Thursday, August 16, 2012

Karl du Fresne: State Radio Reports Maori Gods angry at asset sales


Due respect for Maori culture is one thing. Expecting us to swallow wild superstition is quite another – yet I heard a reporter on Morning Report this morning solemnly relaying a Maori warning that recent volcanic activity on White Island and Mt Tongariro was a sign that Ruamoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, was unhappy about the way the government was proceeding with the partial sale of state assets.

This comes only a couple of weeks after the Maori Council’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, invoked the Maori belief in taniwha at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on water rights.

I suppose some people might see it as valid to cite taniwha as symbolic spiritual guardians of the waterways, which presumably is what Geiringer was trying to convey. But then he went further: “People say ‘in this resource is my taniwha, my guardian spirit. He protects me, he protects my water resource. He’s not your taniwha so if you are going to use that resource without my permission, he will do terrible things to you’.”

This invites ridicule. It crosses the line between politically correct genuflection to Maori cultural beliefs – which you could argue, at a stretch, is a legitimate theatrical ploy for a lawyer wanting to wring the most out of an argument before the Waitangi Tribunal – and outright shamanism. I can imagine Geiringer’s late father, a notorious contrarian and iconoclast, snorting with derision.

As if citing taniwha wasn’t bad enough, we’re reduced to an even more abject embrace of stone-age superstition when the state-owned radio network can report, with a straight face, that the Maori god of earthquakes and volcanoes is cutting up rough because he (she?) doesn’t like what the government is doing.

What next? Will we be told that Tangaroa, the sea god, might unleash a tsunami that will rise up from Wellington Harbour and destroy the Beehive? Will Radio New Zealand report that John Key is at risk of being hit by a bolt of lightning directed at his head by Tawhirimatea, the weather god? Once we bow to this atavistic mumbo-jumbo, anything becomes possible.  

6 comments:

Ray S said...

If it wasn't for fear of invoking the wrath of the god of seriousness, I would laugh out loud. I did however laugh out loud when the government of the day paid a large sum of cash to placate a taniwha in the Waikato during construction of the Waikato expressway. I wish my gods had as much influence.

Anonymous said...

Ruamoko will be furious when he finds out about Maori crime and child abuse stats - Stuart L

21-20 said...

Don't knock it—in politics everyone is out for what he can get. So the Maoris are getting good leverage out of this tool, regardless of whether they or anyone else gives it credence.
So when it comes to milking the Public Cow they're quids in. Is that silly superstition on their part?
Politically adroit I will accept, silly superstitious nonsense, no. No way. Well done, I say‚give credit where it's due; and more the fool the rest of us taxpayers for accepting it.

Anonymous said...

I think taniwha is closely related to 'the bogey man' who inhabited the local canal in Stoke on Trent when I was a young boy.
Both the bogey man and the taniwha have the desired effect of making young children wary and cautious around the water.

Anonymous said...

What absolute nonsense from a State Radio allowing such a report air time. We will be the laughing stock of the world soon. We don't allow Nativity scenes in our Christmas parades any more, but we allow this claptrap to be given air time....

Anonymous said...

It seems that we now have a fundamental philosophical divergence between Maori and Europeans on the origins of sovereignty. This is a huge problem for a democratic country.

Modern democracies (post the enlightenment) are based up-on the principal of individual sovereignty - those that govern us do so because we have individually agreed that we will forfeit some individual rights (effectively transfer them) to the state in order to better govern society. Property was owned by the individual, except for what was agreed (via democratic decision-making) to be handed over to the state to manage on the citizens' behalf. This became the basis of the Glorious revolution in 1688 and the French Revolution in 1789. It replaced the former system based upon the 'divine right of kings'- that is, kings governed because God(s) chose them to have the power to govern all within their domain. Under the 'divine right', kings held all rights (property and otherwise), and only those that they specifically granted to others passed from their control. Under the divine right model, whole states passed from one king to another by way of conquest (possible only because the losing king had sufficiently displeased his God, which explained the loss) or inheritance (where the scions of warring parties inherited both sets of rights as a means of making/keeping the peace).

It seems that Maori principles of the laws of governance derive directly from the 'divine right' school of thought. Rights are conferred by gods, are strictly non-transferrable outside of the 'royal line' except by way of chiefly gift. The individual has no rights in this model except those expressly granted to them by the 'chiefly authority'. It is profoundly undemocratic. It is also contrary to any system that recognises the state as the sum of the individuals from whom it derives its legitimacy to govern them.

Unless this fundamental [philosophical difference in the derivation of the rights to govern is resoled, there will be no way of reconciling the differences between Maori and the Crown (which stands as trustee for the individuals in a modern democratic Westminster state).