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Maori challenge Lego to stop using Maori words for its toys
October 29, 2001 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Maori challenge Lego to stop using Maori words for its toys Certain Maori objected to what they claimed was Lego's inappropriate use of Maori words, and the way Lego's Bionicle game mixed together strands of many cultures. So what's next? No syncretic philosophy/art? Although I suppose marketing Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha as crappy plastic superheroes might cause a little stir.
posted by phartizan (44 comments total)

 
Sounds like the American Indian/Crazy Horse Beer debacle....Jesus Cola anyone?


Oh, and Biblical Action Figures--crappy plastic Jesus (good band name).
posted by m@ at 8:37 AM on October 29, 2001



I take deep offense at the fact that the Maori representative was named Roma Hippolite -- he is taking these words out of their original context to form his name, and in so doing is cheapening entire civilizations.

We cannot allow this sort of linguistic/cultural miscegnation -- everyone must be kept entirely separate, and in the dark. Let us march forward together into a brave future where none will dare speak, lest they cheapen both themselves and the many ignored cultures on Earth.
posted by aramaic at 8:46 AM on October 29, 2001


Playmobil has a plastic Baby Jesus, who is probably now crying.

I'm with aramaic - the borrowing of chunks of other cultures is an old and respected tradition. On the other hand, there aren't many cultures that have been screwed over the way the Maori have so there's reason for them to be sensitive to what they could see as a lack of respect.
posted by skyscraper at 9:01 AM on October 29, 2001


Whatever. Tell them it's a deal, as long as they stop speaking English and watching our TVs.
posted by Samsonov14 at 9:02 AM on October 29, 2001


It doesn't sound to me as if the Maori are against the use of their language, they just want to ensure it's done respectfully and appropriately. Like in the last paragraph: "If an agreement can be made and the stories and the names are used appropriately so you couldn't put the name tohunga [a spiritual advisor and healer] where it didn't belong, then there can be a whole generation of kids around the world that get to know and understand about things Maori."
posted by dnash at 9:09 AM on October 29, 2001


The "certain Maori" are being represented by Maui Solomon, a lawyer specialising in Intellectual Property Rights and Indigenous Peoples Rights and Obligations. This has got nothing to do with "keeping people in the dark" about Maori culture, but rather the opposite.

The Biblical action figures aren't a good parallel, really. How many kids (or their parents) would have known that Tohunga was a Polynesian word for a healer as well as a giant robot? Anyone here of an age where it's impossible to hear a reference to certain Renaissance artists without flashing on wisecrackin', pizza munchin', crime fightin' Ninja Turtles?
posted by ceiriog at 9:09 AM on October 29, 2001


I don't care if it rains or freezes
has long as I got my plastic jesus
sitting on the dashboard of my car

posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:12 AM on October 29, 2001


open culture + non-theocratic government = anything goes

grow up folks

you can't demand that your culture must be "respected" (whatever that means)

plastic jesuses (jesii?) and jesus-shaped dildos and buddha butt plugs, etc., etc. ---- cool!

stop taking yourselves so seriously
posted by yesster at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2001


hmm. I was thinking religious superheroes. You know, walks on water, transforms & transubstantiates, etc. But religious sex toys does strike a chord. Who's going to get the franchise?
posted by phartizan at 9:39 AM on October 29, 2001


stop taking yourselves so seriously

This has got nothing to do with taking "ourselves" too seriously, but in having respect for a culture which "we" have very nearly destroyed.

Have you any idea what it feels like to belong to a culture which is facing extinction?
posted by ceiriog at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2001


Have you any idea what it feels like to belong to a culture which is facing extinction?


Just lately...yes, I do.
posted by alumshubby at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2001


Have you any idea what it feels like to belong to a culture which is facing extinction?

I'm a white American male: do you know what it feels like to have everyone blame you for every little thing that turns to shit in the world?

Anyway, "respect" can never be given - it has always, and must always, be earned. Respect given is not respect, it is charity.
posted by UncleFes at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2001


I got the same sort of icky feeling from Descent: Freespace, where all the "bad guy" ships are named after Egyptian gods.

