I recently overheard an insensitive remark and it reminded me how much cultural intolerance towards Maori still irritates me. What was worse was that the person thought they were being funny. I think New Zealand has a remarkable culture, and it’s something that we should all be proud of. However, placing a bone or pounamu carving around your neck does not make you culturally aware.
I had the privilege of working for a prominent Maori leader for three years. When I first started in the role, I considered myself culturally aware but time quickly showed how little I knew. Working there helped me gain a greater understanding of tikanga Maori. Tikanga are customs and traditions that have been handed down through the generations and include such things as:
- the importance of being formally welcomed onto a marae;
- treating kaumatua with respect; and
There are also the things that people “just know” but if you aren’t told …. well the old saying you don’t know what you don’t know rings true. Actions to be aware of include:
- why it is inappropriate for someone to sit on a desk or table;
- the importance of removing your footwear before entering the wharenui; and
- allowing manuhiri to serve themselves their kai first.
Learning the importance of these things has enhanced my outlook on life, both personally and professionally, and I would encourage all Kiwi’s to embrace New Zealand’s uniqueness.