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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
NZ mourns death of Maori queen
Mourners sit beside the body of the late queen in Ngaruawahia, New Zealand
Mourners have gathered to pay their respects
A week of mourning has begun in New Zealand, to mark the death of the revered queen of the indigenous Maori population.

Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu died on Tuesday at the age of 75, after a reign of more than 40 years.

According to Maori protocol, the lavish ceremonies will culminate in her burial on the sacred mountain of Taupiri.

She was the longest serving head of the Kingitanga movement - the royal line, which started almost 150 years ago.

The movement was started in an effort to stem the loss of native lands to the flood of white settlers arriving in New Zealand.

'Quiet dignity'

Dame Te Ata, as she was popularly known, died in her ancestral home in the North Island town of Ngaruawahia late on Tuesday.

Hundreds of mourners have already congregated in the area to pay their respects.

archive image of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu
Dame Te Ata was queen for more than 40 years

Nanaia Mahuta, family spokeswoman for Dame Te Ata, told New Zealand media that Dame Te Ata was "tireless in terms of ensuring there was a good relationships throughout all peoples of New Zealand."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said: "A mighty kauri (tree) has fallen."

Dame Te Ata was the longest serving head of the Kingitanga movement, gaining the title of queen the day her father was buried in 1966.

Though the position is largely ceremonial, she enjoyed huge respect among both Maori and other New Zealanders - and was often consulted by senior politicians.

She was also recognised abroad as a cultural ambassador for the Maori people - and met many diplomatic and royal visitors.

Her successor is expected to be named during the week of mourning. If tradition is followed, one of her seven children will inherit the post.

In a rare interview, given in March 2003, she hinted that one of her sons would be chosen.

"My feeling at the moment is that the people are ready for a male heir to take over," she said.

The Maori people make up about 15% of New Zealand's four million people.

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