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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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Because the Maori “King” is the paramount chief of several important tribes, the tangi following his death is always a long-drawn-out and lavish occasion. While the tangi is taking place, the Kauhanganui, or Maori Parliament, meets to choose his successor. As this meeting is held shortly after the “King's” death, his successor is usually known well before he is installed in office and crowned. Potatau, the first King, was chosen for his personal mana and illustrious descent. His son and successor, Tawhiao, was chosen from several contenders, notable among whom were his sister Te Paea, and the chiefs Kerei and Wiremu Tamihana Te Waharoa. Since Tawhiao's time the succession remains with members of the Te Wherowhero family and, generally, falls to the deceased King's eldest surviving son. The Kauhanganui still retains some discretion in the matter, however, because when Te Rata died the choice was made between his eventual successor, Koroki, and his second cousin, Princess Te Puea Herangi.

The coronation takes place on the last day of the tangi for the dead “King” and shortly before his interment. Tawhiao's was the only coronation where the ceremony was delayed, due to the fact that Potatau died in the midst of difficult negotiations with the Colonial Government at a moment when the future of the King movement lay in the balance. Tawhiao's coronation was not held until nearly two months after his father's death and was attended only by his relatives and a few high chiefs.

The ceremony itself is simple and impressive. It begins when the King-elect, who wears Potatau's coronation korowai (mantle-cloak), is escorted to a point facing on to the marae. Three sides of this are lined by those who have come to pay their last respects to the late King while, by the fourth side, near where the King-elect stands with the principal chiefs of the King tribes, is an open tent containing the late King's coffin. The proceedings are all in Maori. A clergyman first recites the preliminary portions of the Anglican service and preaches a sermon. When this is over the senior descendant of Wiremu Tamihana Te Waharoa steps forward to stand facing the King-elect. He then crowns the King by laying a Bible upon his head, saying as he does so, “Your ancestors in the olden days were wont to be anointed with oil, but, since the advent of Christianity, they have been anointed with the Word of God. Therefore I place the Word of God upon your head”. Te Waharoa then leads the “King” forward, declaring him to be “King of the Maori race, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”. The Bible used in this part of the ceremony has crowned each of the King's predecessors. As the Bible is laid on the King's head, the late King's flag, which has been flying at half mast, is lowered and his successor's flag is hoisted to the top of the flagpole.

After his coronation another high chief presents the King with a white feather – the emblem of purity and truth. The chiefs make short speeches saluting the new King and the ceremony ends with prayers, hymns, and the Benediction. Afterwards the King is conducted back to his tent. Later in the day he follows his predecessor's coffin to its last resting place, in the Royal Burial Ground on the summit of Taupiri Mountain.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • The Maori King, Gorst, J. E. (1959)
  • King Potatau, Jones, P. te H. (1959)
  • Daily Southern Cross, 31 Jul 1860
  • New Zealander, 19 Sep, 8 Oct 1860
  • New Zealand Herald, 18 Sep, 19 Sep 1894, 25 Nov 1912, 9 Oct 1933.


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.