Former Playboy model Jaylene Cook has stirred protests among New Zealand’s Maori for posing nude on top of Mount Egmont and posting the picture on Facebook.
“It's a sacred place,” says Maori spokesman Dennis Ngawhare, “and something like this is just very inappropriate." "It's like someone went into St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and took a nude photo.”
No, it is not, and it is important to see the difference.
Mount Egmont is a natural phenomenon. The Maori did not build it. God built it, and he built it for all men, not just for Maori. It is unjust for Maori to claim special ownership of it, based on their race. It is a New Zealand national park, public property. St. Peter’s, by contrast, was built by Catholics for Catholics, and it is private property.
There is no reason to suppose either that Jaylene Cook was being disrespectful of anyone’s religion. The Maori may be against nudity on mountaintops, but it is a recognized and fairly accepted Western/European expression of reverence for nature: it is sometimes called “naturism” or “going natural.”
She is, in other words, simply expressing her own religious feelings. If Maori don’t like it, in decency and tolerance they should keep it to themselves. To object is like objecting to someone wearing a crucifix or praying to Mecca there. They are trying to impose their own beliefs on others.
I have some doubts, too, myself, as to how “sacred” the mountain really is to the Maori. After all, they sold it to the Europeans. I don’t think the Catholics would do that with St. Peter’s. Does anyone really take seriously the old Maori folk tales of the mountain? These are about as substantial as European fairy tales, of Irish stories of the little people.
Here is how Wikipedia tells the tale:
Taranaki (Mount Egmont) once resided in the middle of the North Island, with all the other New Zealand volcanoes. The beautiful Pihanga was coveted by all the mountains, and a great battle broke out between them. Tongariro eventually won the day, inflicted great wounds on the side of Taranaki, and causing him to flee. Taranaki headed westwards, following Te Toka a Rahotu (the Rock of Rahotu) and forming the deep gorges of the Whanganui River, paused for a while, creating the depression that formed the Te Ngaere swamp, then heading north. Further progress was blocked by the Pouakai ranges, and as the sun came up Taranaki became petrified in his current location. When Taranaki conceals himself with rainclouds, he is said to be crying for his lost love, and during spectacular sunsets, he is said to be displaying himself to her. In turn, Tongariro's eruptions are said to be a warning to Taranaki not to return.
This is a lovely poetic fancy. It is a lovely bedtime story. But I doubt that Maori ancestors at any point considered it to be information about the real mountain. Did they really thing mountains could run around? The very improbability of that image argues instead for intended allegory. Making it about a Taranaki of the imagination, and the physical mountain nothing more than an aide memoire. It is like declaring sacred the mountain that inspired the story of The Little Engine that Could.
Amusing fancies, not anything commanding worship or demanding any moral obligations. And this seems to me generally true of pagan polytheism everywhere.
But such fancies are useful for making property claims.