Jacinda Ardern wears Māori cloak to Buckingham Palace

New Zealand leader in Kahu huruhuru praised as proud moment for female leaders and Mori worldwide

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has caused a stir with a striking image of her walking the halls of Buckingham Palace swathed in a traditional Māori cloak during this week’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

The prime minister wore a Kahu huruhuru; a Māori cloak adorned with feathers and bestowed on chiefs and dignitaries to convey prestige, respect and power, said Mark Sykes, guardian of Māori special collections at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.

Sykes said Ardern’s choice was a proud moment for Māori around the world. “Cloaks are worn for warmth, protection and to symbolise your status and mana [power],” said Sykes. “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.”

On social media in New Zealand the striking image went viral, with many people commenting that the picture captured the inversion of traditional gender roles; a female world leader wearing a powerful cloak while pregnant and representing her country.

Jess Berentson-Shaw (@DrJessBerentson)

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

April 19, 2018

There are more than 10 varieties of Māori cloak, broadly referred to as Korowai, and the Kahu huruhuru become prestigious from the mid-1800s, with Kiwi feather cloaks the most valuable and sought after. Two of them were given to the Queen and Prince Philip on their 1954 tour of New Zealand, and were later worn by other members of the royal family when they visited the country.

According to Te Papa, in the Māori world birds were given the task of carrying spiritual messages between the gods and people, and their feathers were prized and sacred.

Ardern’s Kahu huruhuru has been loaned to her from the London Māori club Ngāti Rānana.

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