Saturday, October 16, 2010

Voltaire's bastards and Te Papa's tapu

The suggestion by Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum, that pregnant and menstruating women should refrain from joining a behind the scenes tour of the institution's Maori taonga has caused outrage on talkback radio, and on a number of right-leaning blogs.

Te Papa, which issued the advice on behalf of iwi who act as guardians to taonga that would be featured on the tour, has been criticised for letting religious beliefs influence its policy-making, and for compromising the rights of women. All too often, though, the would-be defenders of the legacy of the Enlightenment have slid rather quickly from lofty rhetoric about the values of secularism and universal human rights to something rather more familiar to observers of the right wing of Pakeha politics. Here are a few of the comments of the latter-day Voltaires who queued up to denounce Te Papa in the comments box of David Farrar's very popular Kiwiblog:

You’ll find the only families Maori families who still observe these quaint customs are those who fatten their slaves for the table...

It seems a bit paradoxical that while a culture can maintain these savage ideas they can at the same time claim ownership of airwaves...

Seriously, do any actual maori people still believe this steaming old horseshit in the 21st century or is it just put about by politically correct wankers looking for new ways to get offended on someone else’s behalf?

There is a long history of the use of the rhetoric of secularism and universal human rights to justify the repression of aspects of Maori culture. The Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907, for instance, was justified by the claim that traditional Maori religion, with its belief in tapu and its role for supernaturally-empowered healers and seers, was incompatible with modernity, and therefore a violation of the rights of the gullible Maori who supported prophets like Rua Kenana. The banning of the Maori language from many Kiwi schools for much of the twentieth century was also seen as a campaign for Enlightenment values. By speaking and reading English rather than their language, Maori kids would be liberated from the benighted culture into which they had been born.

The desecration or outright destruction of many objects and sites important to Maori culture was also often excused on the grounds that these sites and objects represented a culture which 'held Maori back'. The determined and violent attack earlier this year on Te Rongomai o Te Karaka, a sacred Maori site in the King Country, shows the continuing contempt of some Pakeha for physical symbols of Maori culture.

Fifty years ago, the only Maori working at most New Zealand museums were cleaners. Many Maori saw institutions like the Auckland War Memorial Museum, with its magnificent but poorly-displayed collection of waka, potaka, hei tiki, korowai, and other artefacts, as a place where their looted treasures were displayed to foreigners.

Three of the less-noticed results of the 'Maori renaissance' of the last forty years have been the placement of Maori curators and ethnologists deep inside New Zealand's museums, the training of Pakeha curators and ethnologists in Maori tikanga, and the involvement of Maori communities in the administration of the taonga their ancestors created. Laws like the Auckland Museum Act of 1996 and the Te Papa Tongarewa Act of 1992 have helped to embed these positive developments. (Of course, as regular readers of this blog will know, progress has been uneven, and curators at some of this country's privately-owned museums still have some large lessons to learn about Maori tikanga.)

I've disagreed at length with a number of his articles about Maori-Pakeha relations and New Zealand history, so it's only fair that I should say how much I enjoyed Chris Trotter's response to the controversy at Te Papa. In an article called 'Grandfather's Sword', Chris appreciates the power that taonga associated with war hold for many Maori by remembering the story of an old Trotter family heirloom:

On the wall above our beds, as we were growing up, my brother and I could see the Mauser rifle Captain William Marshall had brought back with him from South Africa...I can’t tell you how often I stared at that weapon, wondering about the man from whom my Grandfather took it as a trophy of war. Was it someone he had killed with his own hands? Or, did he prise it from Herr Van Rijn’s lifeless fingers in the aftermath of some forgotten skirmish on the High Veldt? The spirits of both men seemed to me to linger in that rifle...whenever I lifted the weapon down from the wall, the hairs would rise on the back of my neck...

Where the keyboard warriors for Enlightenment values in the comments boxes at Kiwiblog have used the controversy at Te Papa to portray Maori culture as something alien and possibly dangerous to Pakeha, Trotter has made the effort to find an analogy between his own experiences and those of the iwi and hapu who have guardianship of the taonga in our national museum.

