Whose culture rules at our place?

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.

Update:

Cook your own F***ing eggs I’m menstruating at Cactus Kate.

UPDATE 2:

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.

25 Responses to Whose culture rules at our place?

  1. Neil says:

    What a pack of rubbish,mumbo jumbo and political dishonesty. Typical of the Te Papa nonsense group who would be quick to criticise the creationist model of life but can back up this dribble and piffle.
    I’m afraid this gives maori culture and life a bad name.
    Nothing bores people more than these maori prayers before a meeting and then not translating what actually was been said in maori.Rudeness !!!

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  2. JC says:

    I’ve had my fun with this one as well. But at the end of the day this was an invitation only gathering of museum people for a behind the scenes (not public) look at some stuff.

    Behind the scenes was never “Our Place”, and like any private gathering the rules may be different than in public.

    Paul Henry is going to have a rich source of good old fashioned NZ hypocrisy to make fun of for years to come as he points out the same people who berated him for racism are doing it in spades to Maori customs.. and Hone’s ravings suddenly get vindicated.

    JC

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  3. robertguyton says:

    I’m sure the Prime Minister will step in and resolve the dispute.

    ” The request is being made to women from regional museums..”

    Get a grip you people. This is not an affront to every woman, it’s a request to a special group for a special purpose. So much puffery from so many.
    If Neil’s comments are any indication of the depth of thought around this issue, then were are in trouble.
    Nothing bores him more, he says, than ‘maori prayers before a meeting and then not translating ..’
    Patience Robert…

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  4. homepaddock says:

    ” The request is being made to women from regional museums..”

    Yes and some women who receive an invitation because of their work may feel pressured to turn it down because they’re women.

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  5. Sally says:

    One wonders if the recent ex-councillor would have been so bold in his assumptions (8.29am) if he was still a local district councillor?

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  6. […] If you want to find out what this fuss is all about – as viewed by the country’s bloggers, anyway – you should check out the post on the matter at Homepaddock. […]

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  7. robertguyton says:

    Because they’re women Homepaddock? Menstruating or pregnant women I’d have thought.
    They can still go and ‘take their chances’ if they don’t believe there is the possibility of harm. If they do think ‘there’s something in it’, they have the option to reschedule or stay home. Do you prefer they weren’t told?
    Are you sure those women are safe around those artifacts? If so, why?

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  8. robertguyton says:

    And furthermore … those professional museum staff may have similar situations in their own places of work. This probably isn’t an issue for them (pun intended).
    Would you demand the right to enter the whare koiwi in your local museum as of right? If you don’t know why you shouldn’t then I suggest you do some research into tikanga Maori.
    *Disclaimer – I worked (and am shortly to work again) in the Southland Museum and Art Gallery for two years and have some knowledge of this.

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  9. gravedodger says:

    An old anecdote springs to mind.
    Young lady gets on a crowded bus and asks an older lady if she could have her seat as she was pregnant. “Certainly my dear, how long have you been pregnant”. To which the young lass replies “about 25 minutes and it sure IS a wonderful feeling”.

    Some of the people at “Our Place” should have respect for all cultures in our country and not make that of the arrivals some 700 years ago the only culture that rates.

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  10. homepaddock says:

    “Because they’re women Homepaddock?” Yes, men don’t menstruate or get pregnant.

    Look at the wording of the advisory and comments on it- it wasn’t the people who own believe this . . . it was saying this is how it is.

    Am I sure they’re safe? As safe as anyone else because I don’t share the belief which says they aren’t. I don’t believe disease will fasten on my limbs and goblins squeeze my entrails because I dumped an email which requested me to forward it either.

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  11. robertguyton says:

    “Some of the people at “Our Place” should have respect for all cultures in our country”

    Hilarious GD!

    You’d be hard pressed to find a place that showcased, promoted, explored, lauded, more cultures in one building than Te Papa! And I guess you’d have to assume the staff are involved somehow in that).

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  12. robertguyton says:

    You dumped that email Ele!!!
    I fear for your soul even more now! :-

    I had a Cambodian friend who wore tattooes that protected him from Khmer Rouge bullets. He didn’t believe that bullets could touch him, so, like you he didn’t ‘share the belief’ and so, like you, was safe from that in which he didn’t believe.

    “Because they’re women Homepaddock?” Yes, men don’t menstruate or get pregnant.
    Nor do all women menstruate or get pregnant – but I digress.
    You are avoiding the issue. This does not apply to the general public.
    Have any female museum staff complained about the advisory notice?

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  13. homepaddock says:

    “Have any female museum staff complained about the advisory notice?”

