Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Maori Exhumations in New Zealand

Glennis of New Zealand wrote yesterday about a new twist on exhumation which I thought those of you (like me) not from New Zealand would like to hear about. One day I will write what a know about cultural conflicts like this one, but in the meantime, here is an example of how serious cultural conflicts can be.

“Your Good Word exhume made me smile. We have a funny situation in New Zealand: there has only been settlement of migrants from England etc. from 1840, the indigenous inhabitants being Maori. Their culture demands that tribal members must be buried in tribal urupa (burial ground).”

“We have had a few situations recently when a Maori spouse, who was married to a Pakeha (European), dies. The unpleasant situation then arises where the tribe comes down and takes the body away without the consent of the grieving European family. The family has no say, though the law is reasonably clear but slow to be enforced. In one case, believe it or not, the family buried the deceased and put a log over the grave to hinder its being dug up! It is a very sensitive area, as basically it is a clash of cultures. But very unpleasant.”

The law Glennis refers to is one which gives the right of burial to the immediate family. It leads to the problem described above in case of mixed marriages, when the family of one spouse is European, and wishes to bury their family in a family cemetary, while the family of the Maori spouse feel they have no alternative to burying their family members in the urupa.

Instances like these are quite relevant to the discussion of diversity. Diversity of race is fairly easy to accomplish so long as assumptions about religion and morality are similar. However, as the situation in New Zealand indicates, these assumptions are often about physical activities that are very deeply felt and lead to passionate clashes like this one.

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