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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ponytail-pulling and Polynesian protocol


Our Prime Minister, John Key, has made himself the topic of international discussion -- because he repeatedly pulled the hair of a waitress at a cafe called Rosie's that he frequents in Parnell, the posher part of Auckland.

The waitress, Amanda Bailey, is a slip of a girl who looks much younger than her reported age of twenty-six.  The owners of the cafe -- her employers, Jackie Grant and Scott Brown, demand a high level of respect from their staff, as their clientele is on the rich and influential side.  Quoting from the cafe's facebook page, they say, "There are no excuses, under any circumstances, for our service to not be attentive, humble and extremely respectful towards our customers."

And "humble" is a potent word.  So there are several good reasons why Ms Bailey took a long time to express her distaste for the repeated tugging on her ponytail.  Apparently, this had no effect on the hair puller, so she resorted to the written word, sending a report to The Daily Blog.

No doubt you have all read the comments and opinions that have been expressed all over the world.  What surprises me is that there is so little (if any) local Maori comment. Because in Polynesia a person's head is tapu. It should not be touched without permission or a good reason.

To Maori, the head, upoku, is the most sacred part of the body. It is the same throughout the Pacific.  When Captain Wallis was in Tahiti in 1767, the chiefess Purea endowed him with "crowns" made of long plaited strands of her own hair, the greatest and most significant gift possible, as they came from the most tapu part of her body.

Even today, a Polynesian is uncomfortable if a hat, or eye-glasses (or even earphones or a cellphone) are placed on a table where cooked food is eaten.  I have noticed that a Maori man will survey me carefully before offering to hongi -- which is the greeting of touching noses -- to make sure that I won't be uncomfortable about anyone coming so close to my head.

But it seems that our prime minister is a deeply insensitive man.

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