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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bashing Maori - performance art at the highest level?

12:50pm: John Tamihere and Willie Jackson on Radio Live are interviewing Richard Mitai-Ngatai over the wero/Maori welcome assault case.

RMN: "I apologise to the man and the nation... I needed to remove the man from the line ... things went awry... I do not apologise for who I am... the realm of sacred ... spur of the moment... should have walked away..."

WJ/JT: Why did you remove him?

RMN: "His gestures were demeaning... police report said it happened at the end...[disputes this] he was the only one that was doing what he was doing... people come on [the marae] ignorant..."

WJ: Was he getting cheeky?

RMN: "[He was] Looking around, smirking and smiling... during the ceremony.. I moved away from the man and selected another person... I was trying to ignor him... I turned to the tourist guide and said remove him... he spoke to him - should have removed him... he stopped what he was doing for a brief moment..."

He's very fortunate to be given 150 hours community service and not 6 months Periodic Detention. Despite being deliberate I don't think a jail term would have been imposed on any man for a single headbutt on another man no matter what the situation - even if they did have previous convictions (which he did not).

Maybe the tourists need to sign a waiver beforehand? "Undersigned may be headbutted or struck with a weapon for continued breach of protocol after warning." Aue!

I'm trying to envisage what actually occured and what the actions of this tourist were that were so offensive. I'm imagining that this guy was just behaving like a gawping jerk who, despite all of the instructions, acted as though he was at Disneyland instead of at a very intense, serious and ritualised performance. He didn't seem to grasp it - he didn't seem to respect the man or the situation. And RMN, after issuing a warning, just lost it. Silly man. He's contrite, he knows that he was wrong and that he made a very silly and regretable mistake. He lost his job because his employers (the Tamaki brothers) are smart and competent operators - he objected to this - but tough luck, headbutting customers constitutes grounds for instant dismissal in any civilian job. Some people don't think he is contrite because he wants to keep his job - that is incorrect - they are different issues.

Performers are sometimes precious in their actions. Some divas/prima donnas are known to have stormed out of their own shows because of cell phones or talking. Nina Simone, amongst others, was supposed to have done things like that... and I kind of respect them for it. It upholds the integrity of their art form. Yes - people get injured/people get only a fraction of what they paid for - but the standards of the performance are maintained and people who attend after this will be even more aware (hopefully if they notice the news) of the importance of adhering to protocol. In that aspect this event actually enhances the culture by making the consequences for participants real.

The problem in RMN's case is that he said the tourist guide was not present when that visitor offended again. Now what was RMN to do? Break character (as it were) interrupt the performance and have this guy disturb and lessen the event for everyone? Or contnue with it and continue to ignor this guy who would continue to disturb and lessen the event for everyone? Or stay in character. Think about it - he must have been fully eye-balling the guy before the headbutt, and that was this guy's last chance to comprehend that if he didn't stop what he was doing he would get it. How many death-looks does a person need from a Maori guy with his eyeballs popping and weilding a taiaha? If this Dutch guy doesn't understand body language and the intent behind a threat then Darwinian evolutionary theory suggests he's going to get it. The Mana of the warrior and the performance demands that this guy behave appropriately, and the honour of the manuhiri also demands that he behave appropriately. Language and "cultural" differences are not really relevant here - he was the only one who just did not have the mental ability to act in a socially acceptable way at that performance.

The more I think about it the less sympathy I have for that Dutch tourist. Let's have an interview with him. It would be good to have his perspective and whether he was on drugs, was retarded or whatever. Maybe it's a reaction to the sulphur down their in 'vegas? Am I being too harsh? Let's find out:

One of these things isn't like the other
A self-preservation test for Dutch tourists



Well, how did you do? Did you know which pictures are of a person trained to take your head off in a single blow with their weapon and which picture is of a person that has a flower that squirts water for the amusement of children?

I can't help but recall Joe Pesci's line in Goodfellas: "Do I amuse you? Do I look like a clown?". Now the Dutch might dress up as "Black Peter" - the negro slaves that assist St. Nicholas/Santa - at Christmas as their cultural contribution to inter-racial awareness, however it seems that even with such a background the ordinary Dutchman could still be expected to comprehend the differences between that and actual people who aren't Dutch and white... surely?

How many times have you been trying to do something important and some dickhead just doesn't get how to behave? You feel like giving them a damn good slap. And now we are reminded why we are best to think it and never do it. Even if in all good people lurks a Joe Pesci pistol-whipping/head stomping urge that just seems so right in the situation; we know that deep down - unless we hold a Crown warrant - there will be inevitable repercussions.


At 18/1/06 8:16 pm, Blogger Herr Dummkopf von Kranken-Brainen said...

I think the essential tension here is the mixing of tourism ("fun") with a serious cultural ceremony ("not to be taken lightly"). Despite warnings at the beginning of the ritual, I think it's hard to believe that visiting tourists wouldn't slip into spectator mode, and think that they were safe behind the fourth wall. Darwinian evolutionary theory doesn't enter into it - this is a performance, not a battlefield. I'm betting the tourist thought it was all part of the show, right up until he got nutted.

Realistically, if the ritual is serious enough to warrant such as extreme reaction to a guy gawping, why is it performed for a group of what are essentially uneducated yokels when it comes to Maori culture and protocol?

Then again, maybe the signed-waiver is a good idea, to reinforce the seriousness of the occasion ...

At 22/1/06 9:36 pm, Blogger Eric Olthwaite said...

Thing is Tim, to everyone else but the performers this is not viewed as a serious cultural ceremony, it is our version of Disneyland. When people come to New Zealand they come to look at the sheep, pretty scenery, and fuzyywuzzies wandering round half naked waving sticks and poking their tongues out. Like it or not it is a point-and-laugh scenario for most people, even if they don't display it outwardly like the Dutch fellow might have. I'm not saying I agree with this perspective, it's just what I think happens.

At 23/1/06 8:43 am, Blogger Mark said...

The fact is, to a lot of visitors, some aspects of Maori culture are funny. Poking out your tongue and rolling your eyes in most countries is treated with jocularity. Maybe the Dutch tourist didn't want to be there and would have preferred to go and see a few more mud pools. Maybe he was forced to go. Who knows?

At 2/2/06 12:51 am, Blogger sagenz said...

I share mr stupids view. A welcome to a marae to a group including tourists would be entitled to be taken very seriously. A performance for tourists for no other reason than monetary gain does not deserve the same respect, even though it may be exactly the same ceremony.
Context is the difference.


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