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Entry 323, on 2006-05-08 at 17:02:33 (Rating 4, News)

A controversy which erupts every now and again here in New Zealand is how visitors to Maori maraes should behave (for non New Zealanders out there, the Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand, and a marae is like a traditional community). The problem is that, according to protocol, women are required to sit behind the men in traditional meetings. Many women see this as a form of discrimination (and it is, of course) but supporters of the tradition point out it is in many ways a form of compliment and not meant to be an insult (and this is also true).

I have blogged about this before but I have changed my opinion slightly so I thought I should re-visit the subject. I think the answer is compromise. Many people have said these women are visitors to the marae so they should follow the rules there. But it is equally valid to say the leaders of the marae know about the problems this tradition causes their guests and, as good hosts, they should have enough consideration to try to make them comfortable there.

In the recent incident the (quite senior) female visitors insisted on sitting at the front and were the victims of an aggressive display from the (male Maori) speaker including traditional gestures such as sticking out the tongue. At that point they walked out to avoid further problems. That seems fair to me. I fully accept that there was an element of politics in this as well, but that doesn't detract from the fundamental problem.

Unfortunately, many people are required to attend these meetings even though they know there will be problems. I think that if someone has to attend a particular event then deliberately provocative traditions should be avoided. At the same time the visitors should be more tolerant. Compromise is always the best answer.


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