"Te Papa bans pregnant women from exhibit" TV3 reports

“Te Papa bans pregnant women from exhibit” TV3 reports

TangataWhenua.com is applauding Te Papa’s decision to advise pregnant or menstruating women against attending the Taonga Maori collection. However, the move has been critisised by, Deborah Russel, feminist blogger on The Hand Mirror blog, who has argued the policy had no place in modern society. (While we couldn’t find the “offending” comment online, here is a link to her blog.

I don’t understand why a secular institution, funded by public money in a secular state, is imposing religious and cultural values on people.”

We loved the critique of Russel’s perspective in Lindsay Mitchell’s blog who responded “Umm. What was that again?… Therein lies the difficulty. “Public money” is, in part, raised from people with “religious and cultural values”. Feminists are quite happy to use that money to further their own causes even when those causes clash with the values of the people forced to pay for them.” Enough said!

To get a different perspective read the thought-provoking comments below.

The Taonga Maori collection is not open to the general public and the request does not apply to them, this particular exhibition is open to other regional museums. In particular this rule was one of the terms Te Papa agreed to when they took the collection. Jane Keig, a Te Papa spokesperson told the NZ Herald that the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the taonga Maori collection included in the tour.

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,” Keig explained.

However, Margaret Mutu, head of Maori Studies at Auckland University, said the policy was common in Maori culture.

Women cannot go into the garden, on to the beach or in the kitchen when they are menstruating.

“It’s a very serious violation of tapu for women to do those things while menstruating. Women cannot have anything to do with the preparation of food while they are menstruating.”

She said the exhibition rule was quite normal.

It’s just the way we are … It’s part of our culture, but it’s just one that isn’t well known and that Pakeha aren’t aware of.”

Women who plan to attend the tour on November 5 are expected to be honest about whether they are pregnant or menstruating as a sign of respect to Maori beliefs. So really TV3′s headline (the NZ Herald headline was similar “Anger at Te Papa ban on pregnant women“) is a little over the top ans there is no “ban” per say in place  – just the hope that women will respect this cultural norm.

Mind you such rules are not extraordinary. While in India this was a standard rule when visiting Jain and Hindu temples and a quick Google search led us to Wikipedia’s link on the topic.

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(48) Comments

  1. jim pitara

    If you doubt the reality of such things, it may interest you to know that when the goverment started confiscating land, all sorts of strange things began happening to those that later occupied that land, so in later years the goverment wrote into law, that any land tranferred from native title must have all protective mechanisms removed. In other words, spiritual guardians had to be de-commissioned so to speak. If the government of the day recognised the power of these mechanisms, then believe me when I say, these people do not write laws for fun and they werent put in place to protect Maori, they were written to protect pakeha, the new land owners. There is a word for those that disregard things they do not understand "IGNORANT" so carry on...do as you please...good luck with that.

  2. jim pitara

    Our ancestors made these rules based on ancient knowledge that quite frankly, very few people alive today can comprehend today, however that does not mean it no longer applies. To them breaking tikanga is like putting your hand into a 240v power socket. The only difference is, when you do that, the shock is instant and only affects you. If certain tikanga are ignored, the danger is much more subtle however the effects of which can linger for generations. If you change that which constitutes our tikanga, you may as well get rid of the whole thing because there is no one left anymore that understands the full repercussions of that. So if you are willing to risk the health of those you love most, by all means do as you please but again be aware, there is no closing that gate once it is open.

  3. ititahi

    I think people need to review the proposition carefully - women are asked to recognize tapu by following set requests according to tikanga set down by the museum. The key point here is that people are ASKED to be HONEST - so the decision still belongs to EACH and EVERY individual who decides to attend whether or not they have maintained the kaupapa. So whether YOU argue for or against ONLY YOU will know your decision and thats whether you choose to go or not AND thats if you are Maori or not; feminist or not; OR just plain ignorant or not! Finally I don't think you need to have a PhD or thesis discussion here because it's just common sense and plain and simple respect for a perspective - but again the choice to abide belongs to YOU or ME...PS I don't think they will be lining all the ladies up to check - do you?

