It would have been difficult not to have been both saddened and impressed by the funeral in New Zealand on 21 August of the Maori Queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, who reigned for forty years from 23 May 1966 to 15 August 2006. In cold weather, a large assembly – one report said tens of thousands – came to pay their last respects as her body was taken by canoe to a sacred burial place on Taupiri Mountain. Those attending included the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, two former prime ministers and a former governor-general. A strikingly beautiful woman, Dame Te Atairangikaahu ONZ, DBE was born in 1931 and reigned longer than any of the other five Maori monarchs. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1970, the first Maori to be so honoured. Te Atairangikaahu had passed away at her official residence, Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia on 15 August 2006. This was followed by a week of mourning, during which flags across the nation flew at half mast, and the national rugby team, the All Blacks, wore black armbands and observed one minute’s silence in the match against Australia last Saturday.
The position of the Maori monarch carries neither constitutional nor legal duties, but is important symbolically. The position was established to unify the Maori tribes and as a balance to the British, after Tamihana Te Rauparaha met Queen Victoria in England in 1852. By having a monarch, it was thought that the Maori would be more able to deal with the Pakeha, the Europeans, as equals.
Although reluctant, Te Wherowhero was formally named the first king by a meeting of chiefs of the Maori tribes held at Pukawa, Lake Taupo, in April 1857 and was crowned in ceremonies at his marae in Ngaruawahia in 1858. He became known as Potatau te Wherowhero or simply Potatau.
As the Tainui iwi had agreed to protect the position, the monarch is chosen from this tribe. The position is not formally hereditary, the choice being made by the leaders of the tribes involved on the day of the funeral. The Queen’s eldest son, Tuheitia Paki, a descendant of the first monarch was chosen as the next and seventh Maori King. When asked whether he should be King, the vast assembly approved with a resounding “Ae”. Wearing the traditional feather cloak, the King was dubbed with Bible. He is aged 51, and married with three children, he was educated in Huntly and St Stephen’s College, Bombay.
Messages from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen of New Zealand, from Prince Charles and from His Holiness The Pope were read at the funeral. Her Majesty said that “Dame Te Ata gave a lifetime of service and education. Her leadership, dignity and compassion will long be remembered.”
Australians for Constitutional Monarchy join in expressing their condolences to the family and the tribe and wish to convey their best wishes to the Maori King and to the Maori people .
In a statement issued after the funeral, Professor Noel Cox, Chairman of the New Zealand Monarchist League, said the prominence of the office of the Maori King had been particularly enhanced in recent years as a result of Government policy. He continued: “An example of this is that visiting overseas dignitaries were customarily taken to see the Maori Queen. The Government has shown respect and honour towards the head of the Maori King Movement which is often denied to the Sovereign.”
“Yet the relationship between the Maori King Movement and the Crown itself remains important. Like most Maori, Dame Te Ata-i-rangi-kaahu held the monarchy in high regard, and saw the relationship between herself and The Queen as very important."
The Chairman’s final observation is one which Australians for Constitutional Monarchy strongly endorses:
“ The life and death of the Maori Queen serves to remind us of the importance of monarchy, whether it be regional, national, or international, as an important unifying element in an otherwise troubled world.”