3.3 Maori customary conceptsUp one level
Māori attribute spiritual and cultural significance to certain words, images and locations. It is necessary to have some understanding of Māori culture and protocols to avoid offence. This includes, for example, an understanding of tapu and noa, perhaps some of the most complex of Māori concepts to understand.
“Tapu” is the strongest force in Māori life. It has numerous meanings and references. Tapu can be interpreted as "sacred", or defined as "spiritual restriction" or "implied prohibition", containing a strong imposition of rules and prohibitions. A person, object or place, which is tapu, may not be touched or come into human contact. In some cases, not even approached.
“Noa”, on the other hand, is the opposite of tapu and includes the concept of common; it lifts the "tapu" from the person or the object. Noa also has the concept of a blessing in that it can lift the rules and restrictions of tapu.
Māori consider “rangatira (chief)” and “whakairo (carving)” to be tapu and “food” or “cigarettes” to be noa. Therefore the association of the chief and carving devices (above) in relation to the specified goods, namely “Worcester sauce, pickles and chutney”, “butter”, “cigarettes” and “ale and stout” may be considered culturally offensive and inappropriate to a significant number of Māori. That is, to associate something that is extremely tapu with something that is noa signifies an attempt to lift the tapu of the rangatira and whakairo – and therefore appears offensive.