New Zealand buries Maori queen, celebrates new king
By Gyles Beckford
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of New Zealanders
gathered on Monday to bury the Maori queen, one of the
country’s most respected indigenous leaders, and celebrate the
inauguration of her son as her successor.
The tribal home of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, who died of
kidney failure last Tuesday, aged 75, was overflowing as Maori
of many tribes, New Zealand and Pacific political leaders, and
many others of different races attended her funeral ceremony.
Before the start of the service Dame Te Ata’s eldest son,
Tuheitia Paki, was invested as the seventh leader of the Maori
The movement was founded and has been based in the Waikato
region in the central North Island, but leaders from Maori
tribes throughout New Zealand were consulted on the succession.
Moments before Paki’s crowning, the crowd was asked if he
should be king, to which they answered with a resounding “Ae”
Wearing a feather cloak, he sat on an elaborately carved
wooden throne beside his mother’s coffin.
Messages of condolence from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, New
Zealand’s titular head of state, and her son Britain’s Prince
Charles were read to the service.
“Dame Te Ata gave a lifetime of service and dedication,”
said the queen in her message. “Her leadership, dignity and
compassion will long be remembered.”
Three white doves symbolizing the spirit of the Maori queen
were released just before her casket, draped in an historic
woven mat and adorned by a bird carved from jade, was carried
to a large canoe, which took her up the Waikato River to her
tribe’s sacred burial mountain.
Thousands of people lined both sides of the river for the
journey of around 15 km (9 miles). Spontaneous songs and dances
of respect broke out as the canoe passed.
Her coffin was carried shoulder high by bare-chested
warriors through throngs of mourners to the mountain, where the
previous five leaders have been buried.
The Maori monarchy has no formal constitutional or legal
role in New Zealand, but the position carries considerable
An estimated 100,000 people filed past her coffin during
the six days it was laid in state at her tribe’s main meeting
place at Ngaruawahia, about 100 km (60 miles) south of
Auckland. Over the past week flags have flown at half mast on
official buildings and the national rugby team, the All Blacks,
wore black armbands and observed a minute’s silence before
Saturday’s match against Australia.
The King Movement was established in the late 1850s by
Maori in the Waikato region in response to land losses to
European settlers and to negotiate with the then colonial
Maori make up about 15 percent of the population of 4.1
million people of the small South Pacific nation.