Koha snub shocks runanga

02:04, Jan 16 2013
Sir Mark Solomon
Sir Mark Solomon says a gift should be treated with respect.

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum has dished up an unappetising cultural snub to local Maori, which has reverberated to the top echelons of South Island Maori.

Ngai Tahu chairman Sir Mark Solomon has confirmed Maori are unhappy about the lost mana caused by the rejection of a koha (gift) to the museum for its official opening last month.

Various groups had given a range of kai moana (seafood) between them. Some of it had been put away and was not served, apparently at the refusal of museum management.

"To have raised it with me, there are some concerns," Sir Mark told D Scene.

"I doubt if that organisation will ever get another koha if this is how they're going to act."

Sir Mark understood a koha of kina (sea eggs) had been held back and not served on the instructions of "one person".


"It's not something you would do," Sir Mark said. "A koha is just that; it's a gift. If a gift is given to me, and just because I don't like kina, I shouldn't [put it away].

"That would be like if a Scottish group turned up at one of our functions and bought haggis and I [refused to serve it] because I didn't like haggis. Same thing."

One of the museum's Maori Advisory Committee members, Koa Whitau-Kean, said management had chosen to ignore the tradition of koha, in comments on the Toitu Otago Settlers FaceBook page. This was "a gross insult to any iwi", she said.

"You never turn down a koha. It means a kick in the face."

She said two types of kai moana given as koha were not served.

While Whitau-Kean commended staff for the museum's redevelopment, she said practices normally followed at official council events were "on this occasion fraught with difficulty because of a lack of understanding of the gesture, or refusing to want to know."

Whitau-Kean had laid a complaint with the Maori Advisory Committee and museum director Linda Wigley, and had asked for relevant matters to be tabled on the agenda of the museum's next advisory committee meeting.

The giving of koha is an old custom in Maoridom. It increases mana of the giver and the taker by reflecting the giver's ability to provide as well as the respect held for the person or group receiving the gift.

A statement from the Dunedin City Council, which administers Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, said council would work with runanga to review protocols so that good relationships continue.

"Before Toitu Otago Settlers Museum re-opened, staff and management had one-day and half-day staff training workshops in Maori protocols and culture," the statement said.

A koha of kai moana had been given and was not used, it confirmed.

"Unfortunately some of it [the kai moana] was found to be in a state which meant it could not be prepared safely for consumption. It was decided not to put that food out purely on the basis of food safety concerns.

"Given the tight time frame between discovering the condition of the kai moana concerned and the beginning of the official opening, the museum director made the decision to source other additional kai moana rather than risk the health and safety of the guests at the opening."

Both organisations were aware of the upset the incident had caused but that had been "worked through and resolved with local runanga", the statement said.

"A good working relationship is still being maintained."

The Southland Times