love to see our character arc go.” 

Channel 7
'Home and Away's Kawakawa Fox-Reo, Rob Kipa-Williams and Ethan Browne

The Parata family first appeared on screens in January, and each actor has drawn on their own experiences growing up in Maori families. 

“There is pressure to get it right as you’re representing a specific group of people and that’s a big part of who we are,” Ethan recently told RadioTimes.com.

“I think it’s a positive step whenever culture or diversity is implemented and I hope it opens doors for more Indigenous culture and cultural stories, and more diverse characters.

“I’m representing all Indigenous cultures I feel, and doing this for all of them.”

‘Home and Away’ airs Monday to Thursday at 7pm on Channel 7. You can also watch on 7Plus.