  4. Leon

    @ Tama - I agree. I think that Te Papa need to provide people with a "Please Explain". Your correct in that no one has a right to view the Taonga (At least i know i don't personally have any claim to ownership or viewing rights) and yes it is a privilage to be able to come and have a look. The issue that I see is that Te Papa is a national museum and as such must allow the national population access (even people that don't care for any culture at all), If they are not able to provide this access to the New Zealand public why on earth did they agree to these conditions? Of course one could make the argument that food and drink is not allowed in either and people seem to accept this rule because they agree that spilt food will potentially damage any works, in that respect it seems to me that the general consensus in this country is that non-physical protections should be a choice as the majority aren't prepared to quantify or accept "spiritualism" (for want of a better definition) as something that should apply to them.

  5. tuihi

    tena koutou katoa.. wow.. isnt it funny how a simple request is turned into a roving romance?? the media have a lot to answer too.. they like to 'stir the pot' so to speak. I havent travelled the world, but i have been told that when you enter into the indian temples they ask everyone to tie a piece of string around their waist as a way to ward off evil spirits. these evil spirits are housed in our charkas below the pito. so my question is this.. is aotearoa - new zealand maori.. or is it only maori when it suits - like before a rugby game or on stage in shangai hai performing haka before huge crowds at the cultural expo? if the iwi who the taonga belongs too stipulate that this is how they have treated their taonga.. then hey.. when in rome.. do as the romans do. how hard is that? many of our taonga have 'special' quality, sum we understand and some we dont till its too late. why have they cautioned our wahine,, is it because they want to scare or because they want to keep us safe? some people believe in the spirit world and others do not.. whatever your personal preferrences, i believe that sum rules and regulations need to be adherd to. once bitten, twice shy. mauri ora people.

  6. Tama

    Firstly; To my parochially-inclined readers, your veil of ignorance will not mask your stupidity and inability to do a bit of research on a culture before questioning it. When iwi gift their taaonga to Te Papa, they entrust that the museum will properly maintain and preserve not only its physical condition but also the mana, mauri and tapu of the taaonga - that is; to speak of its esoteric significance from which it is out-worldly bounded. That is; the preservation of its spiritual mantle. And so it becomes Te Papa's RESPONSIBILITY to restrict menstruating & pregnant women from belittling the powers of these taaonga. The public domain is lucky that they have the opportunity to view the taaonga. Never mind this; "but I have the right to" - You don't! And if kaumaatua ever new that the mana, mauri or tapu of their taaonga were being compromised - they would demand their return, to be hidden from the public eyes in the privacy and darkness of their own tapu. The facilities required to preserve the taaonga may be funded by the public through the tax payer or other - but the taaonga themselves if in but a few cases are generally donated for public exhibition by iwi. This practice is not one that in any way belittles women, it is actually a reference to their high-regard in Maaori society, so kind feminist please hesitate before attacking our practices. Women have the unique ability (as a result of the birthing capabilities) to cleanse spiritually-bounded taaonga. It is because of these capabilities why they are so highly respected. Therefore, when asked not to attend the exhibition of our taaonga, it is with so as to compliment and acknowledge their more heightened state of being (menstruation & pregnancy). And so to those who have taken from this; I have enjoyed the pleasure in educating you. To those who have participated in these conversations simply to tear Maaori culture down, I especially enjoyed the pleasure in educating you.

  7. Brenda Kara

    lovers & worshippers of idols, good for exposing yourselves in the public view, your Kawa is surely expressed through the eyes of many, ringa ringa .......

  8. Mark

    Is anyone struggling with the laws of tapu and noa? I have heard that the taonga are tapu and that women menstruating or pregnant are tapu? So in terms of protection does this mean that they are both like two positives so when in proximity of each other they cause a negative reaction? What if menustrating women were noa instead? Then I could understand why you would want to ensure the taonga remain tapu and women noa.

  9. Kathy

    Come on now people. As a Maaori woman I understand the steps Te Papa has taken in regards to the request of pregnant and mensturating women. I too come from the North where we have a Taumata Paepae. No one questions this as it is a part of our way of life to which we respect and maintain. The way some of our Maaori people and YES non-Maaori test and question tikang - kaupapa Maaori I personally say is ingorant and disrespectful. I see no comparison to smoking cigarettes or walking on the other side of the road. What I do see is cultural ignorance due to the lack of knowlege. This has nothing to do with mana wahine... what ever that's suppose to mean. As Maaori women we are strong in our own right. Kia ora.

