New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is winning plaudits for her choice of clothing worn during her visit to Buckingham Palace this week. Ardern donned a korowai — a traditional Māori cloak — when she appeared for a dinner at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The cloak is spiritually significant to the Māori — the indigenous people of the New Zealand islands. At the event, Ardern was seen shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, among others. She was accompanied by her partner, Clarke Gayford.
The decision to wear the cloak, which the Ngati Ranana London Māori Club loaned to Ardern, was seen by pundits as another public acknowledgment of the Māori people’s culture on the international stage. Ardern became the first New Zealand Prime Minister to speak during the traditional Māori welcoming ceremony on Waitangi Day, on the Waitangi grounds, a few months ago. Mark Sykes, the curator of Māori special collections at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, told The Guardian the gesture was also a proud moment for Māori people.
Perhaps one of the features of the image that gives people pause is the subversion of what power is & particularly what it has not been. Here is a woman in power who is hapu. Eurocentric cultural stories of power tell us its the opposite of power. The visual says wanna bet? pic.twitter.com/7u6Koe9TAC
— Jess Berentson-Shaw (@DrJessBerentson) April 19, 2018
“Cloaks are worn for warmth, protection and to symbolize your status and mana [power],” Sykes observed. “I think it shows how she is portraying herself as a leader of Māori, of all of New Zealand, of everyone. It made me feel proud. She wore it well. She wore it so well.”
According to the Te Papa website, the korowai is a type of feather cloak that became prominent in the 1800s and are loaded with symbolism. “In the Māori world, birds are the children of Tānemahuta (god of the forest),” the museum’s website says, “and are messengers between people and gods. Each bird has a mauri (life force) and special qualities, and these become part of a cloak’s essence and personality.”
Late last year, Ardern capped a meteoric rise — known locally as “Jacindamania” — by winning the election, making her New Zealand’s third woman prime minister. Not long after, she and Grayford announced that they were expecting a baby in June.
Read the full story at NITV.