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Maori culture adapting to presence in online media

Maori culture adapting to presence in online media


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(Simon Day, Stuff.co.nz) When Vicki-Jane Ross’s sister died suddenly, she could only just afford to fly home to New Zealand from Perth for the tangi. Her 12-year-old daughter had to stay in Australia.

She was devastated that she couldn’t participate in seeing her aunty off. It felt like something was missing,” Ross said.

If an online video stream of the tangi had been available, it would have helped her daughter grieve and learn the traditions of the Maori culture, she said.

“There are a lot of Maori over in Australia who can’t afford to come home who would want to participate in that way.”

Online tangi is a part of the growing cultural participation by the Maori diaspora on the internet but elders are concerned that the online portrayal of dead bodies is a breach of sacred Maori custom and they’re worried the culture cannot keep up with the rapid digital change.

The older generation are saying that we need to be careful how we practise those sorts of protocols of ours in virtual spaces,” said PhD student Acushla Dee O’Carroll.

Her thesis investigates the way the internet and social media have assisted in constructing Maori cultural identity and how they have facilitated whanaungatanga (relationship building) in strengthening ties with the family, iwi and marae.

[sws_pullquote_right] The effects of the transition of Maori culture online have been both positive and negative, the Massey University student has discovered. Education and access to Maori culture has been welcomed, but the online adaptation of traditions and culture has been less smooth. [/sws_pullquote_right] The effects of the transition of Maori culture online have been both positive and negative, the Massey University student has discovered. Education and access to Maori culture has been welcomed, but the online adaptation of traditions and culture has been less smooth.

Photos of dead bodies have been published online for the benefit of those who can’t attend a funeral. This was considered a breach of tapu.

“Some young people are posting these photos of their passed away aunties and it is uncomfortable,” O’Carroll said.

“We have that strong constant connection to our mate [the dead], so to put it into this virtual space where it is not just you and your family who see it but it is potentially all of Facebook, a lot of my participants talked about that transgressing tapu.”

Others say the culture must adapt or it will lose relevance.

“By allowing the culture to change it will create more participation and tighter families,” said Karaitiana Taiuru, a leading figure in the online presence of Maori.

“When everyone has ultrafast broadband we are going to see a shift in how tangi and hui are performed without the expense of travelling.”

But the gatekeepers still need convincing.

When O’Carroll was asked by her family in Australia to start a Facebook page for their marae she had to first approach the elders.

“When I went to my elders, they said no. They weren’t sure that the new technology wouldn’t relinquish our mana,” O’Carroll said.

“Once I told them about the positive aspects of connecting these people in Australia to our marae – virtually – they agreed.”

As the marae Facebook group passed 450 members, the potential for the online transfer of knowledge was welcomed.

“But as long as there was some strict control over what was posted. They didn’t want me to post our whakapapa on this page because it was stuff for home.”

Taiuru helped create new Maori words for the te reo version of Facebook. They coined words such as ngatautuhinga tamataitinga (privacy settings) and whakahau tanga (update status).

“It is important that the community grow the language themselves. If we don’t, the language will become non useful because the vocab is not there.”

But the Maori Language Commission (MLC) was concerned that the creation of culture cannot be done in an ad hoc fashion and needs to be carefully managed.

“I would like them to have some sort of sense of the translations coming from a Maori cultural perspective,” said Te Haumihiata Mason, language services manager at the MLC.

“The MLC should be the caretakers and keepers of the Maori lexicon.”

Taiuru recognises the importance of cultural history but wants the MLC to move forward at the same time.

- © Fairfax NZ News

(8) Comments

  1. Megan

    That is a very good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Short but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!

  2. Christel Broederlow

    That is the evolution of life as we know it today - internet and technology moving at a rapid pace. In agreeance with Johanna in regards to our Maori Queen tangihanga broadcast all over national TV and the Internet, we in OZ were able to watch much of what everyone else in NZ did, as to many other Maori dignitaries, Kaumatua, Soldiers that pass. Consistency in what is being portrayed or asked of, or exceptions being made along the way only confuses the people. As for whanau not being able to travel home to tangihanga everyone's circumstances are different, and who is privy to make judgment on that when it’s not always about opportunities to why they/we move in the first place? Obviously being overseas comes with greater costs, and when there are several or more tangihanga let us be realistic please, those costs can mount into the thousands to bring one entire whanau home, who will often move heaven and earth to make the return journey. For immediate whanau, we can and do pull together for each other to make it happen, even for those who are not whanau, we just dig deep and help in whatever way we can. I also know of whanau in the Sth Island who could not afford the cost to travel to the Far North for tangihanga, is there critique to support that? It is vital for Maori overseas to have Funeral Insurance for the whanau and/or individual to ensure all costs are covered and it can cost less than $20 a fortnight and very few take up this particular insurance as no one plans to die overseas, but then we never had Funeral Insurance when we lived in NZ for 30 years, how many Maori do?? Even more so for those who desire to be repatriated back to NZ, on average costing around $6,500, if you’re lucky. However that is only for tangihanga costs of those covered under the Insurance Policy, not for the whanau in OZ to go home to a tangihanga in NZ, so this is where a separate savings account is needed, where each working member of the whanau can contribute into, be very specific how it will be used to avoid issues arising up the track. Having been too ill at the time to travel home to my Father n Law's tangi and completely devastated to not be there with my whanau, as they were also to not have me with them, I asked my tane and sons to take my camera and video and take millions of photos so that I could be a part of it, even though divided by the Pacific Ocean. I cannot even begin to express how this made me feel, as I was given the opportunity to grieve with them and did I cry rivers of tears. NOTHING replaces being there in person but my health circumstances did not permit that and I am eternally grateful that I could 'be there' via video and see the photos as they were txt thru to me. As well as whanau skyping throughout. This was beyond special to me. Some of the photos were shared via Facebook between our whanau only, (I have different lists for whanau, friends, and associates and to who can see and read what specifically and to who can be tagged in), this was a private experience shared between our whanau. I agree not to put photos online of the tupapaku. What irks me more than anything is the Iwi that use the internet to their advantage to round up whanau signatories for settlements and then in the same breath have the audacity to say, ‘come home if you want whakapapa, waiata, or come home to attend hui to have a say...’ that is such a hypocrisy! Shame on the Iwi who do that only prove that greed and control over money is far more important than the love of the Iwi and whanaunga. Whanau are connecting with each other via the internet, some catching up with whanau they haven’t seen for many years, or even for the first time, whanau spread out across the mighty oceans and lands. We must be grateful for the blessings of the internet in this manner for strengthening whakapapa, unity and aroha, keeping in touch more than just via txt or email, but as it happens, where no other means has been able to achieve prior too, let’s not be caught up in the dark ages of thinking to become so ignorant to how far and wide spread we all are and to remain connected via the online channels. If the main concern is in breaking certain tikanga, than what say the about broadcasting via TV, the old telephone, bereavements/news in local and national newspapers, mob/cellphones, txt/sms msgs, really, shall we remove all of these, NONE of these existed when our Tipuna walked upon Papatuanuku, but somehow they all became accepted as the norm and we adapted with the many growing forms of communication. Evolve with consistency, respect, and courtesy and as long as their remains battles the confusion flows on.

