The mandarins who run our national museum have succumbed to superstition, although they tell us they are simply respecting somebody’s belief system.
They are advising pregnant or menstruating women against attending a Te Papa exhibit “for their own safety.”
An invitation for regional museums to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa’s collections included the condition that “wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]” were unable to attend.
Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the taonga Maori collection included in the tour.
“There are items within that collection that have been used in sacred rituals.
“That rule is in place with consideration for both the safety of the taonga and the women,” Keig said.
Oh yes. We can always come up with a credible-sounding rationale for a ridiculous rule.
In this case (we are told) we must:
* Protect the taonga from pregnant and menstruating women. Exactly what those women might do to harm display items is unclear and why blokes and non-menstruating and non-pregnant women do not present the same threat to the display items is a mystery.
* But we must also protect menstruating and pregnant women from some display items. What the items will do to them and why they should be threatened, but not the rest of us, again is a mystery.
Keig went on to say there is a belief that each taonga has its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.
“Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects.”
But if belief is to determine what we can do, we would have to do a great deal to change the country’s safety laws because some people believe – for example – that walking beneath a ladder is a bad omen.
Hmm. Alf senses the need for a ban on ladders.
Others believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day or that keeping an acorn at the window will save your house from lightning.
Alf believes none of those things.
Nor does he believe a museum display item poses any threat whatsoever to menstruating or pregnant women. Not even a Maori display item.
He can not prove the belief is nonsense, of course, because he never did menstruate and is unlikely to fall pregnant.
But if he was menstruating or pregnant, he would be keen to demonstrate the strength of his beliefs by defying the ban.
He hopes at least some women will do the same.
But they must be up front about it (which pregnant women usually are) because those who plan to attend the tour on November 5 are expected to be honest about whether they are pregnant or menstruating as a sign of respect to Maori beliefs.
Te Papa insists the request is not an outright ban.
But what happens to women who confess the awful truth about their condition???
It’s not clear.
“If there are pregnant women who want to go on the tour we don’t stop them. But we do prefer they respect the belief.” Keig said.
The policy is not in place for the general exhibition.
If Alf understands this correctly, it means that some Maori items threaten our safety, but not the rest.
Nonsense, he contends.
He hopes someone will round up an army of pregnant and menstruating women to mount a protest.
Alf would like to think the two Wellington students who made such a fuss about Paul Henry’s remarks about the governor-general might do the organising, after they organised a demonstration at Parliament over the Henry matter.
Their beef with Henry, fundamentally, was about discrimination against Indians.
It would not be a giant leap for Narita Chandra and Niki Singh to broaden their concerns to protest against Te Papa’s palpable and shameful discrimination against pregnant and menstruating Indian (and all other) women.
What about it girls?