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Giant Plastic Waka

What could represent modern Maori culture better than a giant plastic waka? (an explanation for non-New Zealanders: the Maori are the native people of New Zealand and a waka is a canoe) Normally we could probably suggest many things would be a better match, but in the modern era perhaps something big and fake is entirely appropriate!

Labour spokesperson Shane Jones certainly thinks so. He was quite scathing of the whole idea saying it’s a “blow up [actually it isn’t] waka from a plastic party [the Maori party]”, that it is a “last minute panic-stricken stunt”, a “shallow, costly idea”, that “Maori will have a plastic identity”, and that because of this there will be “no money for more genuine cultural events.”

He has a point. It does seem like a fake, artificial attempt at keeping Maori interests happy and there are some indications that it has just been added on as an afterthought to the Rugby World Cup circus.

Actually I’m beginning to think that the World Cup itself has become a fake, meaningless marketing exercise more than a genuine sporting event, so maybe a gesture like this – lacking entirely in authenticity and integrity – is just about what we should expect.

Many aspects of life in New Zealand have been affected by this event. School terms have been rearranged, other sporting and cultural events have been cancelled or changed, and everything else seems to have become subservient to the chance of making a few quick dollars on what will be the biggest international event ever in this country.

While I occasionally enjoy watching rugby and go to some local games, I won’t be participating in any way in the World Cup. It’s a totally shallow, corrupt business opportunity and the only winners will be big business and possibly the Rugby Union. An example of my objections: our local stadium gets nothing from the ticket sales of games played there. Remind me why we are doing this again.

I don’t object to the $2 million spent on the waka, at least no more than I object to the hundreds of millions spent on the event in general. I do think there is a certain element of racism here too. Why hasn’t the $6 million spent on the giant rugby ball also been criticised, for example? So I don’t object to the money, but I would have liked to have seen something far more tasteful and authentic, even if it did cost a bit more.

So it’s a waka, it is giant (60 meters long), and it is plastic. On the surface it seems like a fake and disingenuous effort at representing Maori but to be fair, it is just a location for (supposedly) genuine Maori cultural and business activities which it will house.

But I know that if I visited another country and wanted to experience some of it’s indigenous culture I wouldn’t be looking inside a giant plastic object of any type. I would expect to see some sort of cheap, tawdry imitation of real culture in a place like that. And I’m fairly sure that’s what will happen here too. But won’t that fit in well with the rest of the World Cup which is just a cheesy imitation of real sport?

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