Guest Post: Cultural Millinery Part 2

It’s lovely to welcome reader Sandra, who hails from New Zealand, back to Royal Hats again with the second of a 3-part series on the cultural side of royal millinery.  Over to you, Sandra!

It’s impossible to refuse ceremonial bits and pieces from your hosts and Queen Elizabeth, with all the Commonwealth at her feet, has probably donned more than most – head-dresses, necklaces, cloaks, etc. The rather charming, and restrained, head-dress of beautifully perfumed stephanotis flowers was worn in Tuvalu, in the Pacific, in 1982, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were equally feted on their visit in 2012.

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Fascinatingly, it was a royal headdress of South Pacific origin that received much attention at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. Queen Salote of Tonga attended the event in a tall woven headpiece of pandanus leaves and feathers. 

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Queen Salote, who was an imposing 6’ 3” herself (and a good friend of Queen Elizabeth), became a hit with the British press when she rode – and smiled – her way through a London downpour in an open carriage, refusing to raise the roof (history doesn’t record the thoughts of her carriage partner, the Sultan of Kelantan). She became a household name overnight with babies christened Charlotte (Salote), a racehorse named after her and songs penned in her honour, including: “Linger longer, Queen of Tonga” (which requires the English hard ‘g’ mispronunciation of Tonga to work). 

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Being received by indigenous people and inaugurated into their society is an honour that has been regularly accorded members of the British Royal family. The Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, was invested with the title of Chief Morning Star by the Stony Creek tribe (now known as the Saik’uz First Nation)  in Western Canada and sat for a 1930s portrait in his Chief’s headdress. 

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Here’s Prince Charles being inducted as Chief Red Crow of the Blackfeet Nation during a visit to Canada in 1977.

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Also in Papua New Guinea in 1984:

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And in the Iwokrama Rainforest of Guyana, South America, in 2000

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Diana, Princess of Wales, donned the cap of the Chitrali Scouts (a Frontier division of the Pakistani Army), on a visit to Peshawar, Pakistan in 1991. The soft, woolen Chitrali cap, or pakol, is widely worn by men in northern Pakistan. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge each wore the same type of cap when they visited Chitral in 2019.

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Twenty-five years after Diana’s visit to Pakistan, her son Prince Harry visited Nepal where he wore a cotton Topi, part of the Nepalese national dress, while in another community where he spent the night with a Gurkha family, he was given a cotton pheta turban and made honorary village head.

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Thank you, Sandra. This reminds me of a 2015 article in the New York Times by Cherokee academic and activist Adrienne Keene who wrote, “For the communities that wear these headdresses, they represent respect, power and responsibility. The headdress has to be earned, gifted to a leader in whom the community has placed their trust.” Thus, the invitation for a royal to wear an indigenous headdresses is clearly one of meaning, honor and great significance. 

Stay tuned tomorrow for Sandra’s third and final installment in this series.

15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Cultural Millinery Part 2

  1. Thanks for the positive comments everyone. I really appreciate how the Royals understand that how they look, how their hair might get mussed and so on, is beside the point. The honour being bestowed upon them is everything.

  2. This is a very interesting series! I had not heard of Queen Salote before. Her headpiece is a “Wow!”. Thanks Sandra!

    I had never thought about aboriginal headpieces being such an honor for royals to wear. It must be the same with a Maori cape?
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    • Yes, a cloak, is a sign of mana (honour/status) when gifted. The hours that go into the preparation of the flax (all done by hand, traditionally using a sharpened mussel shell), the months of weaving, the skill of the weaver, and the choice of feathers used all contribute to the value of the gift. You can read more here, if you’re interested, the article written by a woman who is related to some of the greatest weavers New Zealand has known:

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      • Thank you for these images, EM. Some of these garments have a great history – the middle image you’ve posted above shows Charles in 2015 wearing the same kiwi feather cloak his mother had worn at the same marae (meeting place) in 1953, the cloak having been given to her for her coronation. Elizabeth wore it again in NZ in 1977 for her Silver Jubilee tour. Apparently the cloak is kept for her in NZ.