  10. Leon

    What an interesting read! although i'm finding individual comments more fascinating than the preceding article. Admittedly I don't know much about Maori rules and regulations in respect to culture and I've lived here all my life. I think that cultural practices should be respected (when known) simply because i would like my cultural practices respected as well, this case however seems to me to be exaggerated (or entirely made up of) the fact that "it is a national museum and public funding is used in it's operation however not all members of the public are able to attend", this however is slightly misleading in that the general exhibition will be open to everyone and this is all about backstage tours. As i understand it the rationale for baring pregnant or menstruating women is to 1. Protect them and 2. protect the Taonga. I have conflicting views in light of these 2 rationales. Firstly i don't believe in forcing anyone to abide by my cultural rules, it has been stated since that women can choose to ignore these rules and go and have a look anyway but the rationale suggests otherwise. Secondly if a museum agrees to show a works then i would expect that they have a duty to protect that works, including in a spiritual sense. In my mind the question then is should a national museum take on such responsibilities when they are unable to deliver a viewing that would ensure this protection?

  11. Deena

    did u just shut yourselves down? kaupapa maori learning does not belong in a pakeha learning institution & this is exactlly why....it's lyk trying to teach ur grandparents how to suck eggs

  12. Shane

    Meanwhile... in the other world (www.stuff.co.nz) we have these comments: "These bloody maori's think they own New Zealand, time we wiped the scum from our society" - hmmm I know which intellectual conversation I would rather be in!!!

  13. Marama

    haha Shane, I guess it's intrinsically all in this korero anyway. What some have been commenting on is how to maintain the mana of tane and the mana of wahine given the noa and tapu states that have ignited this korero. But the that's the nature of korero, it can go everywhere without sticking to a clear path.

  14. Marama

    An essential link that possibly could come into all this is with MANA? Are we getting into the relationship between Tapu-Noa-Mana?

  15. Marama

    Sorry many others have raised the essential point about cultures having flexibility and not remaining static, not just Ruth. Mihi atu.

  16. Eddie

    My final contribution (I hope) My idea on Tapu is: Any actions pertaining to consequences on your (future) whakapapa, Good or Bad Any actions reflecting on the precedence set by your (past) tupuna, Good or Bad The perils of being pakeke aye! lol

  17. Marama

    At a hui with our Maori staff a couple weeks back, it was interesting that we only discussed 'noa' as a negative influence. I interjected and asked us to reflect on the state of 'noa' also being a powerful base, but in a different way to 'tapu'. Gosh the consensus is that there is no consensus so I like what Ruth says about values and cultures having fluidity and having a safe space to korero, albeit a virtual online one, is ka pai!

  18. Rob

    Hang on Chanz, we're talking about tapu so facebook must be in a state of tapu right now ... ok all those women who are pregnant or having their monthly, get off!

  19. Eddie

    Exactly Chanz. Not really an easy subject to debate. Example: Smoking cigarettes, and binge drinking could be considered tapu. It's a curse on society, whakapapa and on the individual, but it's a personal choice to pursue, or reject at the moment. Should we be adding it to Tapu? I think so...

    1. Kyle

      Cigarettes are Tapu and should be treated as such. The Native Americans considered the tobacco plant very tapu hence why they used tobacco to connect with thier tupuna and atua in sacred and spiritual rituals only. It was the europeans that packaged it for profit. Problem is when you disrespect something that is Tapu there are consequences. The consequence for disrespecting the Tapu of tobacco is people dying in the hundreds of thousands.

  20. Chanz

    Eddie, I am always conscious of the repercussions of my actions on my whakapapa...it is why I expect even my own daughter to make conscious decisions as she makes her journey as a wahine in a colonised Aotearoa. It is not a curse, it is a consequence. And a critical analysis of her world. Active participation means actually participating...and accepting and understanding cause and effect.

  21. Rob

    Te Papa can do what it wants but I am wondering who these taonga come from? I'm assuming they set the tikanga too. All fine I guess but I doubt that it has been through a rigorous korero like what is happening here. Eddie, yes I like that - ...the road signs are to be read and not ignored. Leaves much room for interpretation and today that is exactly what we do. I can safely say I have not seen a lot of consensus around tapu and how it is acted out, but I do see people (wahine & tane) take care of their situations in their own way or as dictated by those they trust to guide them. The issue for me is the perpetuation of rubbish on the naive. Chanz is also right. Are we sheep to follow and never question because it's "tapu"? So we are told. By who? Who benefits? Who is oppressed? Who is free? Who is shackled? Who sits on the floor? Who sits in the armchairs? When will a Te Arawa man get out of his chair and escort a kuia off the floor and into a chair? Or is the lazy boy arm chair tapu? What is the source of this knowledge we think we have about tapu? What is the purpose of it today? Chanz, yes, we must manifest the leadership and challenging natures of our predecessors or we are just sheep.

