Maori MPs appeared to mock the King during the opening of New Zealand’s parliament on Tuesday by calling him “King Skin Rash” as they pledged allegiance.
Three MPs from the Te Pāti Māori party failed to use the official Maori name for King Charles III, “Kīngi Tiāre”, instead saying “Kīngi harehare” as they were sworn in following October 14’s election.
The politicians argued “hare” was just another name for Charles, however using the word twice means “skin rash” or “sore”, as well as something “offensive” or “objectionable”, according to the Māori Dictionary website.
The King is New Zealand’s head of state and all MPs are required to swear allegiance to him in English or Maori.
Te Pāti Māori opposes pledging allegiance to the monarch and supports the removal of the King as the country’s head of state.
In an earlier break from protocol on Tuesday, its MPs swore allegiance to their descendants and New Zealand’s founding document.
Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Te Pāti Māori’s co-leader, said the party’s MPs were “always provocative” when asked if they had been trying to be “cute” by apparently snubbing the King.
“There are lots of meanings for lots of things,” she said.
Rawiri Waititi, Ms Ngarewa-Packer’s co-leader, added that “Hare” can mean Charles in some areas of New Zealand and that he calls his own uncle Charles “Hare”.
“We swore our own oath, how we think an oath should be sworn in Aotearoa [Maori for New Zealand],” he said.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment when contacted by The Telegraph.
While New Zealand’s republican movement is not huge there has been debate for some time on whether the Pacific nation should become a republic, with a citizen as the head of state.
In some indigenous communities, this feeling is stronger, both in New Zealand and elsewhere.
Critics accused Te Pāti Māori of mocking the monarch, who is reportedly planning to visit Australia and New Zealand next year in what is likely to be a key test of his popularity abroad.
“They are trying to make fun of the transliteration ‘hare’, which if said as ‘harehare’ is kind of a transliteration of Charlie, but it also means something objectionable,” New Zealand First MP Shane Jones said.
“It is preposterous that the Māori party should think that they are the authentic voice for Maori New Zealanders,” he added, noting that the party won less than three per cent of the vote in the recent election.
“A lot of their party voters were not Maori, a lot of them were hippies.”
Te Pāti Māori has six MPs, making it the smallest party in New Zealand’s parliament.
During Tuesday’s formalities, each of them made a pledge to their mokopuna, or descendants, to tikanga, or Maori practices, and the Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Signed in 1840, the treaty laid down a set of principles under which the British and Maori agreed to govern New Zealand, but the English and Maori versions differ and there is debate over whether Maori ceded sovereignty.
Several of the Te Pāti Māori MPs wore feathered headdresses and cloaks honouring their traditional roots and sang or performed an indigenous challenge during the opening of the legislature.
Their swearing-in came amid mounting tensions in New Zealand over race relations.
Thousands attended protests earlier on Tuesday organised by Te Pāti Māori against the country’s new government, objecting to policies they argue will unravel decades of progress on indigenous rights.
A Right-of-centre coalition between the National Party, New Zealand First and ACT New Zealand was formed after the October election ended six years of rule by the progressive Labour Party led by former prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
Te Pāti Māori opposes policies introduced by the coalition which seek to wind back the use of Maori language, review affirmative action policies and assess how the country’s founding treaty document is interpreted in legislation.
Protestors gathered in city squares, motorway bridges and outside the country’s parliament in Wellington, the capital.
Police said there had been traffic disruptions in several cities nationwide.
David Seymour, leader of the libertarian party ACT New Zealand, dismissed the demonstrations as “divisive theatrics”.
“New Zealanders elected a government that will treat people equally, regardless of their race,” he said.