Nicholas Sheppard

Did Maori MPs mean to insult King Charles?

Rawiri Waititi (l) and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (Credit: Getty images)

The co-leaders of New Zealand’s Māori party, Te Pāti Māori, have defended their actions at the swearing-in ceremony at parliament in Wellington on Tuesday. The party’s MPs all broke with protocol by standing and giving a whaikorero (formal address) when it was their turn to be sworn in.

In their remarks, members of the party swore allegiance to the mokopuna (grandchildren) and said they would exercise their duties in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi (New Zealand’s founding document, the treaty of Waitangi). They each then approached the Clerk of the House to give their affirmations of allegiance to King Charles, a prerequisite to formally becoming an MP.  

Much of this tension will come to a head in early February, when New Zealand celebrates Waitangi Day

Several of them, however – including co-leaders Rawiri Waititi, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Tākuta Ferris – diverged even further from protocol. The MPs altered the prescribed Māori phrasing and used the term, ‘Kingi harehare’. According to the Māori Dictionary, harehare can mean a ‘skin rash’ or ‘eczema’.  

That wasn’t their intended expression, Waititi told media afterwards. ‘Harehare is another name for Charles. Yes, Hare is another name for Charles,’ he said. Asked if there was another meaning, Waititi said: ‘I don’t know.’  

But MP Shane Jones, a member of the governing coalition, claimed Te Pāti Māori knew of the second meaning. ‘They are trying to make fun of the transliteration “Hare”, which if said as harehare is kind of a transliteration of Charlie, but it also means something objectionable.’    

Te Pati Māori’s claims of innocent misinterpretation seem a little dubious given the prevailing atmosphere in New Zealand politics. In response to a raft of co-governance related policies announced last week by the new National party-led coalition, Te Pati Māori issued a nationwide call to action via Twitter/X, scheduled for Tuesday 5 December.

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