Jan 27, 2012

Breakfast blows it on toi moko

Did anyone watch Breakfast yesterday? If so, did anyone else find it strange that Breakfast selected one Fiona Pienaar, a South African counselling lecturer, to speak on the return of the toi moko heads? The main thrust of the interview was; will Maori obtain closure with the return of the heads? Well, it’s not really about closure. Rather, returning the heads is a cultural imperative. In accordance with tikanga the heads must be returned to their people and whenua (land). I’m not having a go at Pienaar – it’s not her fault Petra Bagust conducted a poor interview. Bagust couldn’t see outside her euroentric prism and failed to grasp what Pienaar said at the beginning of the interview: the toi moko repatriation was about reconnecting the heads to the land – not relieving some sort of grief on the part of Maori. Comparing the toi moko return to Pike River was unhelpful too. Apples and oranges as they say. Bagust’s poor form continued throughout the interview. At the end of the interview she asked Pienaar, the South African counsellor remember, how Maori would be feeling. Uhhhm, if you wanted to ask those sorts of questions why didn’t you just get a Maori, Petra? Surely it’s easy to find a Maori who can speak competently on toi moko. I wonder if the Breakfast team is too lazy too find one, or they think an academic knows more than the average Maori.

UPDATE: Having said that, Lucas De Jong did well this morning covering the toi moko ceremony at Te Papa. Or at least it looked like he did - I wasn't paying much attention after yesterday's effort to be honest.


  1. TV3 did a piece from Paris a day or two ago, about the hand-over ceremony. The Europe correspondent said that out of respect for the sacred objects they wouldn't screen footage of the heads. I'm not particularly fussed about seeing them or not seeing them, but I'm wary of superstition influencing media reporting. What's your view? Would showing footage of the heads be culturally insensitive?

    1. hahaha superstition - cuz thats our practice cos we still here! Talking about us like we fucken fairies or something...egg.

  2. Hi Ethan

    I think it depends. Most Maori wouldn't find it offensive in the slightest (I think more than a few would actually like to know what a toi moko head looks like). However, with the tapu (sacred and restricted) nature of the heads it could be deemed culturally inappropriate. Some Maori restrict filming of tupapaku (a dead body). A piece on Native Affairs last year was the first case, to my knowledge anyway, that a Maori tupapaku was filmed and screened. The family decided to dispense with the customs around filming. It didn't cause any offence, in fact the piece generated praise, so I would imagine that filming the toi moko wouldn't meet much of an angry response, although room exists for it to be deemed culturally insensitive/inappropriate.

  3. Personally, I don't want to see dead people, or their remains, on tv when my kids could see it. That includes programmes before 8 pm

  4. Thanks Morgan. I agree with Anon that showing corpses on TV would generally be regarded as socially unacceptable, but I think there's a sliding scale at work here. I doubt many people would object to TV images of ancient mummies; I've seen plenty close up and while it's certainly a bit of a ghoulish experience, it's also fascinating. But on the other hand I was somewhat offended when (years ago) Holmes illustrated a footling story about the JFK assassination by playing the actual moment of death from the Zapruder footage. I thought screening that footage at 7pm or any other time was insensitive and uncalled-for.

    I would tend to place the toi moko in the same category as Egyptian mummies. Their deaths occurred generations ago, and (correct me if I'm wrong) no-one alive today could make reliable claims to know who these poor individuals were, and to claim direct kinship with them. That doesn't stop us respecting their memory and acknowledging the hurt their ignominious fate caused. But equally that doesn't mean that people's natural curiosity about the heads should be trumped by superstition.



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