Cultural appropriation is where the members of a dominant grouping in society use and – well, appropriate – take the signifiers of the culture of an oppressed or dispossessed part of society. You know, if a white Australian blows a digeridoo as Rolf Harris did then that’s cultural appropriation from the Aborigines. If a white bloke makes green curry – no, really, this has been seriously asserted – then that’s such from SE Asians. A sombrero while eating tacos – no, again, something seriouosly asserted – from Mexicans (or Latinos, Chicanos, dependent upon the rightonness of the complainant).

So, what are we to make of this?

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has caused a stir with a striking image of her walking the halls of Buckingham Palace swathed in a traditional Māori cloak during this week’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

The prime minister wore a Kahu huruhuru; a Māori cloak adorned with feathers and bestowed on chiefs and dignitaries to convey prestige, respect and power, said Mark Sykes, guardian of Māori special collections at Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.

Sykes said Ardern’s choice was a proud moment for Māori around the world. “Cloaks are worn for warmth, protection and to symbolise your status and mana [power],” said Sykes. “I think it shows how she is portraying herself as a leader of Māori, of all of New Zealand, of everyone. It made me feel proud. She wore it well. She wore it so well.”

On social media in New Zealand the striking image went viral, with many people commenting that the picture captured the inversion of traditional gender roles; a female world leader wearing a powerful cloak while pregnant and representing her country.

We do, after all, have to insist that the Maori are oppressed in New Zealand society. Absolutely nothing at all about politics there makes sense without agreeing with that point. Ardern is one of the oppressing class, descended as she is from Northern Europeans doing all that oppressing. And her wearing a Maori cloak is obviously appropriation from that non-dominant culture.

So, how do we explain this? That this is all being praised and not condemned by the usual suspects?

Ideologically, Ardern describes herself as both a social democrat and a progressive

Oh yes, silly me. It’s different when progressives do it, isn’t it?

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21 COMMENTS

  1. You’ve got to be kidding, haha. It’s not cultural appropriation if the culture gave you the thing and asked you to wear it. It’s cultural appropriation if you take the thing without asking or without considering the history and social impact of wearing the thing.

    Also, just because one guy said a dumb thing, doesn’t mean that dumb thing represents the opinions of all his mates. Obviously, no one except that one crazy guy on Twitter thinks you’re not allowed to make green curry. But otherwise, yes, enforcing caricatures is damaging to minority cultures.

    Your views are black and white and show no understanding of what you’re trying to start a discussion about. I also find it a little amusing – you sitting there in your sombrero because you think it’s funny, complaining about a woman wearing a Kahu huruhuru as she represents a tiny group of people in front of one of the most powerful people in the world.

    Ah, perspective and context.

    • I do stuff all the time “without considering the history and social impact.” And I come here partly because I enjoy that Tim’s “views are black and white.” Your adversaries lack “perspective and context” and “show no understanding”? Only the sanctimonious leftie does.

      Tim, “I’m sitting in a sombrero?” is to ask where Colonel Mustard shot the victim, in the conservatory or in the left buttock. I see no evidence that Coyiz doesn’t know what a sombrero is.

    • +Coyiz such logic. On a trip to Cancun I buy a sombrero and poncho from what appears to be a genuine Mexican. Is this cultural appropriation, no. I now wear said sombrero and poncho to a costume party attended chiefly by non-Mexicans. Is this cultural appropriation, according to you yes. You see, you have attempted to spin a web of deceit from words cunningly woven together, i.e. a word-based argument that actually means f-all like the one about whether you can walk around a person who keeps turning to face you. Regarding Ardern I read you as saying that in this one special, unique and unrepeatable instance the intentions of the giver were important (the subjective approach) whereas if anyone else were to do so the only test would be, is the garment an integral part of that person’s racial, cultural and historical identity (the objective approach). As the saying goes, you are hoist by your own petard.

  2. “Cultural appropriation” is the essence of separatism. That the majority honors the minority by adopting its insignia — such as a university calling its athletic teams the Seminoles — is an honor, and taking offense is the old chip-on-the-shoulder.

    But a political leader of a nation whose politics disfavors the Māori wearing a Māori cloak is not honor but the usual fakery, as when John Kerry goes to Ohio and asks, “Can ah get me a huntin’ license here?”

  3. What is it called when the dominated group adopts things from the dominating group? For example, in rural Mexico you won’t really see a lot of people wearing stereotypical ultra wide sombreros unless they are mariachis, but you will see them wearing regular cowboy hats. Ditto on American Indian reservations. Should that be condemned?

    • Yup, they will sell you a mariachi hat in any crafts bazaar, but what people in the desert wear is handed-down T-shirts commemorating obscure anniversaries of small U.S. towns, which Pepsi paid to have printed up with its logo.

  4. The problem with cultural appropiation as well as manspreading microaggressions and all the bollocks of lefty rhetoric is that any and all of them should be dismissed as bollocks at every opportunity. Don’t let them raise it, point out how ridiculous it is, every time. Never be seen to be giving any of these desperate memes any consideration al all. Don’t judge case by case, dismiss all loudly and with as much derision as possible. They are not to be taken seriously, and nobody’s action after getting the wrong side of some snowflake whinger is to be excused or apologised for.

  5. Cultural appropriation in the sense the SJWs mean simply isn’t an issue in NZ.

    There are some race issues, but this isn’t one of them. Maori tend to take the opposite view — that theirs is the native culture and immigrants should move to it.

    People are strongly encouraged to use Maori terms and ways, regardless of race (and it can cause friction if they do so reluctantly). There’s fuss at the moment about people not pronouncing names correctly — educated people are expected to be able to do so.

    The vast majority of NZ like it that way.