When I worked in a very junior position at the Auckland War Memorial Museum whilst finishing my PhD, I initially found the belief of both Maori staff and Maori visitors in the supernatural qualities of taonga difficult to comprehend. I've always been an instinctive atheist, and so couldn't share the metaphysical beliefs that made some staff don gloves before they handled certain particularly 'potent' artefacts, but I did come to recognise, I think, the role that reverence and ritual can have in organising and intensifying human experience.

Even if they are ultimately the product of human choices, not the dictates of the universe, the strict bans on eating, loud conversation, and various other types of behaviour in the museum's Maori Court do help to direct our attention toward what is significant in the place, and to intensify our perception of the taonga which are displayed there. Even if we're not religious, we can appreciate the sense of sacredness that certain prohibitions give the Court. Something very similar could be said, of course, for the prohibitions we feel when we enter the Hall of Memories on the museum's second floor, which acknowledges New Zealanders who have died in overseas conflicts, and when we step into the small permanent memorial to the Jewish victims of Hitler on the same floor.

Having said all that, I do find Te Papa's suggestion that pregnant and menstruating women avoid its tour of taonga to be problematic. The language the museum used in the e mail it sent out to advertise the tour of taonga was stark:

Wahine who are either hapü (pregnant) or mate wähine (menstruating) are welcome to visit at another time that is convenient for them.

There seems to me to be an important difference between excluding a section of the public from a part of a museum and merely asking all members of the public to avoid certain types of behaviour while they are inside a part of the museum. I can understand how Te Papa's directive to pregnant and menstruating women upset at least some people who had been intending to take part in the tour of taonga. I may support the right of indigenous people to decide for themselves how to present their own history and taonga, but I reserve the right not to always agree with every aspect of their presentations.

There is also something troubling about the way that some defenders of Te Papa's advice have implicitly accepted the claims by right-wing bloggers that Maori culture sees women as impure and inferior, and the way that both sides of the debate have presented Maori culture as monolithic and unchanging, rather than as contradictory and dynamic.

It is true that Maori culture has tended traditionally to use tapu to separate women from activities related to war and to the construction of waka and wharenui. There is also ethnographic evidence that many iwi barred women from preparing food while they were menstruating.

Yet a tapu is not necessarily something fearsome and eternal. Maori tikanga makes provisions for tapu-lifting, and in many iwi women traditionally had a key role in tapu-lifting ceremonies. In one traditional ceremony, for instance, a woman would eat the first potato from a harvest, and thereby remove its tapu.
Scholars like Elsdon Best have argued that women were able to defuse tapu because their association with the 'lower' parts of existence revulsed the Gods, and drove them away. Other scholars, though, like the American F Allan Hanson, have suggested that women were able to lift tapu because they had a special affinity with the Gods. In a trenchant essay published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1982, Hanson argued that, far from being gynophobic, Maori and Polynesian societies valued women as intermediaries between humanity and the Gods:

[A] review of the evidence suggests, however, that for both eastern and western Polynesia the long-lived and widely held theory of female pollution is incorrect. It is true that women were deemed to be dangerous, that their association with disease, misfortune, and death injected distinctly negative connotations into the set of meanings connected with them. But none of this is to be explained in terms of an idea that women polluted other people and the gods. On the contrary, the position of the female in Polynesia, including its negative component, is more fully understood according to a special affinity which was thought to link women with the supernatural.

Roger Neich, the long-time senior ethnologist at Auckland museum whose recent death has saddened thousands of Kiwis, offered a fascinating account of some tapu associated with women in his classic study of the Whakatohea meeting house Tutamure. At one point in his essay Neich discusses the tapu involving women and the construction of meeting houses. In a story he cites, a team of men hauling the ridge-pole of a meeting house cannot make any progress until one of their number confesses to having recently had sexual intercourse, and then drops out of the hauling party.

