Pull ‘the Other’ one!

New Zealand authorities have balked at building a motorway across the lair of a Maori swamp monster.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • Swamp monsters? Pull ‘the Other’ one!

The construction of a motorway in New Zealand was recently put on hold following warnings from Maoris that it will cross the lair of a legendary swamp monster. Work was brought to a halt earlier this month after members of the Ngati Naho tribe said that building the motorway would offend ‘taniwha’, a mythical swamp-dwelling creature.

New Zealand’s highway agency has been informed that two other bad-tempered taniwhas living nearby have already been responsible for a number of road deaths, and that paving a road over this ogre’s abode will only arouse their collective anger further. Unless it is diverted from his swamp, warns Maori resident Brenda Maxwell, ‘we’re going to have more problems than what it’s worth’. ‘Get away from the swamp. It’s as simple as that’, she told the Associated Press, accusing the government of ‘willing to trample on our culture’ in the name of cutting costs.

It is a depressing episode, though not unbelievable. Anything deemed to stem from an ‘indigenous culture’ is sanctified today. Such an episode clearly illustrates how the fetishisation of ‘culture’ in Western society is leading to its gradual cretinisation.

On the other hand, maybe these Maoris simply don’t want a motorway in their back garden and have concocted this whole tale, knowing full well the authorities would be too gormless and gutless to question it? It would not be the first time antipodeans have been made fools of in this way. Back in 1990, the Australian authorities tried to build a bridge linking Hindmarsh Island to Adelaide. Archaeologists, all-too-wary of cultural pitfalls, had reported that although there had been settlement on the island a long time ago by the Ngarrindjeri tribe, there were no remains there and nothing sacred had happened there. So in April that year the state of South Australia gave the go-ahead for the bridge’s construction.

Residents of the island were largely opposed to the scheme, fearing it would ruin their peaceful isolation. So what did they do? According to Roger Sandall, in his book The Culture Cult, a leading opponent was heard to say: ‘Let’s see if we can get some Aboriginals to help the cause.’ When they found one and asked him if there were any sacred places on the island, he said: ‘not that I know of, but I’m sure if we look around we can find something.’

Soon popped up local activist Doreen Kartinyeri, who penned a letter to the federal government in protest. It read: ‘This area represents a crucial part of Ngarrindjeri cultural beliefs about the creation and constant renewal of life along the Lower Murray Lakes…. The most serious cultural heritage dilemma concerns the Goolwa channel and its vital cultural heritage significance as part of the Meeting of the Waters. The cultural traditions concerning this “site” and its relationship to the surrounding lakes are highly confidential.’ Thanks to this fabricated yarn, the Australian federal government abandoned the project.

The corollary of the fetishisation of ‘indigenous cultures’ is that it makes non-white people look stupid. ‘So, you believe in swamp monsters? How fascinating! There, there, now run along and play.’ There are double standards too. If white New Age hippies argued against a new runway at Manchester Airport on the grounds that it went through a ley-line they’d be told to shut up and stop taking so much acid.

  • A love-hate relationship

According to various reports this week: many department stores are abandoning their traditional Santa’s grotto for fears about the potential for child abuse; any adult found having sex with a child prostitute may soon potentially face a life sentence; the Observer newspaper pleads for a clampdown on commercials for unhealthy foods during children’s TV programmes.

While we simultaneously fret about ‘the kids’, we hear endless stories about how young tearaway yobs are responsible for most crimes (for which they go unpunished) and how violent children are out of control in the classroom. David Blunkett now talks of introducing a night-time curfew for these terrors.

It’s quite a feat of mental gymnastics that we now dote on children and completely hate them at the same time. Are these traits by any chance related?

  • Don’t blame the CIA, blame Timothy Dalton

In Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as James Bond in 1995, M – played by Judi Dench – famously labelled him ‘a sexist, misogynist dinosaur and a relic of the Cold War’.

This week, with the release of Die Another Day, many are a still a little bemused as to the relevance of James Bond today. Not only is the Cold War long over, a hedonistic, risk-taking lifestyle has since become a definite no-no. Brosnan, for instance, is being pestered by the anti-smoking lobby now for chuffing on a cigar in this film.

The old outings are still relevant today, mind you. Although many regard the older outings as quintessential Cold War tales, it is important to keep in mind that none of the Bond villains officially worked for the Soviet Union. The closest we have to a Commie bad guy is Christopher Walken’s Zorin in A View To a Kill, but even this headcase ended up a liability to the Communists. For the most part, in the vein of Blofeld, Bond villains are polite, rich, psychopathic free agents, either trying to take over the world or bring about its end. They have no political agenda in the conventional sense and inspire blind devotion among the followers.

This sounds familiar. Ever since September 11, we have been told that we have been fighting ‘a new kind of war’, in which the rules and boundaries have changed. Ian Fleming and Cubby Broccoli foresaw this all along.

This is ironic, considering that in The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton, in helping the Afghans in their war of liberation, is probably responsible for arming and training Osama bin Laden in the first place.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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