Avoiding Māori cultural appropriation: A reference guide

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Following last week’s discussion about the inappropriate use of Māori culture in advertising, Steph Coutts of New Zealand’s Craft Beer College has shared an excellent resource byMāori cultural advisor Karaitiana Taiuru.

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Māori are tangata whenua (people) | Māori culture is taonga (sacred)

Purpose of this document

This document is intended to provide high-level guidance to prevent issues of Māori cultural appropriation in beer, beer events, and beer sales and marketing.

Who is this document for?

This document is intended for use by anyone working in, or with, the brewing industry in Aotearoa/New Zealand and overseas. This includes brewers, breweries, and all of those selling or marketing beer.

Background to this document

Aotearoa/New Zealand brewing ingredients and breweries and beer have global reach. This has resulted in an increasing number of instances where Māori and Māori culture have been used as sales and marketing tools.

The use of Māori, including images of people, and Māori culture, including images such as the tā moko, in beer sales and marketing causes offence to Māori. At best it is ill-informed, at worst it is racist. It is simple to show the New Zealand nature of your product as there is a lot of “kiwi” imagery which will not result in offence or in cultural appropriation.

Key points:

  • Māori are tangata whenua (people). They are the first people of Aotearoa/New Zealand
  • Māori culture is taonga (sacred). It is owned by Māori
  • The Māori people and their culture are not a sales and marketing tool
  • Tā moko, a traditional Māori tattoo, is highly personal and belongs to an individual
  • It is not appropriate to associate the dead with the living, or the dead with food or beverages
  • The tiki is a representation of fertility, and should not be associated with alcohol
  • The māhunga (head) is considered sacred and should not be linked with beverages, especially alcohol

Detailed guidance

Using images of Māori or from Māori culture to sell or market beer, or promote beer events implies that the beer is a Māori product, or that the beer event is endorsed by Māori.

Implying Māori endorsement of a beer or a beer event is incorrect and misleading unless specific advice has been sought from an appropriate Māori representative, or local iwi if using iwi landmarks and icons.

It is essential to remember that Māori are tangata whenua, they are people – the first people of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Māori are not fictional characters to be exploited as a sales or marketing tool.
Māori culture is taonga (sacred) to, and owned by, Māori.

The Māori culture, and representations of it are generally regional. Images and waiata (songs) will generally belong to a specific iwi (tribe), hapū (kinship group) or whānau (family group). Permission needs to be sought from the correct people before any Māori cultural representations can be used.

Māori culture is not a sales and marketing tool open to all for use.

Tā moko is especially sacred in Māori culture. This is because it is specific to an individual and is a graphical representation of a person’s genealogy and life’s achievements. Using tā moko in the sales and marketing of alcohol is being disrespectful to the person’s whole genealogy.

It has the potential to be seriously offensive to Māori generally, and particularly the whanaunga (relatives) of the person from whom the tā moko is stolen. If a representation is not a true tā moko, it is, simply put, cultural appropriation.

It is a further breach of tikanga (custom) to associate a stolen tā moko with a person who is dead. It is not appropriate to associate the dead with the living, or the dead with food or beverages.

The tiki is a representation of the Māori deity of fertility. It is a customary belief that is still practiced by some, that images and carvings of deities are used for worshiping the deity.

Images and carvings of tiki were placed around the neck of couples who were trying to conceive a baby. The tiki is a sign of fertility and should not be used to promote alcohol, especially considering its harmful effects during pregnancy.

The head (māhunga) has special significance to Māori and should not be linked with food or beverages, especially alcohol. The head should not be touched, so having a Māori face or head on any beer marketing materials or packages that might be touched is highly offensive. It has the connotation of squeezing blood and biological material from a head.

It also has the further, negative historical connotation of the time where Europeans collected and traded Māori heads. Some remain stolen today, in museums and other overseas institutions. Linking the head to beer and beer events can be a painful reminder of this.

The use of Māori and Māori culture in beer sales and marketing fails to recognise that Māori had no experience or association with alcohol before the European occupation of their land. For Māori, the European occupation of Aotearoa/New Zealand has led to the denigration of their people and culture. The introduction of alcohol has also created issues that were previously unknown to Māori.

The association of Māori and Māori culture with beer and beer events further disrespects and denigrates Māori and their culture. At a fundamental level, there is no link between Māori and beer. Non-Māori people should not create false connections appropriating Māori and their culture.

Where to get further information and guidance:

  • You can find details of iwi in New Zealand here
  • Karaitiana Taiuru offers free initial advice on Māori branding and culture issues
  • Karaitiana has written a number of useful articles on his blog

About this document:

The advice about Māori culture and custom in this document was received from Karaitiana Taiuru. Karaitiana is a Māori cultural advisor with diverse experience and a diverse whakapapa in Ngāi Tahu.

This document was prepared by Stephanie Coutts, of Paisley Consulting Ltd and Craft Beer College. Stephanie is a consultant legislative and policy advisor, and beer educator and a certified cicerone.

The document was edited by and based on articles written by Denise Garland. Denise is a former Radio New Zealand reporter and producer, and a beer writer.

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