  3. Johanna

    Gee, we get to watch all day long on M?ori Television of the M?ori Queen, and the King of Tonga, to name a couple - and funny enough I have been grateful to share in the tangi of Dame Te Ata. I got to see my own people on the paepae, so I knew who was there. The Queen's life was talked about with so much aroha - the waiata were so beautiful - the part of her being on the Waikato Awa was a sight to see. Tikanga and kaupapa M?ori were present. The kakahu pango, the greenery, ng? taonga, the suits of the kaikorero. This live broadcast was talked about for weeks afterwards. And cos I'm not from that way it was better for me to stay at home, and watch from my lounge, eat and have cuppas throughout the day, so as not to take up accomodation, kai, room etc, - so those closet to the tupapaku and kirimate, and noted leaders from all over the motu, and hundreds of mourners were there to give the Queen a good send off.

  4. Koro Wheke

    1.posting pics of tupapaku is wrong, so lets avoid that. Nonetheless we could do skype links to the poroporoaki:) 2. I've set up facebook groups for the whanau (ie my grandparents uri), mainly to share pics and keep updated with the mokopuna (so we can know who everyone is). Also done marae pages but that has been strictly as a news update. request for waiata videos and whakapapa have been declined with the statement that if you want them come home. 3. I accept that whanau go to Oz for opportunities but those that do need to be responsible, stop bleating and make sure that they are able to make the return trip if a tangi occurs. it's a basic principle of navigation - if you can't get home then don't go out. 4. as for the MLC managing the creation of culture they really need to get a life! culture is created ad hoc, thats how it's happened since Maui learnt to haka. And really with the fiasco of their Viking inspired ra o te wiki, MLC has no right to claim a Maori cultural perspective...

  5. Lanne Wade-Jensen

    Kia ora, At this stage I am unsure where I stand on this personally, if it was to happen to me. In terms of whanau coming together for Tangihana it has been long held view that whanau rally together to help those who needed to come home for Tangihana, please I believe it is essential for whanau to take life insurance that covers Funeral/Tangihana expenses (make good choices people) so finances are not the reason whanau cannot make it home. In saying that though, I have had a friend who went to Fiji and while she was travelling over on the plane her Aunt passed away. The family here decided rather than her come home they set up Skype so she could watch the proceeding live. It was definitely not the same as being at home with the whanau, but it was as close as she could get considering it was going to be too expense to bring her and her 2 young daughters home earlier as the flights could not be refunded or changed. So do I agree, hmm first choice would be make plans whanau to ensure if anything happens family can be there, but if not, I would want to have the an internet option rather than no option at all.

    1. Lanne Wade-Jensen

      further to this, I must admit I would prefer to be watching live then for it to be videotaped, but in saying that, I grew up under strict Maori Tikanga, so we knew no photos, no food etc etc etc. My teenage son, who is half Tongan lost his father 5 years ago, and as part of the Tongan culture they video and take photos through the whole process from day 1 until the burial. For me this was a shock, but now when I reflect back, for my son he know has a tangible record of this time hespent with his rather and his family. The photos are so beautiful and tastefully done, and the whanau has a beautiful piece of history of a man who's life was taken way too soon. Now I am definitely not saying we need to change all our Tikanga and things need to be different, but it is just food for thought.. :D

  6. Nessa Ninja

    Im sorry, but something in my gut tells me that "Online Tangi" is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Just as we turn off our phones when we meet friends for dinner... we just need a space and time where we can close the doors to the outside World and just "be people". Newsflash, we have always had whanau who have been unable to make it home for tangi, but we didn't record it and publish it online. It was no harder for those absent to grieve, than it is for people who cannot come back today. Yes, we have new technology today, but again, NEWSFLASH... we don't need it in every single moment of our lives! I know that I personally do not want to risk being filmed when I am grieving for a loved one - it is a sacred and personal time, and if you are not present to share in this with me, then oh well. You DON'T get to film my heartbreaking on film. Sorry,in my heart I feel it's wrong.

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