so i've been avoiding the discussion here regarding the whole te papa issue - well, not so much avoiding it as not engaging in it. the discussion has been pretty hostile in places, with some good stuff in amongst it.
i have been taking part in some really useful discussions on facebook, as well as watching another discussion thread that had the heavy involvement of maori women and men. the latter i found really useful, because i was interested to learn about how maori see these issues, and where the debate is at with them.
i'm not sure yet what i feel about it all. i can understand the need to have debate when there's an element of exclusion being applied to people who don't share a particular set of beliefs - though i'm not entirely sure that's what is happening here. i think also that there is the natural conflict that arises when the values of two cultures are incompatible and one will have to give way to the other. i can certainly understand the frustration of a minority culture who have been the ones to give way for any number of decades, and have only recently been able to assert their own positions in any meaningful way.
on facebook, i gave a couple of examples where i've had to face what i can only describe as a clash of cultures. one was the example of having to hongi with males when on the marae, which was a situation i had to face back in waitangi day 2006. it's something i don't feel comfortable with, because of my own personal beliefs. on the other hand, i don't want to be disrespectful of the traditions of the people and the place where i am.
another experience was at a fiji day celebration in manukau back in 2008. they were having some kind of kava cermony (apologies for my ignorance of the proper wording). there i was, sitting right up the front, and desperately hoping that i wouldn't be offered any. given that it causes drunkenness when taken in large quantities, it comes into the category of alcohol & drugs ie a no-no for me. luckily they didn't offer me any, but i just don't know how i could have responded without giving offence if they had.
i can give lots more examples. there are times when compromise is difficult, and other times when it just isn't a good idea. when basic values of justice and equity collide with practices that seem to be grossly unfair, someone does need to take a stand.
is this one of those times? i'm still not ready to answer that question. the debate i saw amongst maori was quite varied. many were ready to move on from this practice, there were others who valued it. some of the differences in opinion were as a result of being from different iwi.
there's been a lot in the comments here about the reasoning behind the practice, some of it being summarily dismissed. others have interpreted the practice from the lense of their own cultural history, which has treated menstruation as something unclean, and have refused to accept an alternative explanation when presented with it. but the biggest problem by far is the notion that one groups cultural practice may be used to impinge on the freedoms of others outside the group.
it reminds me of the case some years back of the woman working at MSD who refused to sit at the back during a powhiri because she felt it was against her personal beliefs. there was a lot of noise around that issue, and i remember she ended up losing her job, though that was because of her going to the media without her employer's position. it's a similar issue though, and there needs to be a way to negotiate through these cultural clashes in a manner that is better than what we are seeing so far.
like one of the maori women suggesting a solution to my problem with the hongi. she first asked me what i would feel comfortable with. i said i could cope with a handshake, because it didn't involve the same degree of personal closeness. her reply:
If it was me in that situation, I would compose a short sentence to use as I approached each person. For example, "I am sorry I cannot hongi you due to my culture, but please accept my greetings" and offer your hand. Sometimes we need to be educated in the ways of other cultures too.
i thought that was a lovely solution, and a offered with an attitude of respect for my dilemma. i think it's possible to negotiate solutions and have people move forward if we could only approach these issues with a feeling of goodwill. there seems to have been too little of that today, and not just today but every time a similar situation comes up. often, movement happens best in incremental steps. pushing too hard just results in people pushing back.