Monday, January 20, 2014

Wahine Meanies, Maori Modernity

It has been interesting watching the clash between Maori tikanga and modern etiquette over the silly season. Late last year, the Speaker sought to alleviate sexism on Parliament Grounds by no longer forbidding women from sitting in the front row of the wharenui. Outrage and umbrage followed.

Skirmishes such as this are happening all around the place, such as the law-breaking women drivers of Saudi Arabia. Traditional mores and ways of conservatism are blown by the winds of change. What will remain and what will evolve?

The illusion of progress informs us that culture disgards the archaic when something better comes along. Take the wharenui, for example. Not long after colonisation began, Maori stopped lashing their walls together and began using nails. After the missionaries passed through, stained glass windows let the light indoors. Later on, corrogated iron replaced the raupo roof. Paints provided a wider palette that the traditional range of pigments.

Some things are more tikanga than others, eh. I'm not convinced by the justifications of protecting women from taniwhas and bad atua for hui seating arrangements. My theory is that it's a face-saving gesture to the old male kaumatua. Men go deaf more readily than women, and the old geezers sit in the front seats to better grasp what's going on. The sharper eared whaine can hear just fine from further back.

Mind you, if we're talking about ditching archaic mumbo-jumbo from Parliament, the Speaker could fire Black Rod and the pseudo-Beefeaters that open Parliament.