"A Jesus Mark II! It's coming right for us!" :P
posted by Foosnark at 9:55 AM on October 29, 2001


I have to agree with dnash. Based on that article, I got the impression that the concern was simply that Maori names and words be used correctly and appropriately. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that a company using bits and pieces of other cultures to create a game to do a little research beforehand in order to ensure that they don't, for example, accidentally name one of the good guys "nasty armpit". It's called fact-checking :)
posted by melimelo at 10:00 AM on October 29, 2001


Well, there's a difference between 'asking' and 'demanding', and one may be appropriate where another is not.

The idea that culture can suddenly become 'intellectual property' is obsene
posted by delmoi at 10:18 AM on October 29, 2001


When I was in New Zealand, the Maori were fighting for some sort of percentage of revenue from cell phones and television because waves were passing through their 'airspace'.

I'm all for preserving culture; so long as you aren't doing it for fiscal reasons...
posted by mad at 11:18 AM on October 29, 2001


Have you any idea what it feels like to belong to a culture which is facing extinction?

Not many people speak Gaelic or practice anything close to that of the Tuatha De Danann

cultures don't die, they adapt.
posted by Mick at 11:25 AM on October 29, 2001


But religious sex toys does strike a chord. Who's going to get the franchise?

These people.
posted by webmutant at 11:27 AM on October 29, 2001


There aren't many cultures that have been screwed over the way the Maori have.


Oh yes there are. And a lot worse too.
posted by dydecker at 11:28 AM on October 29, 2001


I imangine Samsonov14 was taking the piss...

Hey Mad, when you were in NZ did you read up on your Treaty of Waitangi? Both the English and Maori versions? Probably not, because if you had, you'd realise Maori claims regarding the spectrum were not so much about protecting culture as a matter of legal entitlement.
posted by Foaf at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2001


This thing is working out quite well with both parties at the table. I think it is rather cool that Lego might play a tiny role in educating 'white males facing extinction' that there are many cultures in the world, big and small.

"The idea that culture can suddenly become 'intellectual property' is obsene". You're right, Lego was trademarking it. How obscene, no?
posted by mmarcos at 12:09 PM on October 29, 2001


I don't see why some of you are taking this personally, its between the Maori and Lego. Lego wants to create rules of conduct. Lego wants to give in and respect their culture. If you don't like that then you have more an issue with Lego than you do with the Maori.

I think its pretty telling that the focus here is mostly on "our culture, our TVs, etc" and not on how Lego is responding and how the ball is really in their court.
posted by skallas at 12:11 PM on October 29, 2001


you can't demand that your culture must be "respected"

Sure you can. The other side doesn't have to comply, though. The Maori wasn't trying to "force" Lego into changing. They approached them and made them aware of their concerns. What's wrong with that?

Well, there's a difference between 'asking' and 'demanding', and one may be appropriate where another is not.

So "appropriateness" is a factor when we're talking about the Maori, but not with regards to Lego?
posted by jpoulos at 12:12 PM on October 29, 2001


Fiscal reasons? Shame on those noble savages for being perverted by a corrupt lust for money.

Seems to me that Maori are brilliantly turning the tables on corporates who think that there is no such thing as culture, just intellectual property rights. When researchers can acquire patents on traditional medical applications of plants and other hitherto collective knowledge, this doesn't seem such a stretch.

If there is such a thing as intellectual property, I don't see why collectives can't own it as well as individuals.

However, pillaging other traditions for exotic flavouring is a time honoured practise in Western culture. So there's the proper comeback: we postmodern culture thieves are practising our own culture in retailing your myths as our own.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:48 PM on October 29, 2001


It sounds like a few people on Metafilter actually belong on FreeRepublic.com.

There is nothing wrong with the Maori wanting their culture and language being represented correctly. I would guess that a damn lot of the people who post to Metafilter don't even know where New Zealand is, and probably haven't the faintest idea how to even say the word "Maori". Maori is a dying language and they are perfectly entitled to ask Lego to try and use the correct words for their products.

Also, this news item is really old.
posted by animoller at 5:20 PM on October 29, 2001


ani, this is a new development. Lego are now working with Maori representatives, and there is talk of a code of conduct. When this was last news, they were refusing to acknowledge that there was a problem at all.

