Jacinda Ardern dons Maori korowai for Buckingham Palace dinner

New Zealand PM applauded for nod to indigenous culture during Commonwealth state banquet

Jacinda Ardern in a korowai
(Image credit: Toby Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has caused a sartorial stir on her visit to the UK, attending a state dinner at Buckingham Palace in a traditional Maori cloak.

Ardern, who is seven months pregnant, arrived at the banquet for Commonwealth heads on Thursday evening in a kahu huruhuru, an ornate feathered cape.

The kahu huruhuru is the most prestigious of the many varieties of korowai (cloak) which denote status and meaning within Maori communities. The garment was loaned to Ardern by Ngati Ranana, a London society for Maori people and those interested in Maori culture.

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The 37-year-old largely avoided the ridicule and accusations of cultural appropriation often levelled at white leaders who don indigenous costume, as befell Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on his Indian tour earlier this year.

Mark Sykes, guardian of Maori special collections at New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, told The Guardian that Ardern’s wardrobe choice “shows how she is portraying herself as a leader of Maori, of all of New Zealand, of everyone”.

“It made me feel proud. She wore it well. She wore it so well.”

The sentiment was reflected on social media, where the striking image of Ardern strolling the halls of Buckingham Palace in the incongruous garment went viral.

Many observers were particularly struck by the image of a pregnant female leader wearing a garment conveying power and status which was traditionally the preserve of male chiefs.

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Ardern continued to pay her respects to New Zealand’s indigenous culture during the banquet, quoting a Maori-language proverb as she rose to propose a toast to fellow Commonwealth leaders.

She then translated: “What is the most important thing in the world? The people, the people, the people.”

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