Ardern wearing a korowai in London

Jacinda Ardern got the full royal treatment by the Queen, Prince Charles, various leaders and the media covering her trip to the United Kingdom last week to attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government summit. At one event she wore a korowai (Māori cloak), which prompted mostly praise but also some criticism.

It’s hard to know what all that was supposed to mean.

BBC: Why Ardern’s Maori cloak, worn to meet the Queen, delighted New Zealand

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore a traditional Maori cloak to meet the Queen, it had quite a few people scratching their heads – and most New Zealanders glowing with pride.

It’s a korowai, a garment woven with feathers and steeped in history, tradition and cultural significance.

The photos of Ms Ardern wearing the korowai have generated a wave of pride, enthusiasm and support online, with people praising it as “stunning” and “beautiful”, while New Zealanders have been filled with pride and respect.

“It makes me really emotional,” Ranui Ngarimu, a senior weaver with the Nga Tahu Maori tribe, told the BBC. “It’s a real acknowledgment of the prestige and power of a woman.”

“To wear something that is so intrinsically of this place here, and for her to wear it at that event knowing that she would be photographed from every angle, that’s a real acknowledgment of her relationship with the Maori people and with New Zealand.

“Korowai are a very special form of cloak,” explains Vini Olsen-Reeder, himself a Maori and a lecturer at Victoria University. “There are lots of different kinds of cloaks, but the korowai is the one with the highest prestige.”

Traditionally, it would be awarded only to people from the upper echelons of Maori society, or given as a gift to people from outside the community if they were thought to be of equally high standing.

In this case the korowai was given to Ms Ardern by a Maori group in London, for her to wear at the Commonwealth Summit.

“The significance of the garment is the prestige that comes with it,” agrees Donna Campbell, lecturer in Maori studies at Waikato University in Hamilton.

“What it represents is the mana of a person, that’s the prestige and power of the person wearing it. So for Jacinda to be wearing it at this event is completely fits with the weight of the occasion; from a Maori point of view, this garment is entirely appropriate.”

It is not unprecedented for non Māori women to wear korowai:

Queen Elizabeth II wearing a korowai, 1954

Queen Elizabeth II wearing a korowai, 1954

Queen Elizabeth II was gifted a korowai (woven cloak) during her first tour of New Zealand in 1953–54. New Zealand does not have a specific national dress, but Māori cloaks are often worn by dignitaries as a symbol of the country.

There has been some criticism, like Cultural Appropriation Much? Jacinda Ardern’s Maori Cloak

Cultural appropriation is where the members of a dominant grouping in society use and – well, appropriate – take the signifiers of the culture of an oppressed or dispossessed part of society.

We do, after all, have to insist that the Maori are oppressed in New Zealand society. Absolutely nothing at all about politics there makes sense without agreeing with that point. Ardern is one of the oppressing class, descended as she is from Northern Europeans doing all that oppressing. And her wearing a Maori cloak is obviously appropriation from that non-dominant culture.

This also got an airing at Reddit:

Something I don’t see addressed here is the origin of the cloak, I work in an organisation with a strong Maori presence and culture, in many cases people outside of Maori culture in the organisation have been gifted similar items by the Maori people for their service, this is where it stops being appropriation and becomes appreciation.

If she bestowed it on herself or other white people bestowed it on her though then that’s a whole shit show.

While Ardern was given the korowai to wear on the occasion it is quite common seeing them worn at graduations, and you can ‘bestow a korowai on yourself’ – Academic Dress Hire: Korowai

We are now selling Korowai, which are stunning cloaks that look great on graduation day, and make a fantastic family heirloom. The cloaks come with an export certificate should you wish to take them overseas. The cloaks come in various colours and there is a significant amount of work that goes into each Korowai.

It is worn as a mantle of prestige and honor. Everyone has different reasons for wearing Korowai on their graduation day whether it be a sense of identity, a graduation acknowledgement, a congratulatory gift, a connection to our NZ heritage or family tradition.

We are pleased to offer them to you at $700.00 incl.

The Māori dictionary suggests that usage has changed over time.

1. (noun) cloak ornamented with black twisted tags or thrums – the illustration is of the korowai, Te Whiringa Rongomaiwhiti, woven by Gloria Taituha of Ngāti Maniapoto. The feathers of the korowai are of pūkeko (dark blue) and kererū (white).

2. (noun) cloak – in modern Māori this is sometimes used as a general term for cloaks made of muka (New Zealand flax fibre).

