How a playmate exposed the cultural chasm between Maori and Pakeha

Playboy playmate Jaylene Cook climbed to the top of Mt Taranaki and bared all.

Playboy playmate Jaylene Cook climbed to the top of Mt Taranaki and bared all.

When Jaylene Cook climbed Mt Taranaki to bare all she exposed more than herself. Deena Coster reports on the cultural chasm that still exists between Maori and Pakeha. 

Dennis Ngawhare is getting tired of having to defend his views and values to the world.

Polite and articulate, the Maori man is also well educated. In 2014 he earned his PhD with a thesis focused on Taranaki's most iconic symbol, its mountain.

Mt Taranaki is a part of the region's identity and is considered by iwi to be an ancestor.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Mt Taranaki is a part of the region's identity and is considered by iwi to be an ancestor.

So of all people to know and use the mountain the Onaero man is arguably amongst the most well placed to have an informed and respected opinion on it. 

But when he judged glamour model and former Playboy model Jaylene Cook's naked photo opportunity atop Mt Taranaki as being disrespectful because Maori consider the mountain an ancestor, it was he who faced a backlash.

"They said I was talking rubbish," he says. 

Taranaki man Dennis Ngawhare spoke up for his cultural beliefs and despite the public derision he faced, he would do it ...
Virginia Winder

Taranaki man Dennis Ngawhare spoke up for his cultural beliefs and despite the public derision he faced, he would do it again.

And the online commentary didn't stop at that. Ngawhare's explanations were dismissed as nonsense, superstition, supernatural gobbledegook. As though it was the Maori viewpoint that turned Cook's pose into a scandal rather than Cook's actions themselves. 

Ngawhare was taken aback. To him explaining the mountain was an ancestor and so standing at its peak is similar to standing on your grandfather's head was being helpful.

It didn't mean people shouldn't spend time on the mountain, he says, but they should be mindful about what they do when they visit if they wished to respect the values of the tangata whenua.

Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell believes a lack of understanding for the indigenous culture has gone on ...
KEVIN STENT

Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell believes a lack of understanding for the indigenous culture has gone on for too long.

It's a Maori cultural view point and not a rule but even when people speak up in its defence, they often cop criticism, Ngawhare says. And he's getting sick of that response. 

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"It's constantly having to justify why we behave this way, why we feel this way," he says. 

To minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell the cultural chasm in New Zealand is nothing new.

"There is a general lack of understanding about Maori cultural values and it has been that way for far too long," he says.

Flavell says the uniqueness of Maori culture is what sets New Zealand apart.

"Accepting cultural values is part and parcel of being a global traveller and in promoting tourism to New Zealand it is vital we also highlight, protect and enhance Maori cultural values," he says.

Uluru has been back in the hands of its traditional owners since 1985.
Chris Jackson

Uluru has been back in the hands of its traditional owners since 1985.

And while local and central government have a role to play, Flavell says the "catalyst" for change lies in communities making the decision themselves to both acknowledge and value differing viewpoints.

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A GLOBAL ISSUE

A sign near Uluru in the Australian Northern Territory, which asks people to respect the indigenous owner's wishes and ...
Supplied

A sign near Uluru in the Australian Northern Territory, which asks people to respect the indigenous owner's wishes and not climb to the summit.

The clash of cultures exposed by Cook's pose is not the first time a minority cultural viewpoint has been dismissed as unimportant by the dominant culture.

In 2009 while on a holiday in New Zealand, Canadian Inuit woman Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons spoke out about how offensive Eskimo lollies were to her people.

There was plenty of sympathy for her viewpoint and acknowledgement the term Eskimo has long been known to be offensive, but in the end Cadbury stuck with the name describing it as "iconic".

This year, a vehicle ban will come into force for five volcanic mountains in Auckland, including Maungakiekie or One ...
Chris McKeen

This year, a vehicle ban will come into force for five volcanic mountains in Auckland, including Maungakiekie or One Tree Hill. The decision was made for safety reasons and to protect the cultural landmark.

In 2015, a group of British tourists who stripped naked and took photos on top of Malaysia's Mt Kinabalu were blamed for causing a earthquake which killed 16 people and arrested.

In Western media coverage the scandal wasn't so much that the tourists had knowingly breached protocols but that anyone could be stupid enough to think they somehow their actions led to the quake. 

