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Friday, 26 October, 2001, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
Maori take on hi-tech Lego toys
Whakatu Marae, a meeting ground, Ngati Koata Trust
Maori concerned over misrepresentation of their culture (photo courtesy Ngati Koata Trust)
By Kim Griggs in New Zealand

After challenging Danish company Lego to stop using Maori words for its hi-tech toys, New Zealand Maori are now planning to work with the company to draft guidelines on how to use traditional knowledge.

Last week, a Lego representative went to New Zealand to meet with the Maori, who had complained at Lego's use of Maori words in its Bionicle game.

After deciding to stop using offending words in any further launches of the Bionicle range, Lego now wants to set out a code of conduct for the use of traditional knowledge in the manufacture of toys.

Bionicle 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.

Positive feeling

The meeting in New Zealand, the first of its kind for Lego, was to start discussions about the proposed code of conduct.

Pohatu is a stone spirit, Lego
The Pohatu character is said to be a stone spirit
"We wanted to make sure the Maori people would be interested in participating in such a process," said Brian Soerenson, the Lego representative at the New Zealand meeting.

"I felt it was a very positive meeting, both on the code of conduct issue and also in the more broad discussions of the possibilities of co-operation in the future, but there has been no decision on this matter yet."

Maui Solomon, the lawyer who wrote the original letter of complaint to Lego, thinks the meeting was a step forward.

"We're trying to put the record straight about the culture and here's a major international company that's out there projecting a different perception and image," said Mr Solomon.

"Now, if we can get that right, then you've got something really powerful that's going to satisfy the commercial market and more importantly, the cultural market."

'Menagerie of toys'

Mr Solomon and the groups he represents objected to the inappropriate use of Maori words, and the way the game mixed together strands of many cultures.

Roma Hippolite, Ngati Koata Trust
Roma Hippolite: Wants a code of conduct (photo courtesy Ngati Koata Trust)
"This was what Lego was doing, taking bits and pieces and sticking it all together to make a bit of a menagerie of toys, which projected what they saw as sort of wonderful kind of culture of good versus evil," Mr Solomon said.

Removing Maori culture entirely from the international toy market is not the New Zealand group's aim.

"We would want to have a code of conduct; we know that other indigenous people around the world would want to have a code of conduct," said Roma Hippolite, the chief executive officer of Ngati Koata Trust, one of the groups at the Lego meeting.

"It's not to protect and isolate but just to make sure that appropriate recognition is given where due."

Having Maori culture represented correctly could be a powerful tool for Maori, according to Mr Hippolite.

"If an agreement can be made and the stories and the names are used appropriately so you couldn't put the name tohunga [a spiritual advisor and healer] where it didn't belong, then there can be a whole generation of kids around the world that get to know and understand about things Maori."

See also:

02 Mar 01 | Business
Lego losses: 500 jobs to go
10 Jan 01 | Business
Microsoft and Lego link
29 Nov 00 | Business
Pokemon blitzes Lego
09 May 00 | Entertainment
Lego builds Spielberg partnership
30 Jan 00 | UK
Lego tops toys league
31 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Lego game irks Maoris
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