Maori culture taking off overseas

"Maori Cool" is taking off globally, with benefits looming for the whole economy, a report says.

But there are fears the boom could lead to Maori losing control of their culture - and prompting questions about why that culture is more likely to be embraced overseas than at home.

The study, commissioned by Maori Development Ministry Te Puni Kokiri and made public today, says there is increasing demand for all things Maori, especially from overseas. "In simple terms, it appears to be cool to be Maori, and it is eagerly sought globally."

The boost Kiwi golfer Michael Campbell's success gave to Petone clothing brand Kia Kaha was cited by the report as an example of Maori culture gelling with international markets. "Maori may open more doors, or allow the doors to remain open longer, as a result of cultural similarities."

Campbell and Kia Kaha joined forces in 2004 to create Cambo Clothing, after Campbell left a lucrative Nike contract. He went on to win the US Open in the full glare of the world's sports media a year later.

Barbara Thompson of Kia Kaha said interest in the brand was now huge. "It seems to cause a real awakening in everybody."

Kia Kaha was in the process of presenting a fashion show for the Philippines Government and had also made inroads into the British market.

Te Puni Kokiri chief executive Leith Comer said the use of Maori culture could give New Zealand a competitive advantage.

"Points of difference are potentially very valuable and traditional Maori values, activities and protocols are providing Maori with natural advantages they can exploit."

But Victoria University Maori studies head Peter Adds said though there was no doubt Maori culture was taking off overseas, that came with risks. "There is a real chance that intellectual property rights may be lost, and that Maori won't benefit from it."

Victoria University Maori business senior lecturer Aroha Mead said the report was "ironic".

"It's cool to be Maori overseas, but for us here, it's a daily struggle."

In 2003, Auckland multimedia designer Maruhaeremuri Nihoniho created Maia, a Maori version of Lara Croft, for console games such as PlayStation and X-Box. She consulted intellectual property specialists and iwi while building the game.

This year the Waitangi Commission is expected to report on rights regarding Maori knowledge, and indigenous flora and fauna.


The Dominion Post