  22. Chanz

    Deena, is it correct? or a set of conditions that were organic and transformative...thus developing within and at every point in any context...this can get philosophical quickly. There are ways of being safe without perpetuating misogyny or ...being passive aggressive.

  23. Eddie

    True Chanz, but the implications on your whakapapa, are not for you to realise. It is for your descendants to realise, based on your (present day) reaction, or inaction. If we had a crystal ball, and saw the future of our actions, we might pay closer heed to Tapu. After all, it has been tested, and survived to be with us to this very day.

  24. Shane

    @Chanz...if there is one thing with tikanga & kawa it is flexible. Tikanga/kawa that are no longer relevant should be challenged and changed or disposed of. One thing for sure is that tikanga that came from the islands had to adapt because of the differences encountered. But the root of this came from a sound knowledge of tikanga.

  25. Nikolasa Biasiny-Tul

    I guess for me, it's just all so foreign (as Tauiwi) - I remember a whole bunch of raru when I first started seeing Potaua because I never quite knew what was allowed and what wasn't so my first instinct as an outsider is to always first li...sten and then abide (especially to his kuia and koro LOL!) - but I do at times get confused with tikanga and whether it's post-colonial or pre-colonial in its essence. My mentors at Uni were Materoa Dodd and Ripeka Evans and who were continually questioning the cultural norms as they related to mana wahine and were continually asking these critical questions, so tautoko as. I guess in terms of the museum, they are in a difficult position, part of accepting these taonga was that they abide by the rules set forth. But the korero has to be had and not by outsiders either! But damn, you've all given me wiriwiri with your korero!!

  26. Chanz

    thats another point to mention Eddie, why read it? then it is only preserved...to live, tikanga and tapu/noa must be tested. Vigorously to determine relevance.

  27. Shane

    Tatau taonga tatau tikanga! Maori established the Te Papa tikanga/kawa... if further debate around the current tikanga/kawa at Te Papa is required then make it so. For me I am just mindful that Maori (nga wahine me nga tane) were part of an... extensive consultation process to establish this tikanga/kawa of Te Papa. @Robyn I like what you say. Perhaps tane would"scuttle" more if our tikanga was known and utilised on a daily basis. It would instill real purpose and meaning. The modern world collides with so much in our lives & admittedly we do fail to measure up to the days where tikanga, kawa, tapu & noa literally dictated & enriched our lives with balance! Mana Wahine - Mana Tane!

  28. Chanz

    there is another argument missing here too, having a conditioning from our individual respective iwi. Te Arawa and Ngaiterangi are extrememly conservative. WIth Te Arawa, we have to ask when we "showcase" the culture for tourists, is what w...e portray a reality or perpetuation of a colonisers "POLYNESIAN FANTASY!"?. The same question applies here...how much of this reconditioning of Wahine and tapu is subjugation and how much of it is a genuine practised "tikanga"? My tupuna wahine Makino, Hinemoa, Kurangaituku,Te Ao Kapurangi, Kirimatao etc were all magnificent wahine, capable, confident, lateral in their thinking and able to navigate and resist what is deemed the "status quo" of their times. Interesting that the very nature of questioning the status quo and navigating social conditioning i do now..

  29. Eddie

    Tapu are the road signs, from our ancestors. You can do what you want, once you've read it, as long as you don't ignore it.

