Thursday, August 10, 2006

Taking a culture for gain -

I have posted previously, here, about the taking of live cultural icons and symbols for commercial gain.

Well, we have another instance.

Now please may I be clear.

This is NOT a case of cultural cringe.

It might rank with marketing a "Bush mask" for Halloween, or with the "Indian suits" that were the rage in the 1950's. For that reason alone the " redress..." consequence is to be expected.

Perhaps what I DO hope for, probably in vain, is that some of those kids whose doting parents buy rubbish like this might take a little time out to read something of the culture that lies behind Ta Moko. From Herald's article -
Ms Mead said the issue was one of ethics and respect.

"This comes down to being respectful of other cultures so you don't cut and paste, pick and choose. A moko comes with a story and a past, and you have to know that."

Ngahihi o te ra Bidois, head of Te Pakaro A Ihenga school at the Waiariki Institute of Technology, said ta moko wasn't scary and the American kits weren't appropriate.

"They obviously don't realise the mana associated with this type of taonga (treasure)," Mr Bidois told the Rotorua Post.

He said he has emailed Halloween Town asking for the kits to be withdrawn from sale.

"It is insulting...what they are doing is not portraying Maori correctly," he said.

Te Arawa's Hawea Vercoe said ta moko had northing to do with Halloween, and was "a mark of mana and prestige, not to be used flippantly for commercial creation".

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell said Maori would not allow their culture to be exploited.

"We are not about to have pumpkins or people decorated with our traditional symbols, all for the purposes of a trick or a treat. The treat in fact, is to treat people with respect," he said.

I want to repeat just a couple of the thoughts in those quotes as they need to be emphasised.

First, the permission to wear moko is earned. It is a reflection of the person wearing it. The greater the mana, the standing, the importance, the public reputation of the person, the more complex his moko might be.

Second, the moko reflects, is structured upon the story of the person's mana - the deeds, the events, the ancestry of the person.

So, ta moko is not just tattoos scribbled on the face.

As a matter of interest I have met only one man, when I was about 7, who carried the traditional ta moko. He, along with some of the kuia in the same district, would have been one of the last survivors.

The traditional Ta moko is not entirely like the western "tattoo" at all. There are many similarities, but one extremely important difference. If you look carefully at a traditional moko, it appears "grooved". That grooving is real. Quite apart from the lines which are "drawn" using a toothed comb, the grooves are created using a chisel to remove the skin.

Oh and the colours of the traditional ta moko were difficult to discerne. The black was obviously very fine ground charcoal; the red was very dark and came from very finely ground ochre; and there is a very dark green which was extracted from a dried fungus that parasitises a native caterpillar. The modern dyes used are altogether much brighter.

To close -

There is no legal protection of culture. There is no means of preventing products like this from being sold. As I pointed out in my previous post it is only by persuasion (as in the Ford case) and concession that products get withdrawn.

But to get an inkling of how I feel, think of someone printing a picture of the Crucifixion or Mary on toilet paper and selling that. How long would such a product - or the manufacturer for that matter - last?

I hope, just hope, that the "manufacturers" of this cultural travesty provide indelible markers instead of water-based.

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