The term ‘tapu’ refers to a concept ever present in Tikanga. Established in Maori religious thought, the concept is inseparable from mana (Mead 30). The term relates to the idea of sacredness, respect and restriction (Te Ara). The ideals and values relating to tapu are no longer clear. Regardless, tapu is extremely significant and meaningful to Tikanga today. Closely linked to mana and therefore respect, it is important to consider tapu in an art/design context to prevent issues of cultural appropriation. As the values of tapu are not explicit, an artist or designer referencing Maori culture would have to research thoroughly to ensure their practice did not breach tapu.
Intellectual property and copyright laws are insufficient to address the misuse of taonga works due to the difference in Maori and Western ideas of ownership and property. What Westerners view as ownership, a concept we are largely familiar with, Kaitiakitanga view as responsibility, obligation and kinship (Waitangi Tribunal 34). Issues then arise when the Maori concept of ‘ownership’ does not fit with the conditions of copyright law, in particular having to be ‘written, recorded or fixed in some material form’ (Waitangi Tribunal 35). As a lot of mātauranga Maori is in the form of oral traditions this does not comply with conditions of copyright law.
Mead, Hirini Moko. Chapter 2: Ngā Pūtake o te Tikanga – Underlying Principles And Values. Tikanga Māori: Living By Māori Values. Aotearoa: Huia Publishers, 2003. 25-34. Print.
New Zealand. Waitangi Tribunal. Ko Aotearoa Tenei: Te Taumata Tuatahi : A Report into Claims Concerning New Zealand Law and Policy Affecting Maori Culture and Identity. Rep. N.p.: Legislation Direct, 2011. Print.
Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal. Te Ao Mārama – the natural world – Mana, tapu and mauri, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 22-Sep-12