He whero ngā huruhuru o te taha whakararo o ngā parirau o te kākā. Ka rangaa he korowai mō te tāngata whakahirahira i ēnei huruhuru (Te Ara 2014). / The feathers under the wings of kākā are red. These feathers were woven into cloaks for important people.

Korowai became popular in the 1800s, and were made out of things like dog skins and the feathers of birds like kiwi, kererū , kākāpō, tūī, kākāriki and kākā. I presume they use other things now.

I guess the koro in korowai comes from ‘term of address to an older man’ and not ‘bay, cove, inlet’ or ‘noose’.

‘Wai’ can mean ‘water’, ‘stream, creek, river’, or ‘tears’.

What may stand out on this occasion is that the Prime Minister wore one at an overseas political summit. I can’t recall or find anything about John Key being given a korowai to wear. Neither Helen Clark, nor any other Prime Minister.

But Ardern seems to have quickly become the queen of symbolism. Time will tell whether she and her Government become known for substance on Māori and other issues – and that will need to be earned by Ardern, not gifted.

63 Comments

  1. sorethumb

     /  April 22, 2018

    She’s got a bun in the oven yet they aren’t sure enough about their relationship to marry?
    “Dr Love” talked about an analysis of couples who stayed together (soul mates) and analysed 20 factors; maybe she’s not sure?

  2. David

     /  April 22, 2018

    I consulted my fashion guru, Korowai looked good but the dress was bloody awful. Personally I thought she looked great and its hard to say but she looks like she enjoyed her trip which is good for the baby.

    • Gezza

       /  April 22, 2018

      Quick couple of queries:

      1. Your fashion guru. Are you married to her?
      2. Is she a Labour supporter?
      3. Does she like Jacinda?

      • David

         /  April 22, 2018

        1.We are married. 2 she is not a Labour supporter (see answer to question 1). She doesnt dislike her but thinks she is a bit thick and lazy and lies a bit too easily.

        • Gezza

           /  April 22, 2018

          Righto. Feel pretty confident in betting if Jacinda turned up in a stunning ballgown that set off her colouring beautifully, with pearl drop earings, perfectly matched handbag & truly elegant shoes, she’d find something wrong somehow.

          • David

             /  April 22, 2018

            Have you a thing for our PM Gezza ?
            My wife can reliably find fault in all things Gezza and not just Ardern.

            • Gezza

               /  April 22, 2018

              No I don’t find Jacinda particularly attractive, not enuf curves for me. My Mrs struck it lucky with me. She was always telling me ” Oh yes, and you’re Mr Perfect – AREN’T YOU?!!”

    • Revel

       /  April 22, 2018

      Agree re the dress.
      The cloak from dead bird feathers hid it well.
      However Ardern needs to learn a few manners. It was very much a Justin Trudeau “look at me, look at me” moment. Not the best when visiting England and meeting the Queen.

      • Gezza

         /  April 23, 2018

        🐱
        Ridiculous. Embarrassing to even read that! . >:D

      • Missy

         /  April 23, 2018

        So were other leaders that wore aspects of their national dress during the Commonwealth summit also indulging in a ‘Justin Trudeau “look at me, look at me” moment’? Or is your bitchiness only reserved for Jacinda.

        I am no fan of hers, but she looked good, and did not display any lack of manners. These events will usually include ‘national dress’ as part of the dress code on the invitation.

  3. Gezza

     /  April 22, 2018

    It looked stunning. A real eye-catcher, & its colours went really well with her dress. Its design is one of the nicest I’ve seen. So Maori, & so Kiwi. Appropriately loaned, appropriately worn. Befitting an NZ PM at such an occasion. Made me proud to be from Kiwiland. Well done Jacinda.

    • Missy

       /  April 23, 2018

      Agree with that comment G. I thought she looked good at the Reception, and the cloak complemented her dress very well.

      • Gezza

         /  April 23, 2018

        You’re not just another pretty face Missy. 👍🏼

  4. David

     /  April 22, 2018

    One thing I find quite cute is the way she seems totally smitten with Gayford, you often see her looking at him sort of in awe as if she cant believe her luck, given she is PM I find it quite endearing.

  5. Gezza

     /  April 22, 2018

    (It’s very unlikely anyone could outdress those Beefeaters in the pic.)

  6. Blazer

     /  April 22, 2018

    Arderns resident critics here will be..apoplectic.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  April 22, 2018

      Why, B? I would have thought the down-trodden masses that Labour represents might be more indignant at their leadership parading like peacocks and royalty?

      • Blazer

         /  April 22, 2018

        showcasing a unique aspect of NZ’s cultur,e engenders pride not resentment, unless you are a narrow minded,green eyed ,disenchanted National…supporter.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  April 22, 2018

          I think her constituents probably wanted her to solve child poverty and homelessness rather than model expensive indigenous ceremonial wear. At least that was what they said.