    Also Ardern doesn’t get a pass because she’s progressive. Lots of dignitaries of all stripes get given cloaks — churchmen, Prince Charles, Ritchie McCaw. Hell, we gave one to an Aussie teacher at my school. It’s commonplace and unremarkable.

    What’s unusual is Ardern making a fuss about it. That’s pure politics.

  6. Not quite BNIC, they keep it in house, but anyone is free to use it if considered eligible.

    They do market what they have quite well though, given it was a stone age culture so not a lot to work with (tbf there wasn’t any free metal to work up like other places).

    The big problem is that now the tribes have sorted their shit out and got functioning business arms it’s 40 years too late. The whole tribal system is falling apart as people marry outside the tribe.

    A modern “Maori” might be 1/8 Ngai Tahu, 1/8 Tainui, 1/4 Cook Island and 1/2 European and live in Auckland (not the area for Tainui or Ngai Tahu). What tribe they associate with then is more than a little fraught.

    The next round of Maori strife will be between young modern urban people with good jobs in the big cities and old traditionalist types back in their rural homelands.

  7. A few thoughts on CA:
    Exactly whose permission does one get in order for this to be OK? For years there has been a row in the U.S. over the nickname of the Washington Redskins football team, with a concerted effort to get them to change it. Then someone did a survey of American Indians and found that a piddling number of them gave a fling flip about it. Since then it’s mostly gone quiet.
    I remember a story a year or two back about two white women who ran a food truck business and were selling tortillas that they learned to make by watching Mexican women. They were forced to close up shop because CA!
    There was a movement on U.S. college campuses to “encourage” white girls not to wear hoop earrings, because CA!
    The last example seems to be a simple case of the left enjoying its absolute favorite pastime – telling other people what to do.

  8. There was something bothering me about the article written and then it hit me – the fact that you flipped off what some respected Maori elders/experts like Mark Sykes have been saying – that they see Jacinda wearing the cloak as a statement as our leader representing Maori and Kiwis as one. Now I won’t lie, I’ve been trying to find some information on you to know who you are and to see in what context you’re coming from. I do agree there are cases of cultural appropriation and I have publicly pointed it out when I think it was warranted but in this case I believe its the reverse. So the thing that bothered me is here I’m guessing this piece is written by someone who is not either from New Zealand, doesn’t understand the ongoing relationship NZ has with Maori (and for the record – the US had 600 treaties with Native American peoples, not one was honoured). NZ has only the one but I believe its a living document because respective governments especially of the last few decades have been trying to address the broken promises written in the Treaty. As a 50 year old Samoan woman born and raised in Wellington, NZ – I’ve seen my share of bigotry and racial divide but I have also seen a society growing and learning from ignorance, learning to embrace the culture of its first peoples as well as learning to embrace other cultures. Its not perfect but its a darn site better than it was 30-40 years ago and its people know it can do better. So lets start with your lack of respect to the Maori who were more than happy (and grateful) to loan her this special cloak as well as your lack of respect to the Maori elders who saw this in a different light and not that of cultural appropriation. Your lack of respect reminds me of the condescending attitudes I saw from some pakeha (especially older white males) back in the 70 and 80s. I suggest you do your homework more thoroughly before engaging or assuming in something you simply haven’t bothered to find out. Now how’s that for cultural assumption!

  9. I am the husband of PolyWomaninNZ. I am an American immigrant that has been living in NZ more than 17 years. I am involved with the Maori community (forgive me as I don’t have the macrons used in written te reo Maori for this response) through friends, through my local marae and through my local community and my work. So many things that were once Maori culture are now NZ culture…Kia ora or the haka at weddings or funerals. Or the wearing of Maori cloaks at special occasions. This is not an appropriation of the culture but a sharing of the culture. It is a way for our PM to say she is proud of that unique culture. She didn’t want to imply that she is Maori but was given the chance to represent (some if not all) Maori and all of NZ by sharing this beautiful cloak and the mana (prestige) it represents. She in no way intended it to offend that culture, especially since it was given to her to wear by Maori. I think she intended it represent that culture, to let everyone know that culture is alive and thriving.

    There are te reo maori schools in this country where only te reo Maori is spoken. About half (maybe more) of the students are not Maori. So many parents here want their children to know the first language of this country. Again, what was once Maori is now becoming NZ but is given full respect as coming from NZ’s original people and culture.

    I don’t know what culture or country you are from but I don’t think it is fair for you to criticise a part of our culture without understanding it. If you are American or English then I would expect you to be thoroughly knowledgeable of your countries history of assimilation of cultures. NZ is trying (slowly and sometimes not that well) to rectify the wrongs bestowed on the indigenous people of this country. Where ever you are can you say the same is happening?

    • “I don’t know what culture or country you are from but I don’t think it is fair for you to criticise a part of our culture”

      You’ve rather missed the point. This was very much more a snide reference to our own social justice warriors here in the UK than it was a reference to anything elsewhere. The *example* is from NZ, the *point* is about the UK

    • Agree with Tim. We are no more harming Kiwis by commenting on events and symbolism there than I am harming Mexicans by enjoying a good burrito. Of course our understanding of NZ context will not be as complete as yours. But your confrontational interpretation of it as “criticism” smells just like American blacks’ interpretation of many things as “racism” when it doesn’t play out to their advantage.

    • PS — So “wearing the cloak as a statement as our leader representing Maori and Kiwis as one” versus other wearings being cultural appropriation? It strikes me as the same inscrutable difference between the recommended burning of a tattered flag in reverence, versus burning the national flag in protest. I take it one is only permitted to do what the PM did if you, asserting some connection to the aboriginals, approve of it.

      By the way, call it CA, but I don’t like the reference to the big bad United States as a benchmark for bad treatment of First Peoples, against which to compare NZ. There are nuances to the treaty with each tribe, and the Mrs obviously felt just as little need to research them.