Tuesday, October 12, 2010

not the right way to do it

The degree that a person or taonga is tapu determines the way they are treated. But the nature of tapu is not easily understood without the cultural context. This controversy from Stuff, where pregnant or menstruating women were advised that they shouldn't attend because of the tapu nature, is an example where the context was not created. The email that was sent said,
"An invitation for regional museum staff to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa's collections included the condition that "wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]" were unable to attend."
"Unable to attend" is the offending statement, this was modified into
"Te Papa insists the request is not an outright ban.

"If there are pregnant women who want to go on the tour we don't stop them. But we do prefer they respect the belief." Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said."
The belief is articulated as
"There are items within that collection that have been used in sacred rituals. That rule is in place with consideration for both the safety of the taonga and the women," Keig said.
She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.
"Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects."
I'm not saying that isn't a bad effort but where is the context and why was the email framed in the way it was. We do have a strong maori voice in Mutu who says,
"Margaret Mutu, head of Maori Studies at Auckland University, said women should not be offended by the request."
"The reproduction area is extremely powerful and can do damage to things that are not tapu. It's about the power of women, not about stopping them."
Mutu said the objects were obviously dangerous and the hapu they came from would have told the museum about how to treat them.
"They are tapu and pregnant or menstruating women are tapu. It would be very unwise to put the two up against each other."
Now we start to get some idea of the world view where tapu 'go up against each other'. Protecting against offence in either direction is very important. This would be an interesting national discussion, we would all learn a great deal - but instead, because of the lack of mana in dealing with these taonga  and views, we are about to have a three-ring circus.

FOOTNOTE - Lew at Kiwipolitico has an awesome response to the controversy and also Andrew Geddis from Pundit is fighting the good fight - this is great to see - strong advocates for maori actually battling in the trenches for maori.


Evelyn Cook said...

The sad part for me - I don't feel safe posting a rebuttal on any of the sites that are going ballistic over this.

Tapu and spiritually in general is always going to be difficult to transmit clearly to non-believers or the closed minded.

As told to me 'women who are menstruating are tapu because they are, in effect, in mourning for the child not conceived. Not 'unclean', which is a Christian construct, but special. Likewise, women who are hapu are carrying the most precious taonga of all, the future of the hapū, and must always be protected and cherished.

The same tapu applies to whakapapa both oral and written. Of course, these messages are not necessarily being transmitted to our tamariki and mokopuna in ways that they can understand so more and more people are put in the position of trying to explain something they don't understand themselves.

A traditional viewpoint is expressed in Eruera by Anne Salmond. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she may comment on this matter in the coming days.

Thanks, Marty for giving me somewhere safe to vent

Anonymous said...

if they don't respect these items or culture i don't really know why they want to go look at them anyway. They take their chances.

PS- I like your blog a lot, it is really interesting :)

Evelyn Cook said...

Thanks for the links to the other two blogs, Marty. It made me feel better to read some much more considered points of view rather than the ravings of Ngāti Redneckery on a lot of other blogs.