  30. Ruth

    I am interested in this issue from a postcolonial feminist point of view. As the rescue of brown women has been a major colonial agenda! In my thesis, I locate these assumptions within liberal feminism. Although Western feminisms encompass... a range of goals and interests, they hold liberal precepts about the rights of the individual to “political and religious freedom, choice and self-determination” in common and privilege the West/Pakeha culture as primary referent. The liberal humanist meta-narrative of progress and development looms large and the ‘self-actualisation’ of the individual, in the form of a sovereign rational subject is valued with the assumption that Western/Pakeha societies are the most developed and humane, and offer the most desirable way of living.There are two central assumptions in the liberal feminist discourses that are being deployed here. The first is that the liberal conception of the individual should include women, and that women should be equal to men in the public realm. Thus, addressing the oppression of women in a liberal context involves reforms within the status quo with strategies for minimising gender differences promulgated such as increasing opportunities for women to participate equally to men. However, such a view is itself considered racist for the focus on supposedly resisting patriarchy rather than racism and other oppressions. I am reminded of Susan Okin’s liberal and (neo) colonial framing of culture in opposition to liberalism, where culture is fixed and monolithic and antithetical to modernity, the West and human rights. She doesn't acknowledge ‘local traditions of protest, no indigenous feminist movements, no sources of cultural and political contestation’ Okin’s assumption is that culture is intrinsic to the visibly different, non-Western woman while Western liberal individuals have an optional relation with culture, because liberalism is politically neutral and the individual can choose what they want to believe, that is culture is extrinsic or background. The reductive analyses of power evident in the gender versus culture debate highlights its focus on a single axis of social division and brings to the fore tensions between universal rights for women and the protection of minority (in this case Maori) but in my thesis cultural rights Therefore, some strands of feminism perceive the accommodation of cultural and religious difference as a threat to gender equality and secularism. This assumption presumes a lack of agency on the part of the migrant/Maori woman. Sucks!

  31. Marama

    wow, interesting korero. My first gut reaction was typical of the idiot bull terrier in me. I have some huge disregard to Western Feminism which I see as entirely different from Mana Wahine. So I begrudge this article on it's 'outsider' pre...mise, and also the notion that the writer is challenging being 'imposed upon' - Western Feminism has imposed itself for centuries! So that was my raw reaction. Seeing the different perspectives above has helped me reflect a bit further. Ae I have always stood up for wahine needing to claim back our tapu and noa states and our own powerbases, and I have always challenged some of our own male patriarchy that to me has appeared in itself colonised. But I have also remained quite precious about how we view female subjugation. An overly simplistic example is how outsiders could read our male only 'paepae' in Hokianga as indicative of the lower status of women, not true! But hear what Chanz and Roby are saying about the hypocrisy of some of our tikanga. I don't mind challenging colonised patriarchy that has dribbled into our own ways of doing things but I have always sought to define our tikanga in a way that upholds our complimentary place as wahine too - oh the raruraru!

  32. Deena

    tikanga is a correct way of doing things....i don't think my Tupuna were wrong....Te Rauparaha, Te Rangi Topeora (the only woman cheiftness to sign her name as 'Queen Victoria' on the treaty

  33. Deena

    totally missed it...do u karanga when ur hapu? do u go into other peoples urupa? all things have balance within the lores of tapu & noa

  34. Chanz

    I totally support your korero Robyn, and these whakaaro are not due to feminism either. My thesis is about this, "Te Wharepora o Hineteiwaiwa: Whare Tangata as a site for the discussion of colonial discourse." I am a new mother and damn tir...ed of having my state of tapu defined and redefined by people who do not step up to support Whare Tangata or understand its complexities. My artwork is known for ruffling feathers and discussing gender. In terms of these taonga...it's a museum...a construct of colonisation used to collect, contain and control OUR taonga. I take umbrage to an institution defining my interaction with taonga. A wonderful example of a whare taonga is the Whanganui museum. When you enter, the waka is the centre and the focus...the concept reinforcing that Te Awa Tipua o Whanganui is EVERYTHING. In Te Papa, a similar waka (taua) is displayed "where it fits" without any special recognition of its whakapapa other than a plaque! Those who make these rules about isolating wahine are rather lke those who make all of the social commentary around wearing moko...but dont have any!

  35. Rob

    Disagree, and not for feminist reasons. We need to wake up to this. This extract below is from my current research Potaua, "One reason often given, as to why women are not being allowed to stand to speak or participate in debate, conflict or... decision-making, is that their scared duty as the bearers of the next generation — the “whare tangata” — requires their fragility and purpose be protected. If this was true, then there would be some visible proportion of women, who after completing their childbearing duties, would be participating fully — but they are not. The argument is uncannily similar to a patriarchal Western view that women should be kept “barefoot and pregnant”, and it was most likely inherited from the colonisers." Yet it's ok for women to be looking after a household and cooking the kai every day, entering all rooms at home and at many marae no matter what time of month. I do not see bolts of lightening and I do not see the men scuttling forward to do the cooking to safeguard the whare tangata. The issue here is also about how we have allowed someone's definition of tapu to exclude us. Many would say that during menstruation a woman is tapu. Many would say both men and women have states of tapu or noa depending on the situation. Old school would insist women are never tapu, only noa, and that noa means they should sit down and shut up. We really need to challenge this crap.

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