In a right royal snub, Maori King Tuheitia has turned down a scheduled appointment with William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on their forthcoming Australasian tour. He says that the 90 minute slot he was given was an insult, and that he is not “some carnival act” nor would he would “rolled out” at anybody’s beck and call, even if they are members of the British royal family.
King Tuheitia reportedly “agonised” over his decision, but in the end, he felt he could not compromise his own tikanga (Maori customs) for the sake of fitting into a pre-established schedule.
It is the “faceless bureaucrats” who are getting the blame for this majestic breach in international diplomacy. It sounds like royal flunkies in London did not liaise with any officials from the King’s offices, and made a “grave error of judgement” by assuming he would fit in with their plans for the couple. They were supposed to be visiting the King at his residence, Turangawaewae Marae, on the North Island, but representatives from Kensington Palace were not prepared to be flexible nor to negotiate
In Maori protocol, an elaborate welcoming ceremony, as befits visitors of this stature, could take several hours. King Tuheitia did his calculations, and even by cutting the ceremony as short as possible, he reckoned the couple would only have seven minutes left to mingle and meet anyone.
The New Zealand government are also a bit red-faced as they are the ones who have signed off on the royal program. They were keen to stress that they had incorporated due recognition of the importance of the Maori culture, and this had included a Powhiri, the traditional Maori welcome ceremony, and other trips throughout the two islands. The prime minister, John Key, said he saw it as a “missed opportunity” and that 90 minutes was a generous amount of time compared to some other engagements.
Now William and Kate, travelling with eight month old Prince George, will not have a meeting with any Maori leader. They had hoped to show their respects to the indigenous culture of New Zealand. The King’s residence is the “heart of the kingitanga” the seat of the Maori monarchy. It was visited by the Queen and Prince Philip when they went to New Zealand in 1953. Tuheitia Paki, 55, ascended the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Te Atairangikaahu, in 2006. Before becoming King, he worked as a truck driver. His position does not come with statutory powers, but it does come with a huge amount of respect.
Apologists on both sides are trying to smooth over the cancellation and its consequences. Kensington Palace are making placating noises about the Duke and Duchess having the chance to meet lots of Maori people throughout their trip. Professor Rawiri Taonui, a Maori academic, blames the local government, but cautiously admits that the King may have “over-reached” in the time he expected to spend with Will and Kate.
One might well ask, what is the point of royal tours? Australia and New Zealand are of course both members of the Commonwealth. Will and Kate’s newlyweds tour of Canada was held to be a huge success, for relations, trade and general feelings of bonhomie. Whether that translates into actual economical boon is another question. Kate is said to be excited about her trip, her first time to either country, and William is sure she will “fall in love with them” just as he has.
One thing is for sure, she will not be getting the chance to fall in love with King Tuheitia. Her and Will’s ninety minutes with the Maori ruler has been struck from the itinerary. It is not often that one monarch declines the chance to meet with another, albeit a King-in-waiting.
By Kate Henderson