Respecting other people’s beliefs when you’re on their territory is good manners, but how far should you go to accommodate other people’s beliefs when they’re on your territory?
This is just one of many questions being asked after a request for women who are pregnant or menstruating to stay away from a behind-the-scenes tour of Maori artefacts at Te Papa.
The request is being made to women from regional museums who will be going on a back-of-the-house tour of some of Te Papa’s collections, including the Taonga Maori collection, Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said.
The Taonga Maori collection is not open to the general public and the request does not apply to them.
Ms Keig said the issue was a “cultural consideration” to respect Maori beliefs.
“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.”
“If they understand that they can attend at another time [when they are not pregnant or menstruating].”
The idea that the safety of the taonga or women could be compromised if they disregarded the request to stay away defies logic, as many cultural and religious beliefs do. Culture and religion are belief systems not science.
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.”
Mutu said in her hapu, women were also prevented from going onto gardens or fishing areas while tapu.
Many religious and cultural beliefs had a basis in health and safety and in ancient times keeping women who were menstruating out of kitchens and gardens may have been justified on the grounds of hygiene. It’s not so easy to find a reasonable basis for the concerns over pregnant women but even if there was a good reason then it doesn’t stand up in the 21st century.
The idea of taking a week or so off cooking and gardening every month has some appeal and may have worked well when people lived communally. But it’s impractical in modern life because it would rule women out of any work in kitchens and gardens.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson quite rightly said he didn’t get involved in Te papa’s day to day affairs and he pointed out it was a request not an instruction.
Fair enough, and if the display was on the owner’s property that request should be respected. But Te Papa is our place, it says so on the logo . In our place, our rules apply and among them are the ones which made women equal citizens.
This issue has led to many posts including:
On the inconvenience of periods and pregnancy at In A Strange Land Cross posted at The Hand Mirror where Julie posted on Tricky balancing act ahead (the comments on all three express a wide variety of views).
Superstition encouraged at Te Papa at NZ Conservative.
Don’t you just love modern cultures? at Credo Quia Absurdum Est.
Cultural twaddle makes us see red at Roar Prawn.
Superstitious bull at Kiwiblog.
Feminism vs multiculturalsim at Lindsay Mitchell.
Here’s a matter worthy of protest action and Margaret Mutu tell us more at Alf Grumble.
Two PC tribes have a spot of culture clash at Oswald Bastable.
Something to do if you’re menstruating at Dim Post.
Why does Te Papa hate women so much (and other outraged thoughts) – Andrew Geddis at Pundit.
No place for women at our place – at No Right Turn.
PC priorities at Kiwipolitico.
Cook your own F***ing eggs I’m menstruating at Cactus Kate.
Grandfather’s sword at Bowalley Road.
Te Papa revisted at Dim Post.
We should be encouraging women to come to Te Papa at Alf Grumble.