        When our then-pregnant Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace during the 2018 Commonwealth Summit, she wore a cloak loaned to her by the London Māori club Ngāti Rānana.

        In 2019 Prince Charles brought to NZ a korowai (cloak) originally gifted to Queen Victoria by Ngāpuhi chief Reihana Taukawau when he visited her at Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, in 1863. The 2.6m-long muka (fine flax) cloak was looked after by the royal family ever since and last year was returned – on loan – to be displayed at Te Kongahau Museum of Waitangi, on the site considered to be the ‘birthplace’ of New Zealand. It looks quite different from the feathered ones we see most often these days.

        It’s not a story I’ve come across before so I’m glad you sent me off to do some research because it’s quite a tale, albeit with a sadder end than one might hope. Reihana was part of a group of 18 Northland Māori who travelled to England in 1863. When Queen Victoria saw one of the women — Hariata Pikimaui, wife of Hare Pomare — was heavily pregnant, she asked if she could be the child’s godmother. She also requested the child be named Victoria or Albert, after her late husband.

        When Albert Victor Pomare was born in London, Queen Victoria gave the family a christening gown and a christening set comprising a gilt-silver goblet and cutlery.

        The Queen’s godson returned to New Zealand with his parents and was educated at her expense in Auckland. It is believed Pomare returned to England as a young man and was appointed to the elite Life Guard protecting Buckingham Palace. He later joined the Royal Navy and is thought to have died in a shipwreck.

        The christening gifts were stored at Auckland Museum for many years before they were returned to Northland and the new Museum of Waitangi in 2015. Each piece in the set is engraved with the words: To Albert Victor Pomare from his Godmother Queen Victoria, November 1863.

  3. Sandra: Thank you for another entertaining and well-researched post!
    I especially enjoyed reading about Queen Salote- – what a wonderful spirit!
    Am looking forward to seeing what you come up with for tomorrow’s post.

  4. Thanks so much Sandra for some very informative posts! I appreciate the history lessons and the accompanying photos are wonderful. I’ve always loved that story of the Queen of Tonga at the Coronation. What a remarkable lady who connected so well with the people. I look forward to the next post.

    • I’ve read that one of the reasons they were such good friends was that Queen Salote had also ascended to the throne at a young age, in her case just 18, which gave them much in common. The former cartographer’s name for Tonga was the Friendly Isles, given by Captain James Cook in 1767.

  5. Sandra, you’ve outdone yourself today. Prince Charles takes the lead here with his wonderful headdresses, especially the 2000 South American “hat.” Thanks again for this highly entertaining post.

  6. Thank you so much for these two interesting posts!
    It has always been a visiting Royal’s duty to don the local headgear with gratitude and aplomb, especially when it denotes a chief or elder of the community – and then make a fool of themselves attempting a ritual or dance, for the amusement of the local experts!
    One of my favourite moments in “The Crown” which probably correctly represents HM’s attitude, was when she reprimanded Prince Philip for commenting facetiously on a feathered headdress “That’s a crown; he is the king” and greeted the gentleman with respect.
    The real life Queen was filmed receiving a Commonwealth representative, whose national custom was to greet his monarch by bowing, kneeling and clapping three times. To our eyes, he looked rather odd, but HM received this tribute graciously and waited attentively for him to complete his ritual before thanking him for his greeting and warmly shaking his hand.

    • Fiji has the custom of clapping, I recall the Fijian rugby team wining gold at the Olympics (great game) and coincidentally princess Anne handed out the golden medals, they did the same rituals, each member of the team! Anne handled it like her mother, as a pro

      • I was on holiday with my (at the time) young family in Fiji in 1997 at the time their national team, which was very, very good btw, won the World Rugby Sevens title for the first time – a national holiday was immediately declared! A delightful reaction.

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