New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has warned that coronavirus might end the Maori icon greeting, hongi.
Mr Peters, the most senior member of Ngati wai iwi and Maori in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government, made a suggestion on Tuesday when New Zealand considered reintroducing social norms.
“One of the things you have to pay attention to is whether the hongi in this situation will come back again,” he said on Tuesday.
“There is a famous old saying that cultures that don’t adapt, die.
“We must be oh, very careful.
“Our lives and everyone’s lives are on the line here.
“In the case of colds, flu, influenza and COVID-19, it certainly makes sense for us to consider it.”
Peters refers to the adverse effects of the Spanish Flu in New Zealand a century ago, when Maori died at an “eight times” rate of the Pakeha (European) population.
The world-famous nose-pressing practice, like all social interactions, has taken place during the lockdown of New Zealand for fear that it could spread the corona virus.
The government has included Maori practices in its lock ads, pasting posters across the country with the statement “don’t shake hands, kiss hello, or hongi”.
Deputy Labor leader Kelvin Davis, a member of Ngati Manu iwi and the Minister of Crown-Mahori Relations, supported the reintroduction of this practice, on time.
“There will always be a place in the Maori community to hongi,” he said.
“It is up to Maori to decide when it will be appropriate to reintroduce … to return to our traditional ways.”
Ms Ardern agreed, saying it depended on community leaders to decide on their own ‘tikanga’, or cultural practices.
“I have seen iwi leaders, actually determining for themselves how they will keep their people safe, and what they want to do with cultural practices in this environment,” he said.
“I give full support to it and have full faith in them.”
Opposition leader Simon Bridges, the first Maori to hold the leadership of the National Party, joined his Labor rival to support the return of hongi.
“There is still room for hongi,” he said.
“Just like there are hugs and kisses between family members and loved ones.
“I accept us in special circumstances now and we see our freedom gradually being given back to us, but I reject the idea that this is a permanent position where loved ones, family and whanau, cannot embrace in the future.”
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