As for the dying language - maybe, maybe not. There's a total immersion stream at my daughter's primary school. There hadn't been Maori primary school education for decades before that programme started.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:03 PM on October 29, 2001


Perhaps the development is new, but the topic of this thread is old.

When I was in school, I learnt sweet eff-all Maori, although I can count, name some colours and say "Hi, my name is Ani." Hardly anyone uses Maori in everyday language, aside from perhaps my best friend who teaches Te Reo Maori. I was trying to use it as an example: ie, if someone used an incorrect Spanish word, you would just think someone was thick, but if people get things wrong for languages that are only spoken by a few in a small country, no one would ever be none the wiser.
posted by animoller at 8:45 PM on October 29, 2001


---Have you any idea what it feels like to belong to a culture which is facing extinction?

Not many people speak Gaelic or practice anything close to that of the Tuatha De Danann

cultures don't die, they adapt---

I agree. And personally I am glad that I don't have to wear lederhosen to work. Good riddance to archaic cultural crap which mainly serves to divide and tribalize people.
posted by HTuttle at 11:55 PM on October 29, 2001


cultures don't die, they adapt

Precisely. Change is the mark of existence. There is no such thing as a static object in this universe of ours.

And if you've seen Disney's treatment after reading Malory, you'd know that Maori culture isn't alone in being brutally dumbed down for a childrens audience.

If you want to ensure your culture is preserved, make sure it's written down somewhere. Make a webpage, even, so I can find the original form. And if I want to borrow some of your culture and adapt it to mine? Well, that's my right too. Culture isn't a diktat: it's interactive.
posted by walrus at 2:27 AM on October 30, 2001


ok first thinks first, the maori got it up the butt , but not before they killed off the entire moriori.

And yes the maori lanuage is going fade into extinction, what is good for?, no one really speaks it, the sooner everyone on the planet can communicate with each other the better.

its just a case of losers being petty
posted by timbro at 3:02 AM on October 30, 2001



With the evolving nature of culture, are we all moving towards a point where we'll all be very similar regardless of where we come from?

If so, what do you reckon that time will be like? Will the world be worse for losing these cultures which have difficulty in evolving?
posted by oddity at 6:14 AM on October 30, 2001


Sounds like some arrogant white men like to post to Metafilter. We weren't talking about whether or not it is okay for the Maori to die out, we were talking about a corporation using a word correctly on a toy.

The Maori have evolved. A little over 150 years ago, some white travellers started settling New Zealand. The Maori didn't write, and they certainly couldn't speak English. Now almost every person in New Zealand speaks English, and Maori isn't used as an everyday language (aside from the few Maori schools there are, and some families).

I shouldn't have to defend the culture and language of my country. I think some of you need to travel outside your own town. Maybe then you'll form some intelligent and reasonable opinions.
posted by animoller at 8:34 AM on October 30, 2001


Sounds like someone has a chip on their shoulder, although maybe it was provoked by timbro's borderline racism. Celtic isn't really a live language anymore either, as has been pointed out. Leprechauns are a bit of a pisstake also. No-one really sheds any tears over it, cuz we have Guiness instead. That's a culture worth adopting, although they keep their yeast well-guarded, I'm told.

Oddity: good questions.

I don't believe so. I just think sub-cultures will slowly cease to be focused around a national or ethnic identity. Can't be a bad thing IMO.

I'm not sure we're "losing cultures" anyway: they change pretty much from generation to generation, if we're all honest about it. And if they're documented, you can always go back and have a laugh at the silly costumes.

The process of cultural change has inevitably been speeded up by technological advance, by the way, so more and bigger changes are evident.
posted by walrus at 9:21 AM on October 30, 2001


Gaelic. Flame me now.
posted by walrus at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2001


Apparently it's OK to mangle a language/culture that's not facing extinction--think English as it's (mis)used in Japan, or Chinese on anglo T-shirts--but taboo if the culture is facing extinction. So out of respect for their feelings, we try to get it right.

Is a "culture facing extinction" the criterion?

But then the Moslems or Catholics get all wound up if we make fun of their icons, but that's OK, because they have so many followers? Or it's OK to make fun of Christians, because they're mostly white zionist supporters? Or out of respect for their feelings, we try to get it right for them, too? Or it's OK to make fun of Moslems, because they're "just a bunch of terrorists"?

