While the coming week will be dominated by tributes and mourning for Dame Te Atairangikaahu, it will also involve intense discussions among some of the country's leading tribal figures.

The paramount issues to be debated are the future of the Kingitanga (King Movement) and, if it is to continue, who should lead it.

The Kingitanga was formed to protect Maori land, customs and governance and to unify Maori.

In 1858, following months of debate among the country's leading iwi, Potatau Te Wherowhero, head of the powerful and wealthy Waikato tribe and great-great-great-grandfather of Dame Te Ata, agreed to become the first Maori King.

Theoretically, the title is not hereditary, and requires an appointment by the leaders of Kingitanga-aligned tribes which include Tuwharetoa, Taranaki, Whanganui and all Tainui iwi.

But the leadership has followed the Te Wherowhero bloodline and remained within the Waikato.

If there is to be a successor to Dame Te Ata it is likely to be one of her seven children.

It is understood her eldest son, Tuheitia Paki, who has shared some of his mother's duties in the past, is favoured by a number of leaders.

Her successor would be crowned on the day of her funeral and prior to her burial.

In the past there have been calls for the Kingitanga to end, and this argument is likely to emerge from some quarters in the coming debates.

Following the invasion of Waikato in 1860 and defeat of the tribes there, the Kingitanga became a vehicle for the protection of Waikato culture and as a mechanism to seek compensation for the more than 400,000 hectares confiscated following the war.

In 1995 Tainui and the Crown signed a $170 million covenant as a full and final settlement of the land claims. Some would say this concluded the remaining role of the Kingitanga, as attempts at self-governance and unity were crushed when the iwi lost the land war.

In a March 2003 Mana magazine article, Dame Te Ata said she had been pondering her successor at the head of the Kingitanga: "My feeling at the moment is that the people are ready for a male heir to take over. But I haven't made up my mind yet."