Neich's text goes on to explain the different conceptual spaces inside and around meeting houses, and the role of tapu in delineating these spaces. Because the interior of a meeting house is usually associated with the deep past and ancestors, it is seen as conceptually distant from aspects of the quotidian world like the preparation and consumption of food. A pare (lintel) typically marks the passage into the meeting house, and the passage from one world to the other. Women may have been kept away from activities like the construction and carving of the buildings, but Neich notes that, in most traditional meeting houses, the highly tapu pare at the entrance to the house were decorated with carvings of female genitalia. The vagina mediated symbolically between the quotidian and spiritual sides of existence.

I do not have the knowledge to be able to decide between the claim that Maori saw women as a source of pollution, as argued by Best and others, and the view that women were seen as having a special affinity with the Gods, which Hanson and (seemingly) Neich express. It might be impossible for anybody far better informed than me to decide which analysis is finally correct, because Maori culture, like every culture, is composed of ideas and practices which are both constantly changing and always less than perfectly internally consistent. Because no culture can reduced to a few generalisations, every culture must constantly be reinterpreted by its practitioners. A culture offers us a set of ideas and practices; members of the culture choose which ideas and practices they wish to sustain and develop.
A number of defenders of restrictions on menstruating and pregnant women viewing taonga have argued that Maori tikanga is unchangeable, and that tapu have historically served a functional purpose, by protecting Maori from real dangers (the ban against swimming while menstruating, for example, is explained as an attempt to protect Maori women from shark attacks).

It seems to me that claims that Maori tikanga is timeless and unalterable as well as dictated by functional considerations owe little to Maori history, and a great deal to colonial ideology. It was nineteenth century Pakeha poets and ethnographers who created the myth of Maori as a people outside history, with an inflexible culture. Such a view has no basis in fact, and only became popular because it allowed Maori culture to be characterised as incompatible with modernity, and therefore worthy of destruction.

The functionalist approach to culture reflected in claims that tapu were always made for practical ends also belongs to European ethnographers. Victorian scholars like James Frazer, author of the monumental and obtuse The Golden Bough, believed that the supernatural beliefs and magical pratices of indigenous peoples like the Maori were primitive approximations of science and modern technology. Functionalist anthropologists like Bronislaw Malinowski took up Frazer's theory, and tried to show that cultural practices were dictated by a desire to manipulate the natural world in the pursuit of rationally-explicable ends.

Although the best functionalists did achieve some useful insights into the cultures they studied, they erred in assuming that all peoples think in the manner of European scientists. The European preoccupation with means and ends and what is practical is in many ways a modern phenomenon, and it is impossible to reduce any culture to a set of rules dictated by reason. In a famously withering attack on functionalism, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that cultures had to be understood in terms of their own internal logic, not rules made in Europe, and complained that George Frazer was 'incapable of imagining' anyone who did not think like him.

There is a long history of Polynesians reinterpreting the concept of tapu in the light of new knowledge and new circumstances. In the nineteenth century, for instance, the Kai Tahu prophet Te Maiharoa went across his people's lands lifting tapu which had become oppressive, and assuring his people that they would suffer no ill effects from performing acts which had once been tapu.

In the twentieth century, religious leaders like Rua Kenana and Wiremu Ratana took a similarly radical approach to many traditional tapu. Ratana denounced a number of old tapu as 'superstitions', and disposed of them using prayers developed by his new religion; the iconoclastic Rua went so far as to organise feasts inside the meeting houses raised by his followers.

More recently, Pita Sharples has tried to help craft legislation which will strike a balance between recognising traditional tapu about the removal of parts of the body and encouraging more Maori to become organ donors, and Tapu Misa has argued that the use of DNA testing by researchers into Polynesian origins is fully compatible with the tikanga of different Polynesian peoples.

Is it not possible that, perhaps inspired by the sort of traditional, mana-enhacing practices involving women that scholars like Hanson and Neich have noted, the guardians of taonga at Te Papa might eventually decide to lift their tapu on pregnant and menstruating women?


Blogger Paul said...

Perhaps the Museum might change its mind when it appreciates that the discrimination is contrary to the Bill of Rights Act. It is not only right-wingers who are outraged by their behaviour, but a lot of feminists and liberals as well.

9:01 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

We should also be concerned that female Te Papa staff might be subjected to similar discrimination.

9:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought that the museum was only the current host of these artifacts, and as such they are bound to display them subject to any restrictions that the owners decide to place on the artifacts. If this is indeed the case, I find it hard to understand why the museum has come under fire. My nephew is also particularly fussy about who he shares his toys with, and my mother just won't let anyone up to the table who hasn't first performed the rite of handwashing. Perhaps it would be a step too far to categorize either as 'discriminatory'?


10:38 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I think Paul and h each notes one of two factors that have to be balanced in a museum like Te Papa.

I agree very strongly with h that institutions like Te Papa have to recognise the rights of the owners of objects they are holding, as well as the rights of people with an historical connection to objects which they do not actually own. I wrote at some length about the disastrous reign of Vanda Vitali at Auckland museum, and criticised the contempt that she showed for Kiwis who had important connections to the taonga the museum holds.

Vanda's confrontation with the Hillary family over the taonga Sir Ed left to the museum library was very well-publicised, but she also rubbed a number of iwi up the wrong way by showing a lack of consideration for artefacts with which they had a vital relationship.

But is h correct when he/she argues that museums are 'bound' to display objects 'subject to any restrictions that the owners decide to place' on those objects?

The reality is that there are many situations in which museums, especially large publicly-owned museums, are forced to object to the demands of the owners of the objects they hold. It is quite common for people who own artefacts held by a large museum to turn up at the institution and demand to see the artefacts immediately. This request can often be impossible to honour, for logistical reasons.

At other times people who have gifted or loaned items to museums demand that these items be placed on permanent display; this request, too, is often impossible to honour.

And there are situations where owners of items held by museums demand that these items not be displayed in proximity to items or information of which they disapprove.

I remember a veteran of the Vietnam War who was upset that the display on that conflict at Auckland museum featured some information on the anti-war protest movement. He considered the juxtaposition of artefacts from veterans of the war with information on opponents of the war disrespectful, and told me that he was thinking about trying to get the veterans' association to which he belonged to ask for its artefacts to be removed from the museum, unless they were displayed in a manner he considered more appropriate (he also wanted the size of the display on the Vietnam War to be increased).

If the man I talked to had persuaded the Vietnam veterans' association to make such a demand then, according to the maxim h has put forward, the museum would be obliged to honour the demand by removing information on the anti-war movement from its walls. I think that such a move would be absurd, and would lead to the museum failing in its legal obligation to present the events of the past in a balanced way.

Overseas, there have been cases of religious groups demanding that artefacts which they either own or used to own be exhibited only to certain groups, and kept away from the gaze of other groups. Would we agree to bar, say, atheists from a display of Christian artefacts, if the person who had loaned these artefacts to the museum demanded it? If we followed h's rule, then we would have no choice but to do so.

Paul points out that museums cannot flout laws which protect human rights, but he doesn't acknowledge the countervailing pressure of legislation like the Auckland Museum Act and the Tongarewa Te Papa Act which recognise the mana whenua of Maori groups and call for these groups to be involved in the governance of the museum.

The contradiction between the human rights legislation Paul cites and these other pieces of legislation cannot easily be resolved, because it is rooted not in some simple mistake or confusion but in the messy reality of New Zealand history. As I said in my post, the language of human rights and the enlightenment has all too often been used to oppress Maori.

12:49 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

I for one don't see the difference between this and many other cultural practices, such as women needing to cover their hair in russian orthodoxy, women having different worship areas within a synagogue, or not being able to speak within the sistine chapel in the vatican. While I too don't believe in the mysticism attached to these practices, I can respect them as part of another culture which is being offered to me to enjoy or learn from within its own context, rather than through what Europeans dictate it should be.

I think the problem here isn't disliking such notions - people are free to disagree with such practices, and there is an argument that it is discriminatory - but more that there is a disturbing double standard - I think this is just another example of taking exception to Maori. Just abother beat-up.

The arguments around potential discrimination due to this are part of another conversation which is being drowned out. The conversation should be a respectful, considered, and adult one rather than the embarrasment our media and rednecks are conversing in.