And then we've got flag-wavers who get all bent out of shape if somebody burns their sacred flag (in the US, at least) . But since they're "arrogant whites", that's OK, right? So symbols of the US and former imperialists are fair game? What about the Russkies? The Turks? The Armenians? The Chinese? The Pakistanis? The Afgans? etc?
posted by phartizan at 9:33 AM on October 30, 2001


Will the world be worse for losing these cultures which have difficulty in evolving?

If you have to ask the question then I'd guess this will make very little difference to your world.

Unless the WorldKultcha we're left with doesn't speak American, of course...
posted by ceiriog at 9:34 AM on October 30, 2001


Chill a little ceirog, it was a leading question. I have my own answers to it and don't need anyone elses. I was interested in hearing the opinion of others, that's all.
posted by oddity at 9:53 AM on October 30, 2001


Unless the WorldKultcha we're left with

Why assume Uniculture? Don't you see diversity of sub-cultures, "even" in America? Grow your own, I'd say. Everyone else does.

ps, animoller: you shouldn't have to defend the culture and language of your country. Neither should lego have to defend their toy.
posted by walrus at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2001


you shouldn't have to defend the culture and language of your country

You shouldn't have to, but sometimes you do have to. It'd be nice to have a choice, frankly.

But like oddity says, I should chill a bit.
posted by ceiriog at 11:32 AM on October 30, 2001


Not sure about Mohammed, but you can buy crappy plastic toys of Buddha in Chinatown and of Jesus in pretty much every town that has a Christian bookstore.
posted by willpie at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2001


if someone used an incorrect Spanish word, you would just think someone was thick, but if people get things wrong for languages that are only spoken by a few in a small country, no one would ever be none the wiser.

Thousands of Americans eat faux TexMex every day in a restaurant whose name translates to "boobies." Misuse of language stretches across all cultures and nations.

That said, Phartizan asked, although in a round-about way, a good question. Whose culture can be appropriated and misused to sell little plastic toys? What language can be butchered for commercialistic endeavor? What culture is open to being offended in this manner? Mine? Yours? Those people over there?
posted by Dreama at 11:57 AM on October 30, 2001


Apparently it's OK to mangle a language/culture that's not facing extinction--think English as it's (mis)used in Japan, or Chinese on anglo T-shirts--but taboo if the culture is facing extinction. So out of respect for their feelings, we try to get it right.

Is a "culture facing extinction" the criterion?


Where do people get the idea that Maori culture is facing extinction? It is not. Go to NZ and see for yourself. It's a Polynesian country.

It is not okay for the Japanese to mangle English. In Japan, if you point out to the girl with the "I am whore" t-shirt what it means, she will be eternally grateful.

Likewise you would if you had a kanji which read "study" and you went to China, you should expect to be treated like an idiot. Like that foolish basketballer.

Or it is that you just like sticking the knife in to minorities?
posted by dydecker at 12:25 PM on October 30, 2001


Speaking of plastic jesus' ...
posted by walrus at 4:16 PM on October 30, 2001


Or it is that you just like sticking the knife in to minorities?

Whaa? Chinese in China or Japanese in Japan are minorities? Anyway, you seem to have missed my question: if we should be sensitive to these "minorities", then must we extend the same courtesy to Christians and stars & stripes flag wavers? How about wavers of the stars & bars? Is courtesy/sensitivity to be extended to everyone but the hated white male?

Sheesh! I don't care! Light a pyre to burn the Bible, Koran, Torah, or is it the Korah & Toran, the US Consitution, New York TImes, the KKK Kross, the star of David, the star of Bethlehem, the stars & stripes (the flag & the paper), the National Review, Hustler, my draft card, my ACLU card, the Chinese flag (Commies!), the Rising Sun flag, the Japanese Emperor's picture, Mao's picture, the unwritten Maori language, Joyce's Ulysses, Joan of Arc, Tropic of Cancer, communist manifesto, Magna Carta, Confucius, the Buddhist Tripitaka, the Mahabharata...

I'm running out of breath. Don't be sore 'cause I left ya out. Throw another log on for yourself!
posted by phartizan at 6:12 PM on October 30, 2001


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