          • David

             /  April 22, 2018

            Given the pretty ordinary job she has done so far I would guess regional NZ would like her to stay away a little longer and taxpayer fund as many outfits as she wants.
            Thought I better say something derogatory otherwise Blazer and Guyton look a bit stupid howling at non existent put downs of their beloved.

            • Blazer

               /  April 22, 2018

              in a few months NZ became a better place than after 9 yrsof National

              .Ex P.M Key said his greatest regret was…not changing the…flag!Talk about priorities.
              The oft mentioned handling of the Chch earthquakes with ‘aplomb’ has been revealed..as fiction.
              All Nats did was borrow money and oversee massive property inflation.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  April 22, 2018

              Ardern will probably have much bigger things to regret – like killing our oil, gas and minerals industries and building Green white elephants. If she lasts long enough.

        • Revel

           /  April 22, 2018

          A cloak of bird feathers is not unique. Many indigenous cultures bring them out for ceremony.

  7. robertguyton

     /  April 22, 2018

    Soon, we’ll be critiquing each and every outfit Jacinda’s baby is dressed in. For people who scorn the Woman’s Weekly-a-fying of politics, you sure love to talk about clothes.

    • David

       /  April 22, 2018

      I agree completely. What she is wearing has no relevance. She should follow Helen Clarke’s line and only wear nondescript attire and she can prove to the world she has substance and isn’t just an exercise in PR and image.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  April 22, 2018

        Clothes are relevant to someone’s image. A leader needs to look like one, and the satin pyjamas did not say ‘leader’, they said cheap mail order buyer. I met Jenny Shipley once and she had a most elegant suit; money well spent.She’d been travelling all day and the straight skirt slid gracefully down when she stood up, not a crease in sight. Nobody could say it was nondescript, but she was wearing it, not it her. Miss Ardern looks great in the right shade of red; it flatters her skin. Good classic lines and the right colour = a DO. Satin jimmiyjams, straining at the seams = a DON’T.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 22, 2018

          A male PM in an ill-fitting cheap polyester suit, shirt and tie would not look the part, either.

          I remember Metiria Turei (on the Green’s promo ?) wearing what must have been meant to make her look like one of the people, but actually made her look as if she had gone out and bought cheap garments on purpose to do so,

          • Gezza

             /  April 22, 2018

            At times last year, Simon Bridges stood up in ‘Question Toime’ wearing the most embarrassing-coloured suit any man could wear, short of a pink one. It was a very strange colour of blue indeed. Somewhere between a purple & a blue. Loud, loud, loud. I remember thinking his wife must’ve bought it for him after an argument before she had let the anger go. He seemed blithely unware this was a dreadful choice of attire. It’s very difficult to make man’s suit look bad, but Simon managed. But do you see me going on & on about it – No! That is a girl thing. Not a nice one either. 😠

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 22, 2018

              If they had those ghastly low energy bulbs, it might well have distorted the colour as they do. When we briefly had these, the attractive straw coloured walls looked a sickly yellow that no sane person would have chosen and everyone’s skin looked a very odd colour.

            • Gezza

               /  April 22, 2018

              Lighting was perfect as usual. Everybody else looked alright except maybe Amy. Think she was wearing one of those hideous Power Suits that women execs used to with the fake extended shoulder pads that tried to make them look like male bodybuilders. But I expect that sort of thing from National female MPs, so not really an issue. Simon dressing like a pansy is. And he was being annoying too. 😠

        • robertguyton

           /  April 22, 2018

          “I met Jenny Shipley once and she had a most elegant suit;”
          And Pete claims “Tory” is an inappropriate term!

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  April 22, 2018

            I cannot see that there is any connection between being a ‘Tory’ as you put it and wearing a good suit. Elegance is not confined to National Party members or National PMs. What a strange idea. It would appear that you don’t see many well-dressed people if you think that !

            • robertguyton

               /  April 22, 2018

              I take you at your word; you cannot see the connection. In any case, the connection is not between Tory and suit, it’s how you hold your mouth.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 22, 2018

              How childish and unoriginal you can be,

          • David

             /  April 22, 2018

            “And Pete claims “Tory” is an inappropriate term!”

            This will be largely because it has no history of use in NZ and it is only used as a slur.

