Mera, Mera, Off the Wall

mokoAmong people who say silly things, there is a full range from the mildly eccentric to the full-blown potty. New Zealand academic Mera Lee-Penehira looks as though she might be well up the latter end of the spectrum. For example, in 2015 she launched a criminal complaint against the United States under the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act 2000. Why? Because she does not think the United States ought to be in Hawaii. She said:

“We need to challenge everything the U.S. government does in Hawai‘i, because on the basis of law, it is quite simply wrong. The historical documentation is clear, that the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist under an illegal occupation by the U.S. and that the laws of occupation must be complied with. As a victim of war crimes committed in Hawai‘i, this cannot be allowed to continue to take place with impunity.”

telescopesIt seems that she thinks it is a war crime for the United States to impose taxes in Hawaii. She further thinks that the United States is guilty of a war crime in allowing the construction of telescopes on the summit of Mauna a Wakea.

So far, it seems, the United States is unmoved, and has not sought to remove Hawaii’s status as a state of the United States. The government of the United States might well think that her complaint is not something that they take very seriously. For someone in Australia, for example, it is a bit like a Peruvian fishmonger alleging that New South Wales committed a war crime for accepting New Zealand as a colony in 1839 (yes, that did happen, but it was all really quite a long time ago. We have all moved on).

sally andersonMore recently, Dr Lee-Penehira has been in the news for slagging off another rather silly New Zealand woman, Sally Anderson. Mrs Anderson is blonde, who is married to a Maori gentleman with a full face tattoo, and she recently had a sort of goatee beard known as a Moko tattooed onto her chin.

Now, you might well think that it is a really, really bad idea for women to disfigure themselves in this way, and Dr Lee-Penehira has joined the chorus of those exciting ill-will against Sally Anderson for doing it. But not because the tattoo is desperately ugly. Instead, on racial grounds. In a recent interview, Dr Lee-Penehira (who also sports one of these ghastly tattoos) attacked Sally Anderson because, as a pakeha (this is a Maori term of abuse for Caucasians, meaning something like “white slug”) she was not entitled to use a tribal design. She said that tribal designs are, “About who we were born to be”.

Imagine it the other way around. Imagine, in England or Australia or the United States, women of black ethnicity being forbidden to wear  ballgowns, because a ballgown is associated with Western society, and that is not who a black woman “was born to be”. Outrageous.

Dr Lee-Penehira was quite explicit about this: the objection is that Sally Anderson did not have “any genealogical ties”.  It was worse than this because she went on to say that it made no difference that Sally Anderson was married to a Maori. She said, “Representing that of your husband or wife is not appropriate”.

So again, consider the analogy. Should a black woman married to an indigenous Scotsman be forbidden from wearing a sash in her husband’s tartan? Perhaps Dr Lee-Penehira thinks so – in any event she sees the tattoo thing as “an identity marker’.

Then again, in further evidence of pottiness, she says that having a tattoo like this on your chin is a “healing intervention”. Dr LeePenehira has apparently been researching in Maori health for the past six years, but nevertheless, it is extremely hard to see how on earth a tattoo on your face is likely to be an effective cure for any ailment. One is bound to wonder if the New Zealand taxpayer is really getting good value for money from this research?

It is worth noting the terms of section 131 of the New Zealand Human Rights Act 1993:

131 Inciting racial disharmony

(1) Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to a fine not exceeding $7,000 who, with intent to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons,—

(a) publishes or distributes written matter which is threatening, abusive, or insulting, or broadcasts by means of radio or television words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting; or

(b) uses in any public place (as defined in section 2(1) of the Summary Offences Act 1981), or within the hearing of persons in any such public place, or at any meeting to which the public are invited or have access, words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting,—

being matter or words likely to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any such group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons.

The group of persons in New Zealand who are blonde and dumb enough to have tattoos on their chin might be a small one. They are widely ridiculed quite enough without further ill-will being excited against them on racial grounds.


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