Amid the tears, tribal leaders gather to choose a monarch

By Jon Stokes

Tuheitia Paki, elder son of the late Maori Queen, is emerging as her likely successor.

The 51-year-old senior manager at Te Wananga o Aotearoa in Huntly, has often been called on to attend royal duties on behalf of his mother.

A senior wananga manager described Mr Paki as a "giant of a man, not in size but through his presence."

"He is a very humble man despite his position. Personable and conscientious, whilst being quietly assertive when required."

Educated at Huntly's Rakaumanga School, and St Stephen's College in Bombay, Mr Paki is understood to be favoured by Tainui kaumatua eager to see a king head the movement.

And so it is among the grief and responsibility of hosting tens of thousands this week that senior members of the kahui ariki (royal family), must select from their ranks a suitable person to take on the role of unifying Tainui and the Maori people.

On Monday "leaders from throughout the motu [country]" will decide who will assume the helm of the King Movement established in 1858.

Although iwi elders can select a chief from among themselves, the movement's leader has always been a descendant of the first Maori King, Te Wherowhero.

The succession deliberations take place as thousands of mourners pay their last respects to Te Arikinui, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the first Maori Queen and the movement's longest serving monarch.

Dame Te Ata, who was 75, died on Tuesday night at her official residence on Turangawaewae Marae after a long illness.

She is lying in state on the veranda of Mahinarangi meeting house , where she will remain until Monday before being taken north along the Waikato River in a large waka to be buried with her ancestors on Taupiri Mountain.

More than 1000 mourners, some of whom arrived before dawn, gathered outside Turangawaewae yesterday morning waiting to convey their condolences. Most were from Dame Te Ata's own Tainui iwi.

Inside, her close family and Tainui leaders were preparing the marae. They hoped to open the marae to those outside by midday, but it was not until early afternoon that the gates were opened.

Marae spokeswoman Moko Tini Templeton said the tangihanga was a huge logistical exercise.

She said the marae had hosted large numbers of people for Dame Te Ata's 40th coronation celebrations in May but even more were likely to attend her tangi.

"We are expecting something like 7000 to 10,000 people to come here every day," Ms Tini Templeton said.

"We know we can cater for 10,000 a day no problem, but if the crowd gets bigger the Army is going to come in and help us.

"The day of the burial itself could see up to four times that number."

- Additional reporting NZPA

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