Wellington: New Zealand's national museum has upset feminists by telling pregnant and menstruating women to stay away from a behind-the-scenes tour to protect themselves from spirits in Maori artefacts, news reports said on Tuesday.
"Some of these taonga (treasures) have been used in battle and to kill people," said Jane Keig, spokeswoman at the Te Papa museum, in Wellington. She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.
"Pregnant women are sacred, and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects," Keig said.
She confirmed that pregnant and menstruating women had been told not to attend a behind-the-scenes tour scheduled for staff at regional museums on November 05.
A feminist blogger called Bogannette was quoted on the Stuff news website as saying: "It's disgusting that in this day and age women can be told they're forbidden for menstruating or being pregnant. It's a completely archaic belief that is oppressive to all women.”
"A belief that there is something wrong with women if they are menstruating or pregnant is ridiculous. Te Papa is taxpayer funded. It's a public museum that is supposed to be inclusive of everyone. Religious and cultural beliefs should be ignored if they're going to insult or oppress women for any reason."
However, Margaret Mutu, head of Maori Studies at Auckland University, defended the rule as culturally correct.
She said the artefacts were "tapu" (taboo) in Maori culture, as were pregnant or menstruating women.
"It would be very unwise to put the two up against each other," she told the New Zealand Herald.
First Published: Tuesday, October 12, 2010, 12:38