Author Olivia Pierson’s offensive comments about Nanaia Mahuta’s moko kaue: The backlash

An author who made offensive comments about Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s moko kauae is at the centre of a backlash, including, she says, death threats.

Olivia Pierson has been criticised for her comments and her book has been pulled from sale by online retailer Mighty Ape.

Pierson said Jacinda Ardern had gone “full wokelette on stilts” for appointing Mahuta as Foreign Affairs Minister; the country’s first female to hold the position and second of Maori heritage.

“Facial tattoos are not exactly a polished, civilised presentation for a foreign diplomat in the 21st century,” she said on Twitter.

“Facial tattoos, especially on a female diplomat, is the height of ugly, uncivilised wokedom.”

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said Mahuta’s kauae moko was special to Maori and to be celebrated.

“What I would say to those mean people is [to] stop their racism, stop their prejudices, to grow up. Let’s face it, the world is changing, the Māori economy is growing. If the Māori economy grows it’s good for all New Zealanders.”

Mahuta, who did not want to comment when approached again by the Herald today, is the first Government Minister to bear a moko kauae.

Pierson’s book had been sold through Mighty Ape however when the company was made aware it decided to pull it from their stocks.

Pierson said she wasn’t aware until yesterday that Mighty Ape was a seller of her book, “so am not too perturbed by that”.

However, she claimed to have received “hundreds of disgusting threats of violence to my person, including umpteen death threats”.

Pierson said it was her “prerogative to express my view”.She found all facial tattoos “off-putting”.

In 2015, author Tryphena Cracknell said there were still negative reactions to moko kauae in New Zealand and internationally – and she challenged people to learn more before passing judgment. “It is a visible connection to whakapapa [genealogy] and to culture – it is clear that the women who wear it have a deep pride in that culture.”

And in 2018, during a controversy when a Pākehā woman sported a tā moko, Waikato University Associate Professor Te Kahautu Maxwell said that the tā moko had become an important symbol in Māori culture in the 20th century.

“It’s the Māori deciding to reclaim their heritage and identity.

“We have to protect the last bastions that we have as Māori to make us different.”

Mera Lee-Penehira, associate professor at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, said: “Moko kauae is the sole right of Māori women.

“Not only is it ‘okay’ to make a race-based decision in applying moko kauae, but it is a ‘requirement’. In my view, the gifting of moko kauae to Pākehā is not the right of any Māori – be they wāhine or tāne – irrespective of what has gone before.”

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