On Friday, December 8, the city of Rotorua, meant to be the “Maori capital of New Zealand”, has received a very important visit. Jacinda Ardern, the newly elected Prime Minister of New Zealand, came to meet the Maori Labour caucus at the Te Papaiouru Marae, in the hamlet of Ohinemutu.
I happened to arrive in Rotorua just the day before, and once I came to know of such visit, I couldn’t do anything but going to witness this event. Actually, I have come to Rotorua looking for insights into the life of Maori nowadays, and this seemed to be the ideal starting point. I swiftly blended with the other members of the press, and managed to stand in the very first line. The representatives of many iwi (tribes) were present, and the atmosphere was solemn.
The prime minister has been first received with a typical ceremony, the Pōwhiri, outside the Marae, the meeting ground where all Maori communities gather to discuss and celebrate ordinary or extraordinary events. Then, the talks started inside, with all the major Maori representatives discussing in the Maori language.
Jacinda, the world’s youngest female head of government at the age of 37, had patiently been sitting on the sideline, as all women according to Maori customs.
When she eventually took the stage, I understood why there is a great excitement around her all over New Zealand. She embodies the new generation of politicians: young, good looking, soft-spoken and, seemingly in her case, truly kind hearted and committed to the cause. When, on the 1st of August 2017, Andrew Little resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, due to an historical low for the party in the polls, she smoothly took over him. Since her first press conference, though, the “Jacindamania” exploded, with the party being flooded with donations. Long story short, on the 26th of October she was officially sworn in with her cabinet.
You do not happen to meet world’s leaders on a daily base, and, even less, you happen to see them meeting the First People of a nation where, as for many others, a past of colonization opened wounds which are still far away to heal completely.
With her charm, though, Jacinda Ardern can really pave the way towards a future of reconciliation.
Photography: Matteo Fabi