Dignified leader honoured
Methodist and Anglican clergy played a prominent role in celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the coronation of the Maori Queen – Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangi Kaahu in May.
A delegation of 13 Methodist ministers, which included President John Salmon and Vice President Mary West, attended the service at Turangawaewae marae in Ngaruawahia. Three Methodist minita-a-iwi – Morehu (Buddy) Te Whare, Mara Tupaea, and Heemi Rauwhero – read part of the Maori language service.
For Buddy Te Whare the event brought back memories of Te Arikinui’s coronation in 1966, which he attended. He was in ministry training at Trinity College at the time and recalls the decision to elevate the king’s daughter Piki Mahuta to the symbolic leadership of Maori.
“Her coronation took place at her father’s funeral. King Koroki’s body was lying in state at Turangawaewae and the 48 visiting chiefs decided that his daughter would succeed him. She asked if she could take her mother’s name – Te Atairangi Kaahu – and they agreed.”
Buddy says he still recalls the powerful hymns and Maori chants visitors and hosts sang when delegations came to pay respect to the former king. When the decision to make the dead king’s daughter paramount chief, she was inducted with prayers and blessings. The bible placed on her head during the ceremony was the same used to crown the first Maori king in 1858.
“Te Arikinui has a reserved dignity and an immense presence. She has an innate sense of when to put herself in the forefront of things and when to stay behind and let kaumatua speak on her behalf. He adopted brother Bob Mahuta was an important person in this regard.
“I did not know her when she became queen but later I worked with her. I just waited and she called me when she needed me. Later I had kidney failure. My own illness makes me appreciate how she feels as her health and energy levels have declined in recent years in the face of public expectations.”
Buddy says during her time of leadership Te Arikinui has raised the status of Maori, guided the kingitanga into better relations with Pakeha, and remained true to the past.
When the time comes he expects the tribal chiefs, many of whom will be the descendents of the chiefs who selected Te Arikinui, will chose her successor from among her two sons and five daughters.
Vice President Mary West says the anniversary celebrations were impressive. She was particularly impressed with the singing and the display of waka that saluted Te Arikinui.
“I was pleased that three busloads of students from Wesley College attended the event. The Queen’s grandchild attends Wesley College and the college sent a large, cross-cultural delegation of Pacific, Asian and Maori students,” Mary says.
Rev Len Schroedor was one of the Waikato clergy who attended the anniversary celebrations. He says the crowd of thousands at Turangawaewae Marae was relaxed and had a warmth and openness seldom experienced in city life. While things seemed to be organised informally, things happened efficiently when necessary, such as at the arrival of the Governor General and Pacific Island representatives.
“My wife Hilda and I found a remarkable similarity to African gatherings we attended in Botswana. We were gently reminded that there are treasures of priceless value that are to be cherished and preserved, on this occasion by the Maori people.
“Male leadership may have been apparent but it was in a setting where the mana and dignity of a Queen, deeply loved by her people, outshone everything else. This occasion demonstrated that the heart of the Maori people is strong and generous as the grassroots.”