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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Lego game irks Maoris
Bionicle web page, which has angered Maoris
Bionicle is said to be based on Maori folklore
Danish toy company Lego is facing a legal challenge by a group of ethnic Maoris from New Zealand who say the company is illegally patenting aspects of their culture for a new game.

A lawyer for the group, Maui Solomon, has written to the company demanding the suspension of sales of the game, known as Bionicle.


This affair is not a legal issue but a sentimental one

Lego spokeswoman
The letter, extracts of which were published in the Danish newspaper Politiken on Monday, alleged that Lego was trying to obtain legal rights to Polynesian words.

Lego spokeswoman Eva Lykkegaard denied the allegation, saying the company had not tried to interfere with the cultural heritage of Polynesian peoples.

"On the contrary, we have a deep respect for the history of the Polynesian people and for the richness and cultural diversity of the universe," she said.

She added that, while Lego had drawn partly on Polynesian culture for inspiration, only the word Bionicle - a combination of biology and chronicle - has been registered as a trademark.

"This affair is not a legal issue but a sentimental one," she added, saying the company would respond to the challenge in the next few days.

Remarkable resemblance

The game involves a group of imaginary inhabitants of the island of Mata Nui, called the Tohunga, who are in the power of an evil beast called Makuta.

Six heroes called the Toa are sworn to liberate the Tohunga.

The three Maori tribes represented by Mr Solomon are incensed by the use of these words - all of which are Polynesian - in particular Tohunga, meaning native healer.

The letter says that the story bears a remarkable resemblance to the traditional stories of the peoples of Easter Island, who are closely related to the New Zealand Maoris.

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