Due respect for Maori culture is one thing. Expecting us to swallow primitive superstition is quite another – yet I heard a reporter on Morning Report this morning solemnly relaying a Maori warning that recent volcanic activity on White Island and Mt Tongariro was a sign that Ruamoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, was unhappy about the way the government was proceeding with the partial sale of state assets.This comes only a couple of weeks after the Maori Council’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, invoked the Maori belief in taniwha at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on water rights.
I suppose some people might see it as valid to cite taniwha as symbolic spiritual guardians of the waterways, which is what Geiringer was trying to convey. But then he went further: “People say ‘in this resource is my taniwha, my guardian spirit. He protects me, he protects my water resource. He’s not your taniwha so if you are going to use that resource without my permission, he will do terrible things to you’.”This invites ridicule. It crosses the line between politically correct genuflection to Maori cultural beliefs – which you could argue, at a stretch, is a legitimate theatrical ploy for a lawyer wanting to wring the most out of an argument before the Waitangi Tribunal – and outright shamanism. I can imagine Geiringer’s late father, a notorious contrarian and iconoclast, snorting with derision.
As if citing taniwha wasn’t bad enough, we’re reduced to an even more abject embrace of stone-age superstition when the state-owned radio network can report, with a straight face, that the Maori god of earthquakes and volcanoes is cutting up rough because he (she?) doesn’t like what the government is doing.What next? Will we be told that Tangaroa, the sea god, plans to unleash a tsunami that will rise up from Wellington Harbour and destroy the Beehive? Will Radio New Zealand report that John Key is at risk of being hit by a bolt of lightning directed at his head by Tawhirimatea, the weather god? Once we start bowing to atavistic mumbo-jumbo, anything becomes possible.