    You don’t have to be the one discriminated against to oppose discrimination.

    Had the advisory been worded as giving information about the owner’s beliefs I don’t think this would be an issue. But it was worded as a request for some women to stay away.

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  14. robertguyton says:

    “You don’t have to be the one discriminated against to oppose discrimination.”

    Nor do you have to be the one endangered to warn others of peril. If they wanted to bring you up to speed, Ele, there are any number of Maori out there who would tell you how foolish you are being ignoring the advice that was offered.
    Differing world views eh!
    Would you keep an stone patu if you uncovered it on your farm Ele?
    If it was known to be the one that was used to kill hundreds ‘back in the day’?
    Would you leave it in your child’s bedroom while they slept?
    If not, why not?

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  15. homepaddock says:

    “Different world views” – yes and they collided at Te Papa in this instance. I have no problem with an explanation of the beliefs of the owners, my issue is that it was couched as if the museum believed it and that visitors should as well.

    It’s against the law to keep artefacts even if you find them on your own property.

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  16. robertguyton says:

    If you apply for a license you can keep some articles.
    Would you feel comfortable with a historically blood-soaked patu on the dresser in your child’s room. If not, why not?

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  17. Andrei says:

    “You don’t have to be the one discriminated against to oppose discrimination.”

    It’s not discrimination, it’s an advisory, a warning like those they put on cigarette packets, is a warning that smoking might harm your unborn child discriminatory?

    Would you cover your head in a Russian Orthodox Church or take your shoes off in a Mosque?

    The only thing I have to say about this is Te Papa is selective in its “cultural sensitivities” since it was more than happy to trash the Virgin Mary a few years ago. It was freedom of expression back then to offend our Christian heritage

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  18. homepaddock says:

    Robert – I wouldn’t want any weapon on a dresser, though we do have a facón (gaucho’s knife) on the piano.

    Andrei – it was worded as a request for women to stay away not just informing them of the owners’ beliefs.

    I agree that Te Papa is selective in its cultural sensitivities.

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  19. Andrei says:

    You’ve dodged my question, Ele

    Would you cover your head in a Russian Orthodox Church or take your shoes off in a Mosque?

    Like

  20. robertguyton says:

    And mine Ele.

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  21. homepaddock says:

    Andrei – Yes I would cover my head, take my shoes off or do whatever was appropriate while visiting someone else’s place of worship.

    I’d also respect cultural beliefs if I was a guest in other people’s homes or meeting places. If Maori want to adhere to these beliefs that’s their business. It was the way Te Papa adopted the belief rather than just giving informationa about it which I objected to.

    Robert – I answered your question – I wouldn’t want any weapon on a dresser.

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  22. robertguyton says:

    Ele – you missed the best link of all.

    http://www.kiwipolitico.com/2010/10/pc-priorities/

    “The “ban” isn’t actually a restriction at all — they’ve been clear that it’s a request, not an ironclad edict; and in any case, the exhibit isn’t open to the public, but to staff from other museums. It’s an invite-only behind-the-scenes tour. And the crucial point is that the tāonga in question have been given to Te Papa on condition that this advice is given to prospective viewers. Let me be crystal clear: nobody would be barred from attending on the grounds that they are pregnant or menstruating. If someone wanted to turn up and say “bollocks to all of that, me and my unborn child are going to see those taiaha!”, it’s been made clear that she would be permitted to do so.”

    Like

  23. robertguyton says:

    Then let me re-phrase (and thank you for addressing my questions)
    Would you keep, on your child’s dresser, in a childproof box, a patu etc in the manner that you keep the ‘facón (gaucho’s knife) on the piano.’
    My point is, would you consider that the history of the object (steeped in blood, murderous intent etc) bad for your children?
    How about a hangman’s rope (used) for suspending a lovely mobile in their room, a cute teddy bears picnic scene cut from a guillotine blade, a throw for your babies cot made from the hood of a Ku Klux Klansman?
    Can you see what I’m getting at Ele?

    Like

  24. homepaddock says:

    I did have that link (it’s the last one before the update).

    I’m not sure if I can see what you’re getting at. I wouldn’t have any weapon or any of the other things you list but it’s not because I believe any spirits are in them and I wouldn’t have a problem looking at them in a museum.

    Facóns were (and possibly still are) used as weapons but our one was new, was a gift, is decorative and, as far as we know, has never been used to cut anything more than string.

    Like

  25. Oswald Bastable says:

    The wife’s reproductive status never put a hoodoo on anything in my gun cabinet- although I might trot that one out next time I have a bad day shooting clays!

    Doesn’t seem to throw her aim of any, either!

    Like

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