I also agree with H: at the end of the day this is Maori material culture, and there is no inherent right for Pakeha to be able to view it. It is owned, culturally and otherwise by various iwi and hapu and as such is subject to however they wish to display it, not what some executive director wishes. Or do we return to the colonial arrogance whereby everything can only be correct when viewed in terms of and to suit a european palate?

I think people, pakeha especially, including myself, are in no position to dictate how another culture displays its own material culture. I think if you don't like it, then don't view it (although I have a sneaking suspicion many of the 'againsts' had no intention of going to a museum to view Maori cultural objects anyway...). We're in NZ and have the privallege of looking at our native people's things, in the same way it would be if you were to go to Iraq or Jordan or teh Vatican.

9:58 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

I also think Maps' last two paragraphs ring very true. A balance needs to be struck (as I said, that should be the conversation - not this other nonsense about primitivism) and an ongoing respectful dialogue established.

10:06 am  
Blogger Paul said...

"I for one don't see the difference between this and many other cultural practices, such as women needing to cover their hair in russian orthodoxy, women having different worship areas within a synagogue, or not being able to speak within the sistine chapel in the vatican."

Edward, these forms of discrimination, unpleasant though they are, apply only in the places of worship of those religions (the Sistine Chapel rule is unknown to me, by the way) and usually to adherents of those religions. In the Te Papa case, the rule is being applied in a public museum and to musuem professionals.

We have a Bill of Rights Act which prohibits discrimination. It trumps other legislation such as that for individual museums. Te Papa has a duty to observe the Act. There is no balancing act to be performed. Te Papa should not accept discriminatory conditions being applied to the objects in its possession.

What astonishes me about your attitude, Edward, is that you dismiss objectors' claims with your sneaking suspicion and pay no attention to womens' rights. Why shoud a woman be subjected to this kind of discrimination, based on nothing more than superstition? The taboo against menstruating women is abhorrent. People on the left should be outraged by its practice in a public musuem and concerned for the workers there, rather than saying it is none of their business to be involved in tribal superstitions and oppression.

1:21 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

Why does Paul use 'tribal' as a pejorative adjective? Is is bad to be 'tribal'? If so, why?

And does he accept that Maori have suffered a history of oppression in Aotearoa? If he doesn't...what basis for rational dialogue?

1:31 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Herb, I am against superstition and oppression. This oppression of pregnant and menstruating women should not be tolerated.

4:27 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

Read between the lines Paul...some people on this blog don't like Althusser but he had a point back in the 70s with his theory of the symptomatic reading...what is the writer letting slip but not explicitly used tribal as a pejorative adjective...

tribal = superstitious = bad?

Maori cultural is tribal, therefore bad in your books?

And you add another incriminaing silence...when you refuse to answer the simple question:

do you agree Maori have been an oppressed people?

for someone with such strong opinions you are surprisingly...evasive?

4:38 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Oh gawd, here we go again. I am not interested in your reading between the lines; it is the old Marxist trick of condemning an opponent regardless of the value of his argument.

My opposition to tribalism does not equate to an opposition to Maori and I resent you attempting to tag me with racism.

Nor do I have to pass any test set by you to participate in this discussion.

I have made myself clear: I object to oppression wherever it occurs; its practice in the guise of tapu makes no difference.

4:44 pm  
Anonymous herb said...

'I object to oppression wherever it occurs'

Are Maori oppressed Paul?
Seems a straightforward question.
Amazing how you can't answer it.
More don't want to.

By the way, your blog says you are demanding Margaret Mutu be sacked from her job at the Dept Maori Studies. Why? Because she is too 'tribal'?

8:26 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

In many ways I agree with you, but as I said, the tone of this particular dialogue represents a double standard. The discussion can and should be had - I don't agree with discrimination against women - but it should be had in a respectful manner, not the 'tribalism' arguments being bandied about - in other words, this seems to me merely to be the catalyst in the latest round of 'those savages'. If everyone could be as civil as you, then there wouldn't be much of an issue, but my 'sneaking suspicion' is really just me pointing out what is blatanly obvious, rather than dismissing such rhetoric out of hand. There is also a danger of sanitising another culture for the majority's consumption - and that's what te papa is - culture consumption. Shouldn't Maori have a voice about Maori too? That's the balance i'm talking about. Discussion, not condemnation.

