The Maori King is preparing to host Prince Charles when he and his wife Camilla visit New Zealand this week, and they have more in common that you might think.
Wellington (dpa) – When Maori King Tuheitia meets Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, it might look like a meeting of opposites, and even old enemies.
King Tuheitia was elected king in 2006 to a position that, although not hereditary, has stayed in his family for over 150 years.
The first Maori king was chosen in 1858 to unite New Zealand’s indigenous tribes and counter the power of British settlers and their queen, Victoria.
Queen Victoria’s descendant Charles on the other hand is heir to a hereditary throne halfway across the world, whose history is bound to the history of Britain over many centuries.
On closer inspection, however, some similarities emerge between Charles and Tuheitia.
Firstly, they have both faced a crisis of popularity in the wake of family events.
The prince’s popularity was damaged by his separation from the late Diana, the Princess of Wales, and his relationship with and marriage to Camilla.
Queen Elizabeth II famously referred to her “annus horribilis” in 1992, the year that her son and Diana separated.
A recent poll by British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail found that 40 per cent of those surveyed believed Charles should step aside and allow his son Prince William to succeed to the throne.
Despite a recovery in Charles’ personal popularity over the last 5 years, polls indicate only a small proportion of Britons want his wife to be queen.
Tuheitia, 60, endured his own “horrible year” in 2014 when his 19-year-old son Korotangi Paki was arrested on charges of burglary, theft and drink driving.
His arrest, and the public outcry when he at first escaped a conviction on the grounds that it would harm his prospect of acceding to the throne, prompted outspoken Maori leader David Rankin to call for an end to the monarchy.
“How much more shame and embarrassment should Maori around the country endure for the sake of this pretend monarchy? It’s time to bring this colonial relic of an institution to an end,” he said.
The king’s son was subsequently convicted of drink driving in a High Court appeal.
Tuheitia, based in the central North Island, and is the leader of the local Tainui tribe, but his title as king has been disputed by Rankin, a member of the Ngapuhi tribe in the far north of the country.
Charles and Tuheitia, both in their sixties, also face questions over their influence.
Charles, 66, has often come under fire for his pronouncements and letters on everything from tall buildings to schooling, and badger culling to arms deals.
British monarchs are expected to remain neutral on political affairs, and some – including those in government – have seen such interventions as going beyond his remit.
While the Maori king’s power is strongest in the central North Island, it is difficult to quantify how widely his influence is felt over the rest of the country, according to Paul Moon, professor of history at Auckland University of Technology.
“(He) does exercise some influence. If the king expresses a position on something, that position is taken note of.”
Moon says some Maori tribes are very supportive of the King movement, while others – Ngapuhi tribe – are not.
“(The King movement) was an idea of getting Maori together and having their own system of government, perhaps their own currency, newspapers, banks, everything, and it never really achieved that ambition, so it has always been more symbolic as a unifying force for some Maori (people), rather than having any practical application.”
Both British and Maori monarchies have suffered from a change in the mood of society, he said.
“The public view of hereditary monarchy has changed and in Britain, for example, they are certainly not given the reverence almost that they had half a century ago. The public mood generally has changed. It’s either become a bit more cynical or a bit more realistic,” he said.
In any case, the upcoming visit will enable the two royal houses to put aside any ill feeling created by the cancellation of a proposed visit by Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, on their 2014 visit to New Zealand.
Tuheitia withdrew his invitation to host the couple, after becoming concerned that their planned 90-minute stop was too short to hold a formal Maori welcome.
It will be Prince Charles’s second visit to the historic Turangawaewae Marae, the residence of the Maori king, and the first by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
King Tuheitia, who has diabetes and has suffered from cancer, said he was looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the prince and to meeting the duchess.
“I intend to introduce her to as much of my home and Maaoritanga [Maori way of life and culture] as possible.”
This visit will include a ceremonial welcome, a mass haka, a high tea for 380 guests and a salute from the royal canoe fleet on the Waikato River.