Today in history - Coronation of first Māori Queen

By Jessica Tyson
Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu. Source: File

Fifty-three years ago today, Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu became the first woman to lead the Kīngitanga movement.

Her coronation was on May, 23 1966 and she served as queen for 40 years, the longest of any Māori monarch.

Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu. Source: File

The Māori Queen was well known for her gentle and benevolent nature. Her astute thinking and clear vision established her as an unparalleled unifying force for Māori.

On August 15, 2006, aged 75, she passed away after a long battle with failing health, surrounded by members of the royal household at Tūrangawaewae Marae.

Dame Te Arikinui's passing sparked a week of mourning for Māoridom and more than 430,000 people watched television coverage of her tangihanga on August 21.

Remembrance Day 2016

During a Remembrance Day 10 years later, hundreds gathered to remember Dame Te Arikinui at her residence at Waahi Pā.

“It's a time when we reflect back to the day she passed away,” Paraone Gloyne, of Ngāti Raukawa, told Te Kāea at the time.

“Undoubtedly, all of Māoridom and New Zealand, perhaps, remember that time and where they were when they heard Te Arikinui had passed away.”

Timoti Karetu, of Ngāi Tūhoe, said “She was so hospitable to me, actually to all of us at Te Kōhanga Reo.

“I have many fond memories of her. I come to this marae and reflect back to the many moments we shared. When I flick through the pages of my remembrance book, yes, my heart grieves.”

To commemorate her coronation day today, Ngāti Pikiao have made plans to host their annual poukai at Punawhakareia Marae in Rotoiti.

Her legacy

During her reign, Dame Te Arikinui hosted many royal and diplomatic visitors to New Zealand, including the Pacific commonwealth leaders' meeting in 1990, and she also represented her people at state events overseas.

She supported both traditional and contemporary Māori arts and urged her people to pursue quality and excellence in everything they did, from sports to tribal enterprise and national management.

Dame Te Arikinui encouraged women venturing into the modern world to hold onto their great gifts, in language, art, craft, dance, religion and ceremony, while taking a constructive and influential part in their communities.

She was a direct descendant of the first Māori King, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, and daughter of King Korokė.

Her son, Kīngi Tūheitia, was announced as her successor and crowned on the same day of her tangihanga.