Closer to home, the debate has raged in recent years about whether climbers should be banned from the summit of one of Australia's most notable landmarks and busiest tourist attractions - Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock.

Maori academic Dr Farah Palmer says the basis of the Treaty of Waitangi is a commitment that Maori and Pakeha work ...
Supplied

Maori academic Dr Farah Palmer says the basis of the Treaty of Waitangi is a commitment that Maori and Pakeha work together to understand each other and respect different values and perspectives.

Seen as part of a living cultural landscape, Uluru was officially returned to traditional owners the Anangu people in 1985 and as guardians they ask for visitors not to climb to the summit because of the cultural significance it has in Aboriginal culture. 

Their request was largely ignored and ridiculed for years but since signs went up explaining their position only 20 per cent of visitors decide to climb to the top, as opposed to the 74 per cent of visitors who scaled it in 1990. 

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Rob Needs, of Top Guides, says Mt Taranaki is being disrespected by visitors, who fail to understand cultural, ...
Fairfax NZ

Rob Needs, of Top Guides, says Mt Taranaki is being disrespected by visitors, who fail to understand cultural, environmental and safety considerations.

In a survey by Parks Australia, which jointly manages Uluru alongside its traditional owners, it was found 98 per cent of visitors would still visit even if the climb was officially closed.

A Parks Australia spokeswoman said while "inappropriate" behaviour did still happen from time to time, most of the visitors were respectful of the cultural value the area has.

"They visit our park, get an understanding of Anangu culture and respect it," she says.

MAKING A CHANGE

There is no doubt some parts of Maori culture are celebrated and widely respected. The Ka Mate haka often performed by the All Blacks is arguably the most internationally recognisable part of the New Zealand culture and both revered and loved at home. 

But other elements of Maori culture don't always enjoy the same support. Officially one of the country's three languages since 1987 the use of Te Reo Maori can still be controversial. 

Whether to put the H back into Whanganui in 2009 was so divisive to the community the council held a referendum and a recent proposal to use Maori road names along the new Kapiti expressway in Wellington was criticised by some as an exercise in political correctness.

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Hypocrisy over the haka

On the other hand Hinewehi Mohi's decision in 1999 to sing the national anthem only in Te Reo before a rugby test match in England caused an uproar but 20 years later, it is likely few people would even bat their eyelids at the prospect.

The recent dual naming of six New Plymouth landmarks with their traditional Maori names was most notable for the lack of discussion it created and in Auckland the recommendation by the Maunga Authority to remove livestock from the city's volcanic cones and ban vehicle access to the summits is similarly happening with more understanding than kickback.  

Maori academic Dr Farah Palmer, of Massey University says the country is at a "crossroads" in terms of its cultural identity.

"I think the world is changing. We're getting the message that diversity is something that is happening," she says.

She says the basis of the Treaty of Waitangi is a commitment that Maori and Pakeha work together to understand each other and respect different values and perspectives. And there was an increasing trend of people taking a stand when they feel a line has been crossed, Palmer says.

"They are no longer letting these things slide," she says.

It's this leadership which promotes social change, but also it is time and a willingness to understand each other's perspectives that is bringing about these changes.

"We don't live in isolation from one another and we all have an impact on one another," she says.

Rob Needs, of Top Guides guiding business, makes a living on Mt Taranaki and has found working with iwi beneficial to himself and his operation.

As part of gaining a Department of Conservation concession to work on the mountain, the business had to sit down with iwi, an experience he describes as a "great opportunity."

"There wasn't really dos and don'ts. It was requests and understandings," he says. 

From what he sees on a regular basis,  Mt Taranaki is being disrespected and it's not just cultural values which are being trampled on.

People take risks with their safety and visitors leave rubbish and human waste on the mountain.  

Needs believes more needs to be done to  educate people, especially visitors, about Maori cultural values and the important place the mountain holds in the region.

"It shapes us and binds us together," he says. "It is the life force of our province."

Ngawhare's recent public battering won't put him off speaking up again for what he knows to be right.

For him, Mt Taranaki is not "just a hill" - it links him to his culture, his iwi, hapu and whanau, it's part of the very essence of who he is.

Being an optimist is also part of his persona.

He thinks the tide will turn to the point where Maori tikanga and practice is widely accepted and protected in New Zealand.

"It will be when we get this critical mass of people who are on the same waka," he says. 

 - Stuff

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