9:13 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

herb - you silly participle and particle picking curmudgeon - have a couple more beers and go back to reading your books about Trotsky -
or your books about Freudian slips - next you'll be accusing Paul of being a Maoist

He and Comrade Edward are just saying what they think!! WE obviously none of us are happy with this issue but I think Maps has covered it well...

I think the injunction against women etc is really stupid and offensive [but I don't hate Maoris!] but have to take a more ...hmm... respectful approach ...there are so many things that one might object to but one has to live with...and indeed it is good there is controversy about this.

At one extreme - Maori and Liberal righteousness (tribal or other) and over political correctness - at the other end of the road the Right Wing anti Maori stuff....and the rest of us in between somewhere.

Don't get deflected by a supposed word slip!!

11:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:11 pm  
Anonymous Victor said...

I'm still trying to work out why someone who wants to ride roughshod over Maori traditions (assuming that these have been correctly interpreted) would want to view Maori taonga.

Let me point to a parallel from my own experience. I am involved, from time to time, in organising Jewish funerals, at which men are expected to have their heads covered.

As New Zealand's Jewish community is quite small, the majority of those present are often non-Jewish.

Even so, I hand out skull-caps and ask the men present to wear them, as a sign of respect for the deceased, who has requested a Jewish funeral.

No-one has ever objected to what some might see as an alien and discriminatory practice and (New Zealanders being New Zealanders)as an embarrasing departure from cultural normality.

Why should they object? If they hadn't respected the deceased, they probably wouldn't be at the funeral.

A key point, though, is that I do not seek to impose the cosmology behind my request on outsiders. I simply point to the requirement and leave it to their good manners to bring about compliance.

Perhaps Te Papa can be criticised for being too insistent on the cosmology behind its request, so that compliance seemed like a form of buy-in.

I would have thought it's better in such situations to simply point out that the request is important to those making it and compliance would therefore be deeply appreciated.

9:52 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

Richard makes a good point about the broad spectrum of the debate, and Victor illustrates nicely what I was trying to articulate. I do believe since the initial controversy, Te Papa have now explicitly toned down the language to simply a take-it-or-leave-it recommendation rather than a requirement. In my view this seems adequate, if still awkward, but what do others think?

10:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

probably hundreds if not thousands of pregnant and menstruating women view taonga used in war every week at te papa in the general display area. are they really 'riding roughshod' over maori tradition as victor says? if a worker wanted to take the guided tour of te papa's storerooms and didn't believe the fact she was pregnant/had her period should stop her doing this, is she really 'riding roughshod'? maybe he just has a different interpretation of what is appropriate based on her knowledge? the peeps invited to the tour were museum professionals. they were not barbarians.

10:27 am  
Blogger maps said...

The current debate reminds me a little of the controversy caused by the exhibition on the history of the Moriori people which Te Papa hosted back (I think) at the turn of the century.

Moriori were for a long time treated very poorly by Pakeha scholars, and Te Papa certainly did the right thing when it allowed their representatives to play a large role in the shaping of the exhibition.

Partly because of the state of delicate Treaty settlement negotiations, or pre-negotiations, and partly, perhaps, out of a desire to look forward rather than backward, Moriori representatives who worked with Te Papa on the exhibition decided to exclude the 1835 invasion of their homeland by Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama from their account of their people's history.

The omission of the most traumatic and consequential event in Moriori history from Te Papa's narrative of Moriori history prompted a spirited polemic from the elderly Peter Munz, who accused the museum of abandoning historical scholarship (ironically enough, Munz had done a lot, over the latter part of his long and distinguished career, to complicate notions of historical truth, and to deny that the past could be reduced to a simple series of facts).

Munz said that Te Papa had a responsibility to the truth of history, and that the 1835 was a central part of Moriori history, and indeed an important part of New Zealand history as a whole. I think Munz had a very good point - but on the other hand I strongly support the right of Moriori to be able to present their own history to the rest of New Zealand and the world.

