Maori King Kiingi Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII joined Pacific traditional leaders on Bau Island in Fiji last week, to have conversations about their role in the contemporary world.

Ngira Simmonds the Kīngitanga’s chief of staff and adviser to Kīngi Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII said the occasion was crucial, given the current political climate of the world.

“What is the role in terms of things like handing down traditional knowledge? For us te iwi Maori, some call it matauranga Maori – how we wanaga, how we korero, how we share knowledge.

“Who holds onto that knowledge? In a marae context, it’s our kaumatua, our elders as our leaders who hand that knowledge down.

“There are moments in history where it’s important for governments to interact with that knowledge, and understand it. So our discussions were on how we collectively draw off each others strengths to share with our governments.”

The meeting was held across three days as a call for solidarity and collective action ahead of the Pacific Traditional Leaders Forum and Pacific Festival of Arts in Hawaii in June.

The meeting also coincided with Fiji’s Great Council of Chiefs meeting, which Kiingi Tuheitia observed.

“It was a very sacred and significant moment to return to the great council. The Great Council of Chiefs haven’t met here in Fiji for some time due to some of the local political tensions.

“To be present, the King was deeply moved by what took place, the ceremonies, the conversations. The great council of chiefs hold a pivotal role.

“It was one of those occasions where you just felt very humbled by the rising up of the mana of these people in their land.”

Simmonds said the Kiingi also shared with other traditional leaders what has been happening in Aotearoa between Maori and the coalition government.

“He bought the mauri (lifeforce) from the hui -a-motu that the King hosted in January and spoke of how Māori have our struggles with mana motuhake (self determination).

“He was able to share some of the realities we face in day-to-day. There were a lot of common understanding, kanaka maoli in Hawaii have the same struggles.

“There’s lots for us to share but equally, draw strength from where there’s good success in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, all of those countries. The role of indigenous is a bit different to that.”

Simmonds said leaders will now look towards their forum meeting in Hawaii, with hopes for more nations to join the conversation.

“The conversation will move in a different pace, these meetings don’t have an agenda or briefing or minutes. It’s conversation, it’s talanoa. We look now to Hawaii and in that meeting we will learn and discover what comes beyond Hawaii,” he said.