July 23 – Happy Birthday, Dame Te Atairangikaahu

Posted on July 23, 2016

Today's famous birthday was the Maori queen for 40 years. 

The Maori is a group of people native to New Zealand. The position of queen (or king) of the Maori doesn't hold any constitutional power within the New Zealand government; however, it is the leading position of the Waikato-Tainui federation of iwi (tribes).

Te Atairangikaahu was very supportive of Maori cultural events and sports. She also was active in the worldwide effort of dealing with indigenous issues. That means that she tried to make sure that native peoples gained or maintained rights within their various nations. Because of the past history of colonization, conquest, and slavery, many people who are the descendants of the first people to come to a particular continent or island have been faced with exploitation, oppression, forced assimilation, even genocide.

In other words, indigenous peoples have often lost their freedom, their culture, their language, even their lives. And even today many find themselves minorities in their own land, facing stereotypes and discrimination from the descendants of their people's colonizers or conquerors.

Because of Te Atairangikaahu's work on the behalf of the Maori and other indigenous peoples, she was awarded Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. 

This 1974 photo shows Queen Elizabeth,
figurative head of New Zealand and the rest
of the British Commonwealth, left, meeting
Queen Te 
Atairangikaahu, head of the
Maori and Dame of the British Empire.
Te Atairangikaahu was born on this date in 1931. She was elected to be queen after her father, the king died. (That's right – among the Maori, rulers such as queens and kings are elected. But they are generally chosen from among the past king / queen's children or from a leading member of another iwi. Apparently a “kingmaker” makes the choice, based on personality and characteristics of the likely prospects, and then consent is asked from all the chiefs of the various iwi.)

Learn more about the Maori culture here or here.

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