10:39 am  
Anonymous Victor said...


"Riding roughshod" is, I confess, a subjective description. But, as someone from another minority culture, it does not strike me as inapposite. Moreover, if people are not barbarians, there is surely an expectation that they won't behave barbarously.

2:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

victor, how do you know the professional/s who complained about the directive in the first place were non-maori? is there only one maori view on tikanga?

3:00 pm  
Anonymous Victor said...


My comments are predicated on the assumption that an ostensibly correct view of tikanga was being given (see first paragraph of my original comment).

If that assumption is incorrect, some of my comments may also be in error, a possibility that I thought I had already flagged.

However,even if no-one's riding roughshod over some objectively agreed concept of Maori cultural requirements, they may still be riding roughshod over the wishes and sensibilities of the owners, causing them some hurt in the process.

In my view, the human duty of kindness and compassion trumps the human right of gender equality. That may, however, be something over which we'll have to agree to differ.

3:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'ostensibly correct view of tikanga was being given'

who gives this one correct view?
is there an authority?
if you're in touch maybe you could ask them to settle the arguments about the contexts in which women may speak on marae?

4:54 pm  
Anonymous Victor said...


If your questions are directed at me, I have to tell you that I do not know the answers.

I've not claimed to be an authority on this issue or any other issues connected with Maoritanga.

I'm merely a concerned citizen expressing his views on what's been reported.

5:41 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

"how do you know the professional/s who complained about the directive in the first place were non-maori?"

Forgive me my ignorance, but was it professionals who complained in the first place? I have scanned various articles and they all detail specifically 'public' outrage and outrage from feminist bloggers (rightly so perhaps), but, from what I've read, nothing from the professionals? Perhaps I just haven't found the first article? (I heard about the controversy late).

In my own field of archaeology, we need to be very sensitive and respectful to how we handle Maori material culture and remains. Taonga. It is, after all, Maori materials we are working with most of the time. Some aspects of this 'outrage' appear to be less professional and more...exaggerated? You get on and do the job - museums and culture and heritage positions aren't like banking jobs - different people and cultures and traditions are kind of the point. Take that away and what do you have? Stuff.

I think, given a more peaceable and tolerant discussion of both legitimate points of view, the public and Maori representatives might find a rewarding result could come out of this. Issues like this are bound to come up - we're a young multicultural country. Jumping up and down proclaiming Maoridom as a sexist superstitious thing is unhelpful.

10:32 am  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

When culture become separated from social relations and worshipped in their own right then fascism is in the air. Rough paraphrase of Walter Benjamin.

9:50 pm  
Blogger D.J.P. O'Kane said...

I knew Walter Benjamin. Walter Benjamin was a friend of mine.

Dave, you're no Walter Benjamin.

2:09 am  
Blogger Dave Brown said...


2:57 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

"Walter Benjamin, in Illuminations, was fascsism's role as rendering politics aesthetic, while "communism responds by politicising art". His understanding of the reactionary implications of making politics "cultural" still expressed the perspective of Leninism. "Cultural treasures" writes Benjamin are the spoils of wars between ruling classes which owe their origin not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries - in Maori society, all those who could not claim to be an ariki or a rangatira...Maori culture, as it is now, consists of the spoils of war which the white ruling class has plundered. Historical materialism, on the contrary, wishes to retain that image of the Polynesian past which unexpectedly appears to the Polynesian worker in crisis, singled out by history at the moment of danger. That danger affects both the content of Polynesian tradition and its reveivers, The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming the tool of the ruling classes..."
Towards a Socialist Polynesia, p 22 Owen Gager, Communist Left 1982.

3:25 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

In the first line above 'was' should be 'saw'.

3:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are Pakeha is this any of your business? Maybe Maori should take care of Maori culture, and Pakeha should take care of Pakeha culture? That way maybe everyone would be happy?

5:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Historical materialism, on the contrary, wishes to retain that image of the Polynesian past which unexpectedly appears to the Polynesian worker in crisis, singled out by history at the moment of danger.'

Huh? What does this mean?

