Climbing Mt Cook seems to be okay, but hovering your chopper near its peak is a sacrilege

Beware, when travelling in the South Island.

Also known as The Mainland, its population includes the tribe known as Ngai Tahu, who are regarded by the United Nations and our Government as special people by virtue of being indigenous. They can be sensitive, too, and especially sensitive when it comes to things they hold sacred.

Our courts – you will find – are very anxious to protect these sacred objects. They are so anxious, in fact, that judges will bang on about sacrilege if you don’t treat a sacred object with proper respect, although Alf obviously wasn’t paying attention on the occasion when sacrilege was included in our law books as a crime.

Actually, Alf until now had been naive enough to think sacrilege was something to be avoided only in countries inhabited by fanatical Muslims.

But no. It will land you in trouble in this country, too.

Visitors to the South Island accordingly need to understand that Ngai Tahu – who are splendid people in all other respects – happen to have a very low tolerance threshold, when it comes to sacrilege and insults.

If you go here, you will learn that in the third decade of the nineteenth century an insult to some bloke by name of Tama-i-hara-nui caused war among Ngai Tahu.

The insult that sparked this war amounted to nothing more serious than a sheila donning a dogskin cloak (but it only seems a matter of trivia if you take the wrong world view of things).

Next thing you know, a slave has been killed, and then the slave’s owners kill a chief, and suddenly it’s all on.

At Waikakahi pa, near Wairewa (Lake Forsyth), a woman named Murihaka put on a dogskin cloak which belonged to Tama-i-hara-nui.

In retribution for such sacrilege, Tama-i-hara-nui’s followers killed Rerewaka, a slave who belonged to Murihaka’s relations. They in turn killed a chief named Hape.

Hape’s wife was the sister of two chiefs of Taumutu, the pa at the southern end of Waihora (Lake Ellesmere). The Taumutu people attacked Waikakahi pa and killed several people.

Tama-i-hara-nui then led a war party to Taumutu and sacked it.

The Taumutu people asked Ngai Tahu of Otago for assistance, and Taiaroa and Te Whakataupuka led a war party to their aid. With the help of the warriors of Kaiapoi, they attacked Wairewa pa.

However, the pa was empty when it was taken, as Taiaroa had
warned its people that the attack against them would be led by two men with guns. It is said that this was the first time firearms had been used in the Canterbury area.

That’s far from the end of it.

Before long Te Rauparahua has become involved.

But for now, it’s enough to observe that Tama-i-hara-nui was a member of Ngati Rakiamoa, an eminent hapu of Ngai Tahu.

As the hereditary spiritual leader of his tribe, he was regarded with the greatest respect.

Ordinary people did not dare look on his face, and if his shadow fell on food the food had to be destroyed. A breach of etiquette could result in the death of those held responsible.

A spiritual leader who is accorded that magnitude of respect could bugger up a lot of good tucker by stepping into the dining room and – having ensured the light is in the right place – casting a shadow on whatever nosh was on the table.

Alf draws your attention to this to emphasise how easy it could be to run into serious protocol problems down South.

It is too late to tender this advice to the commercial pilot who has been fined $3750 (see here) for the ”gravely offensive” act of hovering a helicopter over the summit of Mt Cook in 2011.

Jason Manderson, 40, of Waikanae, pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal aircraft hovering, under bylaw 10 (2) of the Mt Cook National Park Bylaws 1981, by letter to the Timaru District Court.

Under the bylaw, it is an offence to land on or hover over any site within Mt Cook National Park that is not a designated aerodrome.

This bylaw would be understandable to the people who share Alf’s world view if it was based on safety concerns.

It is not apparent that this be so, however.

In the summary of facts read to the court, the Department of Conservation (DOC) said the 3754-metre peak represented to Ngai Tahu ”the most sacred of ancestors, from whom Ngai Tahu descend and who provide the iwi with its sense of communal identity, solidarity and purpose”.

The aforementioned pilot has learned the hard way to steer clear of sacred mountains.

In April 2012, DOC’s attention was drawn to two images on Facebook of a Squirrel helicopter positioned at the summit of Mt Cook.

Copies of the photographs were obtained and examination revealed they had been taken shortly after 9am on December 24, 2011, a minute apart, from opposite sides of the peak.

Manderson was piloting the helicopter, operated by South Westland-based Fox and Franz Josef Heliservices, on a commercial scenic flight with five passengers.

Spoken to on July 12, 2012, Manderson confirmed he had placed the photographs on Facebook.

At the time he claimed another pilot in the area had suggested that if he was to fly level with the summit he could get photos ”to look like he was flying over the top of the mountain”.

He denied landing on or hovering over the summit, and claimed it would have been easy for someone to doctor the photos to make it appear he had landed.

But the judge didn’t take kindly to the obvious outrage against the mountain and against tribal sensibilities.

Judge Joanna Maze said the offence was ”seen as one of sacrilege to those to whom Aoraki-Mt Cook is of central cultural importance”.

”The fact that you did it in the interests of trade and self-aggrandisement is a double offence,” she said.

Judge Maze said Manderson’s action was seen as ”gravely offensive” and as a result her starting point for sentencing had to be the maximum penalty available, a fine of $5000.

Alf was a bit puzzled by this.

He had heard of some Ngai Tahu people collecting a few million bucks to compensate them for the mischief that damming the Clutha River would do to waters they believe has a high spiritual and cultural value.

But he recognises this might be a blasphemous lie spread by Pakeha, and maybe it is a blasphemy to repeat it here.

Some countries have laws limiting the freedom of speech and expression relating to blasphemy, or irreverence toward holy personages, religious artifacts, customs, and beliefs.

According to Wikipedia (here) –

Some countries, especially countries which have Islam as the state religion, regard blasphemy as a serious offence. Pakistan, for example, has legislation which makes execution a penalty for blasphemy.

For the record, the judge did not order the execution of Manderson. She gave him credit for his early guilty plea in setting the fine at $3750.

But his offence was sacrilege.

Blasphemy takes us into different territory.

The aforementioned Wikipedia item says –

In New Zealand, Section 123[45] of the Crimes Act 1961 allows for imprisonment up to one year for anyone who publishes any “blasphemous libel”. However, these cases are only prosecuted at the discretion of the concurrent New Zealand Attorney-General, who usually cites overriding free speech objections so as not to pursue such a case. To date the only prosecution for blasphemous libel in New Zealand has been the case of John Glover, publisher of The Maoriland Worker (a newspaper), in 1922. Glover was acquitted.

That seems reassuring.

But we should not smugly take this as a precedent or a guide on the matter.

We may well find that any hint of irreverence regarding Mt Cook – or any of Ngai Tahu’s cache of sacred objects, perhaps including their bank book – will rile them into taking legal action.

Or maybe they will simply go on the warpath to seek retribution as they were apt do do back in the 1800s.

One Response to Climbing Mt Cook seems to be okay, but hovering your chopper near its peak is a sacrilege

  1. J C Armstrong says:

    It just totally astounds me that our courts are tied up with this utter bloody rubbish!

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