Despite the blanket media coverage of the death of New Zealand’s Maori Queen, the ceremony surrounding her funeral and the appointment of the new King have shown up significant gaps between Maori and the rest of the community.

The black-shrouded funeral tangihanga and spontaneous riverside hakas certainly made for top television, but with the Queen safely interred atop the sacred Taupiri mountain and her successor anointed, the critics have come out of the woodwork.

A number of elders and influential Maori leaders say pakeha Kiwis are more enthralled with the pomp and ceremony than the realities of the challenges of modern-day Maoridom.

The Maori monarch is head of the Kingitanga or King movement, and while the queen essentially represented one central North Island tribe – the Tainui iwi– a tacit understanding among New Zealand iwi ensured she acted as a head of state figure for all of them.

Tainui chairman Tuku Morgan says there is a “clear absence” of understanding about the role of the Maori monarchy in mainstream New Zealand. He says the link between Kingitanga and Maori social and economic development needs to be made implicit among white New Zealanders.

Prominent Maori rights campaigner Annette Sykes went further, saying that the proceedings of the last week allow Pakeha New Zealand to engage with Maori while ignoring the effects of colonisation – namely, issues of welfare dependency and the problems of child abuse that have made headlines over the past months.

As for the new king, the consensus yesterday was that Dame Te Atairangikaahu’s eldest son was a good choice to succeed her, despite his association with the fraught Te Wananga o Aotearoa, a state-funded Maori tertiary provider. Tuheitia Paki was a manager at the institution, which has come under a cloud after a series of financial scandals this year – but there is no suggestion he was involved.

Not much is known about Te Paki, but he is apparently considered a quiet man with a lot of “mana” – or Maori honour and esteem.

Elders say he won’t fully assume the role for another five years – that’s how long it will take him to gain the trust of NZ’s vocal and varied iwi and the skills to take on the job with confidence.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey