Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cannibalism and Beauty Pageants

As a footnote to my previous post about the performance of the Haka by a beauty queen it is worthwhile considering culture within the framework of being a brand.

Like brands culture changes over time. Like brands culture is defined by its users as well as its traditions. In western cultures women were once considered inferior to men. In many cases they were considered chattels belonging to their husbands, like livestock. That is no longer the case, the culture has adapted itself to meet the demands of its users.

Maori culture is widely promoted as representative of New Zealand. Much of it has been adopted by non-maori. We accept the haka as something that 'belongs' to New Zealanders. When the national rugby team , the All Blacks, play they perform a haka before the match. When the team led by Tana Umanga changed the haka from the traditional Kamate Kamate version to a new one there was a hue and cry from the wider population. The new version included a movement that represented the slitting of the opponents throat. Gross and unnecessary I thought - rugby is a game, after all; and probably culturally insensitive to opponents on the field.

In the news yesterday there was also discussion about the Maori tradition of eating their defeated rivals after battles. Obviously it was in integral part of Maori culture. Needless to say the practice is no longer considered an essential part of Maori life. A new book examines the practice and revises the thinking on the reasons for the practice in the first place. It has been widely assumed that eating the vanquished increased the mana of the eater. Nice theory, but not the case, according to historian Professor Paul Moon in his book The Horrid Practice. He says the history of the practice was rewrtten to be more acceptible

"With engagement with Anglican and Catholic Churches, Maori were starting to feel shame at cannibalism, alongside a desire to reshape or excuse past behaviour, Moon said.

"They thought, `Well Christianity has the communion which is symbolic cannibalism where the bread and the wine become the flesh and blood of Christ'. You consume it and you consume your god, so really, it's a grafting of Christian ideas on to traditional cannibalism. Therefore, you consume your enemy, you consume their mana.""

Cultures change and Maori culture is no different. The criticism of the beauty queen is absurd - especially when one of the critics is another beauty queen from a rival pageant.

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