Te Atairangikaahu

Photo of Te Atairangikaahu listening to the speeches from the people of the Turangawaewae Marae during celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of her coronation May 23 in Ngaruawahia, New Zealand. Image Credit: Wayne Drought/AP.

By Holly Marsden

When Māori leader Korokī Mahuta died in 1966, he was succeeded by his daughter Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. As a descendant of the first Māori king Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, at age 34 Atairangikaahu became the first woman of the Kīngitanga movement.

Although Māori monarchs have no political or constitutional role in modern New Zealand, they are the representative of Māori tribes in Parliament. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi allowed Rangatira, or leaders, to continue to reign over their domains, despite British settlement.

The Kīngitanga movement was established in 1858 to maintain Māori authority with the arrival of Pakeha colonisers to Aotearoa. The tangible position of ‘king’ was chosen as this institution was recognised by both groups.

Te Atairangikaahu was born in 1931 as Princess Piki Mahuta. She married Whatumoana Paki in 1952 and they had seven children together. She promoted and supported Māori cultural events and fought against injustice against indigenous people.

In 1995, Te Atairangikaahu pursued and won compensation for the stealing of Māori land by the New Zealand crown during the Waikato War of 1863-64. This was the first Treaty settlement in New Zealand’s modern history.

Te Atairangikaahu was admired across the country and beyond, being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1970. She reigned for 40 years, the longest leader of the Kīngitanga movement. Te Atairangikaahu also often hosted visiting state dignitaries.

After her death in 2006, her funeral was among the largest in New Zealand history, reflecting the queen’s social, symbolic, and cultural capital. As per Māori royal custom, she was buried in an unmarked grave. The throne was handed to her eldest son, Tuhetia Paki.

Recommended Reading

Aidan Norrie, “Female Rangatira in Aotearoa New Zealand,” in A Companion to Global Queenship ed. Elena Woodacre (Leeds: Arc Humanities Press, 2018)

Karyn Okeroa McRae, “Tangi and State Funeral: Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu & Prime Minister Norman Kirk,” MA thesis, University of Waikato, 2010

Yvonne Te Pohe and Linda Waimarie Nikora, “What’s in a Title? The use of honorifics in media coverage,” in Claiming Spaces: Proceedings of the 2007 National Maori and Pacific Psychologies Symposium 23rd-24th November 2007, eds., M. Levy, L. W. Nikora, B. Masters-Awatere, M. Rua, & W. Waitoki, 74-76 (Hamilton, New Zealand: Māori and Psychology Research Unit, University of Waikato, 2008).

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