5:22 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Read the pamphlet and find out.

9:36 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I have to admit I struggled a lot with Illumination - I read the thing about translation which I thought was good, and his own books, his library...but he is a bit difficult, as is Gager here.

I forget what Benjamin said about politics. He wrote about history... but I cant recall it all now...

But it was terrible he was killed by the Nazis. I think he "recognized" Kafka early on. (Not sure if that is good thing or not!!)

I think "anon" (or one of the many Anon family ) is understandably confused, I am myself by Comrade Gager...a translation? Gager and I think it was Bruce Jesson wrote long (very good) but rather complex if not syblline theories about Marxism and Republicanism etc...unless I am wrongly conflating the two...hmm... I recall Owen Gager from about 1970 ..the name at least. He interesting for a Trotskyist. (He was a Trot?

11:13 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

There is actually no such thing as a pan-tribal agreement on tapu and noa (in my limited - South Island- experience.)The more hierarchical the people, the more stringent the divisions...I will NEVER visit Te Papa simply because a rigid North Island kawa rules - and this Kai Tahu simply wont countenance such an imposition.

My instruction, to the two members of my whanau who asked' was -ignore it. We dont have the proscription about seafood gathering or gardening or any kind of harvesting while menstruating (let alone being hapu!) - it hasnt been a Southern thing for over a century & a half...Women, in all ways, were necessary co-workers, and that's been the way, south, for generations.

12:05 am  
Blogger Paul said...

"Huh? What does this mean?"

I think it means that the Polynesian worker, like all workers will be shaken out of the state of false consciousness (the acceptance of an inauthentic self created by capitalism) by a crisis provoked by capitalism's contradictions. The Polynesian worker will then discover his true Polynesian self. This looks like the Noble Savage myth to me, but then I am not a Marxist. Too much Theory.

10:08 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maps Says:
"Moriori were for a long time treated very poorly by Pakeha scholars, and Te Papa certainly did the right thing when it allowed their representatives to play a large role in the shaping of the exhibition.

Partly because of the state of delicate Treaty settlement negotiations, or pre-negotiations, and partly, perhaps, out of a desire to look forward rather than backward, Moriori representatives who worked with Te Papa on the exhibition decided to exclude the 1835 invasion of their homeland by Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama from their account of their people's history. "

Michael King refers to that here:
There was one further episode involving Te Papa that seemed to reinforce this message. Four professional historians (I was not one of them) wrote last year to Te Papa's Chief Executive Officer, Cheryl Sotheran, complainng that the Moriori exhibit made no mention of the Maori invasion of the Chathams, to which I have already referred. Defending Te Papa's representation of Moriori history, the museum's manager of research went on the Holmes [television] programme to say that "a revelation of the truth [in this matter] would constitute a return to a view of history which has overtones of racism."

10:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael King Says:
"The point in raising the Chathams experience is not to use it as a stick with which to beat Maori—especially in view of what I have been saying about not visiting the sins of the fathers, or mothers, onto subsequent generations. I draw attention to it in the spirit of a historian who says, Take care. The evidence of history is unanimous on only one point. It shows us that no race or culture is inherently superior or inferior to another; and we all have skeletons in our ancestral closets that represent instances of behaviour of which we cannot be wholly proud by today's standards of ethics and morality. "

Maps Says:
Only capitalism has skeletons in the closet?

10:39 am  
Blogger pollywog said...

I'm not a noble savage, I'm a savage noble...:)

1:24 pm  
Blogger Dr.Dawg said...

Just happened on this site and have added it to my blogroll.

The discussion here is long past, but I enjoyed it,in good part for its respectful nature. I am a Canadian student of anthropology whose first paper was on the meaning of Tamaki Village. My late partner was Ngati Hine, of the hapu tekau-i-mua.

I do not have the knowledge to be able to decide between the claim that Maori saw women as a source of pollution, as argued by Best and others, and the view that women were seen as having a special affinity with the Gods, which Hanson and (seemingly) Neich express.

Might I suggest that Mary Douglas offers us a clue in Purity and Danger? It may be that there is really only one claim here, not two.

2:43 am  

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