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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maori Queen buried at Taupiri as tens of thousands mourn

The Maori Queen has been laid to rest beside her ancestors near the summit of Taupiri Mountain.

It was a day of intense emotion in the Waikato, as tens of thousands of people gathered to the final farewell to Te Arikinui Dame Te Ata i Rangi Kaahu, who died a week ago.

It started when the morning mist still lay over Turangawaewae, as Tuheitia Paki, the eldest son of Dame Te Ata, was escorted onto the marae by leaders of nga iwi o te motu to be crowned as only the seventh leader of the Kingitanga in its 148 year existence.

By the time Dame Te Ata's casket was loaded onto the waka Tumanako to be paddled down the river to Taupiri, there were people lining any accessible pieces of riverbank between Ngaruiawahia and Taupiri.

As Tumanko and its accompanying flotilla passed by, groups on the shore burst into haka, and lamentations split the air.

At Taupiri, relays of pall-bearers carried the casket on their shoulders to the grave, which had been dug by members of Te Aupouri, the far north tribe Dame Te Ata married into.

As many as 5,000 people were on the mountain itself, and there was a sea of black-clad mourners stretching along the road.

Many stayed back the Ngaruawahia, where the action was beamed through to big screens on the marae.

Waatea broadcaster Scottie Morrison says the huge turnout was a tribute to Dame Te Ata.

“ You've got all people of all tribal groups and all backgrounds who’ve come here today from motorcycle gangs to politicans, doctors, lawyers, policemen, kapa haka tutors, everybody to pay their respects, It has been an occasion whch has united not just Maori tribal groups but the wider community.of Aotearoa. A lot of them feel a sense of life. In her own life she brought people together and united them, and even in her death she united people,” Morrison says.

PM REMEMEMBERS DAME TE ATA’S HUMANITY

Among today's mourners was Prime Minister Helen Clark, who says she will miss a woman she had huge respect for.

Ms Clark says in her encounters with Dame Te Atairangikaahu over the years, what she will remember most is the former Maori Queen's chuckle.

“I'll always think of many times I sat next to Te Arikinui on a marae or in a dining hall or at an awards ceremony. She had a great sense of humour and always a chuckle, she could see the funny side of things, which you have to do. That’s what I will remember, the sense of humour,” Clark said.

Helen Clark says the size of the week's tangi and the coverage it has got it a symbol of Dame Te Ata's unifying force and the way she made the Kingitanga an essential element in New Zealand's identity.

The mourners have now returned to Turangawaewae Marae, where the proceedings will end after a hakari or feast.

DRAMA ON MOUNTAIN

After a day of intense emotion and high drama, the mourners have dispersed from the graveside of the Maori queen on Taupiri Mountain.

As many as 5000 people were on the sacred mountain, and several times that were stretched back along the river backs and on the road from Ngaruawahia.

Many of them returned to Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia, where the funeral hakari is now going on.

Waatea News reporter Dale Husband says it was a special day for Maori and non-Maori alike, as they remembered what Dame Te Ata i Rangi kaahu had achieved.

He says everyone will carry away their own memories of the day, especially those closest to her.

“It was very very moving, certainly when they took the casket finally to place it on the waka, and the people who have worked behind the scenes at Turnagawaewae for so long, you couldn’t help but feel for them as the tears flowed, the haka started, these people have worked for Te Atairangikaahu for many many years, and that was the last time they got to see her, as she was taken on the waka across to Taupiri maunga,” Husband said.

Dale Husband says people's thoughts are now turning to the new King, Tuheitia Paki, and the future role of the Kingitanga.

TRIBE LED BY FOLLOWERS

Maori broadcaster and commentator Waihoroi Shortland, whose family has had a long association with the kaihui ariki or royal family, says the tributes to Dame Te Ata i Rangi Kaahu are also a tribute to the people around her.

Mr Shortland says people should not expect too much of Tuheitia Paki as he eases his way into his new role as Maori king.

He says Dame Te Ata made very few public pronouncements in her first 30 years, as she listened to those around her and learned how to use the formidible resources that Tainui, Kingitanga and Maoridom gave her.

He says it will be hard to match Dame Te Ata.

“It's no great surprise that in our reflections of Te Atairangikaahu over the next years and decades we will say that, of this line, she was the very best. Now that is a reflection of the people who carried her through those 40 years,” Shortland said.

Waihoroi Shortland says Tuheitia Paki needs to mbe the kind of leader people learn to follow, and Maoridom must believe they have got the best from the very good choices laid before them.

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