Apr 6, 2011

On the plastic waka controversy

I feel obligated to defend the decision to award $1.8m to Ngati Whatua to build a plastic waka for the Rugby World Cup. However, I’ll look at it both ways.

Firstly, there should be a Maori presence during the RWC. Secondly, I do not buy the criticism that the waka is “plastic” – in both a literal and figurative sense. The waka will serve as a testament to the tangata whenua (Ngati Whatua) and a symbolic tribute to the Maori culture. The fact that the waka will be plastic will probably make no difference, aesthetically speaking. Thirdly, BB points out:

After all there are by our reckoning a fair few Maori in the All Black Team. They have adopted a traditional Haka as their own. The World Cup imagery is laced with a modern take on traditional Maori designs.

Fourthly, in the scheme of things, $2m is utterly inconsequential. Fifthly, as far as we know the waka will generate revenue.

However, having said all of that I think Gordon Campbell makes an excellent point:

Reportedly, the related costs from the management, transport and storage of the waka mean that the entire enterprise is being budgeted – right from the outset – to lose money. Which raises the interesting prospect of whether the giant plastic waka has also been created from the outset as a tax write-off.

Admittedly, this is less than ideal. Consider this as well:

The whole episode with the plastic waka is not a good look for Maori entrepreneurship. Surely, someone in the Maori bureaucracy must have asked whether the most visible icon of Maori culture related to the Rugby World Cup should be a 60 metre long plastic canoe

I tend to agree with this.

Shane Jones take on this is pretty cringe worthy, yet he makes a number of valid points. He is right in pointing out that it is merely a stunt, an election year sop. However, he is wrong in writing it off completely. The waka will serve well as an attraction and will most certainly be utilised. The question though is will it be sustainable. 

I'll end by pointing out that this issue is such an easy target. An incredibly easy target. The media knows Maori issues lead well and can be sustained across several new cycles. And the public love it.


  1. Kia Ora Morgan,
    I felt so resentful when I saw the news of this playing out on TV. 1st Thought: WHAT other representation of Tangata Whenua have they thought about? People are coming to Aotearoa - Māori are intrinsically what makes Aotearoa NOT Australia or the UK etc. 2nd Thought: The plastic rugby ball - Sorry - I don't remember any front page news articles about the money being spent on these kinds of POINTLESS pieces. 3rd Thought: Shame it has to be plastic and shame if it is to be plastic that it isn't beautifully carved looking and painted. (Even the whakairo at my Wānanga which is made of plastic looks more 'Māori' than the white on this waka 4th) Thought: GOOD ON YOU Ngati Whatua! 5th Thought: I hope they do us proud with non-tourist, authentic representation of te Ao Māori in the interaction in and around this waka.

  2. Kia ora Amber,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree entirely!

  3. I agree with the sentiment of your post Amber, but I take issue at the implication that anytime Maori use synthetic materials in the construction of some object that this is necessarily offensive to Maori.

    It reminds me of numerous digs I've encountered over the years such as derisive comments aimed at ta moko artists for using modern ink guns or at wood carvers for using chainsaws.

    The ethnocentric implication here is that Maori culture is fixed and if we decide to use ink guns, chainsaws or synthetic materials then we risk being fake somehow. I find it inconceivable that we would use the same type of argument against Pakeha. In fact, if something is considered "modern" then you'd almost expect it to be used by Pakeha. This is the natural and normal order of things. But when Maori do the same, all of a sudden people raise questions of cultural authenticity.

    I'm not saying you must like the "plastic" waka, but this "Tupperware" label smells of Pakeha double standards.

    Do we consider Pakeha any less Pakeha for creating that monstrosity otherwise known as Party Central?

    If you stop to consider some basic design requirements (e.g. ease of assembly disassembly, storage, weather resistance, ease of transport, lead time for construction) then you could argue that the materials make sense.



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