May 13th, 2010
10:49 AM ET

New Zealand P.M. criticized for comparing tribe to cannibals

John Key made a joke at a dinner that one Maori tribe may have made him the main course.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was facing heavy criticism Thursday after making a cannibalistic comment about a Maori tribe for the second time in a week.

Key angered the Tuhoe, a tribe of Maori, on Monday after ruling out turning over part of a national park to the tribe as part of a treaty settlement, according to a Radio New Zealand report.

On Tuesday, during a dinner meeting with another Maori tribe, the Ngati Porou, Key said he was glad he was with them instead of with the Tuhoe, who would have made him the main course. He repeated the remark as a joke during a meeting with tourism officials in Auckland on Thursday.

"The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi, which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner, which wouldn't have been quite so attractive," Key was quoted as saying.

Asked later about the remark, Key said he was sure the Tuhoe would get the joke, Radio New Zealand reported. The prime minister’s office characterized the remark as flippant and light-hearted, according to a New Zealand Herald report.

Key later issued an apology. "Ah look, it was a light-hearted joke, a bit of self-deprecating humour - but if anyone is offended, then I deeply apologise," Radio New Zealand quoted him as saying.

But Tuhoe chief negotiator Tamati Kruger wasn’t laughing or very forgiving.

"I'm just astounded that the prime minister can make light of what we regard as a very, very serious situation regarding ... our future relationships with the Crown. I don't think it's becoming at all of a prime minister," Radio New Zealand quoted Kruger as saying.

Kruger went further in the New Zealand Herald report.

"It gives me the sense that whatever we say or do he will never, ever take it seriously,” Kruger said in the Herald report. "He is affirming a rigidness which is not really in the spirit of good faith negotiations. He is really going to force Tuhoe into a position that makes us look like the bad guys.”

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Filed under: New Zealand
soundoff (282 Responses)
  1. Dustndawind

    Everyone is so sensitive.

    May 13, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Champ

    What's wrong with Cannibus?

    May 13, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. malc

    What people fail to realize is that the Maori were not the first inhabitants of New Zealand the mori ori were, until the maori slaughtered, enslaved and indeed ate them! Therefore they (the maori) have no right to claim anything be it land, money or the moral high ground.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Clark1b

    interesting responses:

    but if everyone's culture is of equal value and worth ... then a culture that delves into cannibalism would be ok and even virtuous ...

    so why is there offense taken by anyone in this situation?

    May 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. roger

    Used to be a time when they would just be overrun and wiped out. Ah, the good 'ole days. Now we negotiate with our enemies. Sad.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. csmith

    I'm not sure what all the hubbub is about. The Maori wariors have a proud tradition of eating their vanquished foes.

    Seriously. No joke. Look it up.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Varun

    @SARAH – IS your last name PALIN by any chance?

    May 13, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Edwin

    I think Key's repeat of the joke does in fact show he does not treat the Tuhoe seriously. He is insulting their past and ignoring their present.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Matt

    To be fair nowhere does it say that they were actually cannibals in any manner

    May 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Trevor, Austin, TX

    Maori did used to practice ritual cannibalism. It's a fact. It may have been a joke in bad taste, but it did have a root in relatively recent history.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nikolasa

    Sure and if he had just finished a bad round of talks with the German Government would he have said, jeez I'm lucky they didn't gas me in the showers! If that is inappropriate then so is this!

    May 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dan NZ

    malc @199

    what are you talking about, your'e trying to sound so cool and right, but your fully wrong. Here we go, Pacific Islanders came to New Zealand, one group left in the 1500's to the Chatham Islands, THEN created a distict 'Moriori' culture seperate from the mainland Maori culture, that's it. They weren't here before Maori, they WERE Maori or at least a part of the proto-Maori. But you are sort of right about the Maori eating them, they came by ship in 1835, enslaved and cannibalised the Morioris. Today New Zealand Europeans, Maori and Moriori live in the Chatham Islands, which is part of New Zealand to the East. Although the last 'full blooded' Moriori died a while ago, there still are some with partial ancestry, so how about stop peddling lies to an internation audience while trying to look smart.

    and to comment on the article, Tuhoe need to lighten up, it was a joke, although maybe they should get their park back..since 95% of the inhabitants of the area are Tuhoe, and have lived there the whole time, I mean how can it not be there land?Oh that's right because the government said so.hmm.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KS

    @Jurre -- BOOTS?

    May 13, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Messernacht

    Of course, Tamati Kruger is nicely avoiding mentioning the Tuhoe plot uncovered in 2007 to break away from New Zealand and start their own seperate zone in the Bay of Islands. Simultaneous police raids were conducted nationally, uncovering a heap of weapons, and an al Qaeda-style training camp in the central North Island. The Armed Offenders Squad sealed off one small town, and the Tuhoe accused the Government of sending in ninjas (which, let's face it, would've been awesome). Essentially, the way that the Tuhoe operate is like that chubby kid at school who always jeers and says snide things, but the moment anyone says anything to him, runs to the teacher.

    On the positive side, I believe this is the first time since he was elected that John Key's made CNN on his own, so full points to the man.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bgets

    the problem is the tuhoe have the rights of citizens then he murder a newzelander and runs on the the park and when he is arrested the bleeding hart liberals protect him because he was taken of his land

    May 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
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