Prince William has been stood up
A view from Sue Unerman

Prince William has been stood up

I don't know how much interest you have paid to the recent royal outrage: Prince William has been refused a visit – essentially stood up – by New Zealand's Maori king.

King Tuheitia's office rejected the offer of a visit from the duke and Duchess of Cambridge on tour Down Under on the basis that the time allocated was too short. The 90 minutes assigned for the visit to the Maori leader's North Island base was not long enough for proper protocols to be observed.

A senior Maori official explained that the Maori king was not prepared to compromise the tikanga (customs) in order to fit into a predetermined schedule. It would have put him in an impossible situation.

You may think that how you react to this depends on how royalist you are by inclination. I know several republicans out there who are thinking: "Ninety minutes – that's ages. Thirty minutes would be plenty, thank you. Much more than an hour and I'm in danger of NLTB (not listening too bored)." 

Others, with a bit more respect for this kind of thing, will indeed be appalled. They will be muttering about status and respect – and, surely, our royal family is bigger than theirs.

A recent lecture about ancient funeral rites has led me to believe that the divide in opinion over whether this is a shocking shame or completely understandable depends on something else entirely. If you put the situation in the context of the funeral rites of the Aborigines and the Solomon Islanders, then the whole thing makes more sense.

Those on the Solomon Islands (just east of Papua New Guinea) traditionally used valuable shell rings to ensure that ancestors were properly honoured. Until Christian missionaries arrived in the 19th century, their customs involved binding the skulls of the deceased in beautiful shells fashioned into rings, which were also used to festoon the small huts in which the skulls were kept. So the customs revolved around valuable material possessions.

In contrast, traditions in Aboriginal societies were about painting memorial logs with images. The knowledge was passed down in great secrecy from generation to generation. So their customs revolved around accuracy of rare information applied through traditional ritual.

I don't know if the Maori rituals follow this pattern but it seems to me that, if you think the importance of Prince William means the Maoris have missed out, then you're judging like a Solomon Islander. And if you appreciate the sensitivity of the importance of doing the rituals properly or not at all, then you're thinking more like an Aborigine.

Status from possessions or knowledge. Which tribe do you lean towards? Although, on the surface, this distinction may seem a long way away from London’s adland, I do wonder if similar tendencies determine whether someone choses to become a planner (Aboriginal traits) or a buyer (more Solomon Islands)?

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom