Thursday, 17 August 2006 14:20
The Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, at the 40th anniversary of her crowning in Ngaruawahia, about 100km south of Auckland, in this May 22, 2006 file photo
WELLINGTON: New Zealand yesterday mourned the death of one of the most respected leaders of the country’s indigenous people, the Maori Queen.
Hundreds of Maori gathered at the tribal home of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, who died of kidney failure late on Tuesday, aged 75.
Flags on government buildings flew at half-mast as a token of respect for the woman, who for 40 years was a symbolic leader of Maori in a tribal area of the central North Island.
Prime Minister Helen Clark said Dame Te Ata had given leadership not only to her own people but to the whole country.
"Dame Te Ata was very much a unifying figure - using her mana (standing) to bring together Maori and Pakeha (European) together," Clark said.
Dame Te Ata was the sixth leader and a direct descendant of the founder of the King Movement, 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 government.
The Maori monarchy has no formal constitutional or legal role in New Zealand, but the role has been seen as having considerable prestige.
Maori make up about 15% of the population of 4.1mn people of the small South Pacific nation.
Black-clad women wearing small green-leafed garlands ushered mourners past the dead queen’s casket, which was lying in state at her tribal home.
"I’m here to pay my respects to our Maori Queen," Rangitatau Wood told the New Zealand Press Assocation.
"She was a precious jewel."
Many thousands were expected to pay their respects before the funeral on Monday. – Reuters