Maori Tattoos, Rugby and Nationalism-NYTimes content analysis

Fourteen articles have been published in the NYTimes on the Maori from the time period of January 1, 2011 to November 13, 2011.  In my content analysis, there were three major patterns that surfaced. Maori are most often mentioned in relation to their infamous tattoos (four articles out of fourteen), their haka performance at the beginning of a national rugby game (three out of fourteen), or in reference to a national New Zealand identity (three out of fourteen).

261 Hangover Maori Tattoo

In two articles, Maori are mentioned for the tattoo that influenced both the actor Ed Helms’ in “The Hangover Part II” acquired for the movie and the “original” tattoo that exists on Mike Tyson’s face.

The four articles talking about Maori tattoos were all based on the above example of the inspiration it has given tattoo artists, never for its Maori cultural significance.

When discussing the haka, it was always discussed in terms of the performance that occurred a rugby match.  One article informs the reader that the International Rugby Board chose New Zealand for its “rich rugby heritage” and its reputation “…among tourists for its hospitality, Maori culture and spectacular scenery”.  The article continues to describe a Maori welcoming ritual called the powhiri that was performed by Maori at the World Cup championship in 2007.  The description of the ritual is brief but accurate: “The players were greeted by a Maori warrior who laid down a piece of vine, or rau, for the captain, John Smith, to pick up as a signal that the team had come in peace.”  This much cultural specificity (even at this brief level) is rare. 

In another article on the New Zealand Rugby World Cup, the Maori are only mentioned  in regards to the opening performance that “fell a little flat.”  The Maori are described as arriving in canoes and singing and dancing and in this way “celebrated New Zealand’s Maori culture and rugby’s rich history”

Many rugby articles that mention the Maori emphasize the “war” aspect of Maori culture when talking about the haka. This poses a serious problem when the main thing you know about the Maori is that they perform a war dance called the haka.  An article stated that the US Rugby team was excited to see the “Maori in-your-face war dance, the Haka.”

Another patter is the naming of the Maori as the “national identity.”  What is so puzzling about this claim is that a nation normally goes to great measures to protect their national identity, but history shows that Maori have experienced the opposite.  They have lost a majority of their land to settlers with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and nearly were wiped out as a population during colonization due to war and diseases!  Fortunately, since the mid 1900s the New Zealand Government, headed by the British Crown, has made efforts to right its wrongs, but only to a certain extent to maintain European dominance over cultural, political and economic facets to New Zealand society.

In an article advertising tourism in the New Zealand city of Wellington, minimal acknowledgement goes to the so claimed “national identity.”  The majority of the article focuses on the popular culture aspects of Wellington, like the untitard wearing street entertainment, bar scene and “Wellywood.”  One paragraph mentions the Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum, when advising the visitor to gain “insight into New Zealand’s national identity.”  The author describes the experience at the museum as having an “earthy, yet spiritual feel” and mentions two different exhibitions: “from the Bush City of native plants at ground level to the top level’s working marae, or meeting place, a traditional structure updated for the 21st century by contemporary Maori artists with whorls of pastel color.”  This example seems to represent “traditional” Maori culture and not contemporary Maori culture, one that is very much incorporated into Western lifestyles.

In another article the author claims that the nation “has incorporated its Maori heritage into daily life. The national museum in Wellington is called Te Papa Tongarewa (container of treasures), and pedestrians greet each other in Maori: ‘Kia ora.’”

These last two articles make the museum seem like a Maori museum, when the Maori, their history and cultural artifacts are part of the main collection, but are not its entirety.  The Maori are featured much like the national plant and animal life (view the museum's list of permanent collections).  It is curious how they both discuss the museum as proving the Maori as the national identity, when museums tend to isolate cultures in a static period of time and in ways that are based on Western perceptions.