            • robertguyton

               /  April 22, 2018

              No history of use in New Zealand? I seen it used for yonks and know exactly what it means in the context of this country. “No history of use” – pffffffft

            • Gezza

               /  April 22, 2018

              My Irish-ancestored Grandfather, the former village police sergeant, used to call National party members or supporters “Tories”, but dad & his siblings never did. It wasn’t a term generally used in our neck of the woods in The Naki by the time I was old enuf to be taught Michael Joseph Savage should be canonized, but whoever led the National Party should be cannoned. Politics seemed to be genetically determined in the 70’s.

    • MaureenW

       /  April 22, 2018

      The cloak is comment-worthy, Ardern is PM and on a royal visit, so I’m ok with it, it’s just that I can’t get thank image of Trudeau in a sari on his India visit. It can be a fine line between tasteful and stupid.

  8. Zedd

     /  April 22, 2018

    looking good Jacinda.. somewhat ‘Royal’ ? 😀

  9. Traveller

     /  April 22, 2018

    Far more to the point if she committed to learning Te Reo. I think nobody should be eligible for public office without it…..certainly not a PM

    Her lip service and virtue signalling is not good enough.

    • Gezza

       /  April 22, 2018

      That’d mean you didn’t think Bill English should’ve been PM either, trav?

      He said he never learned it: he just picked up a lot of useful phrases over his years off the farm.

      • robertguyton

         /  April 22, 2018

        “Kai pai ki ahau i te hipi ataauhua!”

        • phantom snowflake

           /  April 22, 2018

          Having a bit of trouble with that one: “My favourite food is a stolen sheep”?? Am I even close?

          • robertguyton

             /  April 22, 2018

            Not really…my fault though, ataahua, not ataauhua – my apologies.

      • Traveller

         /  April 22, 2018

        Wrong, wrong, wrong Gezza. He spoke in Māori for over 20 minutes at Orakei Marae in 2017. He has been learning it for years, understands mostly all and can converse as the best Non-Māori speaker in Parliament.

        “Bill English has much in his background that can surprise – his time as a house husband while Mary worked, for example – and just this year, English displayed a surprisingly deep rapport with Maori when, on Waitangi Day, he went to Auckland’s Orakei Marae and delivered a fluent speech in Maori, in which he spoke directly to Joe Hawke, who in 1976-78 led a 506-day occupation of Bastion Point. The occupation came to symbolise the deep grievances of Maori over land issues.

        English has been quietly taking informal lessons in Maori for years. His guide has been his long-time adviser Amohaere Houkamau, who has encouraged English to travel more often to marae and to engage with iwi. “It gave him more exposure to that cultural setting and he developed greater confidence,” Houkamau says of English, whom she now ranks as the most fluent Maori speaker of all of non-Maori in Parliament.”

        But – the media failed largely to report this as it didn’t suit their narrative.

        https://www.noted.co.nz/currently/profiles/bill-english-on-his-own-terms/

        • Gezza

           /  April 22, 2018

          Hmm. That’s a surprise. Good to hear.
          I guess I had to be wrong about something sooner or later, trav. 😕

          • Yes, that is first Gezz. It just makes you human. 😉 It peeves me the Media never talked about this. It’s pretty significant, especially as Bill (unlike Ardern) wasn’t one to blow his own trumpet

            • phantom snowflake

               /  April 23, 2018

              Which reminds me: It used to make me really grumpy how Helen Clark mangled Te Reo. To this day she still says “Far now” for Whanau. No excuse for that, and it’s always raised a question in my mind as to what her private attitude towards Maori is.

            • Gezza

               /  April 23, 2018

              The tears at Waitangi was absolutely the worst acting ever. Should’ve tried out for Shortland Street. She started off her reign by sending an edict out that was interpreted as more Maori were to be promoted into senior positions in the Public Service. In my department this was duly done. One was good the other was useless.

              She also promised more consultation with Maori. This was commenced in my department with much fanfare & Maori communities views collated on policy. These were not in line with Helen’s views. The relevant reports were shelved and never referred to again.

              By the time of her second term it was already obvious no one needed to bother consulting Maori again and she never campaigned on it.

    • Blazer

       /  April 23, 2018

      which National M.P’s are fluent in…Te Reo.

      • Missy

         /  April 23, 2018

        Having problems with your reading comprehension again Blazer? Trav already answered that.

        • Blazer

           /  April 23, 2018

          O.K…ONE of them is.I venture far more than 1 Govt member…is.

        • Gezza

           /  April 23, 2018

          I don’t think he’s still an MP though. Question still stands.

          • Chris Tremain was a pretty good Maori Speaker

            • Gezza

               /  April 23, 2018

              To be fair I think Blazer’s asking which of the current National skiff crew on the cross-benches can speaka da lingo?