01/02/09 11:08 Filed in: TV
At the Wharenui
Download a 6meg .mov clip.
Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, is a humorous, bold and irreverent TV programme from New Zealand about a fictional boys high school starring David McPhail. Tepapawai Boys High is threatened with closure and the school attempts a variety of activities and avoidance tactics to avert the inevitable. Mr Gormsby is an ‘old school’ style teacher with a plethora of politically incorrect attitudes and behaviours that highlight the absurdities of life. The students are rambunctious and defiant about learning almost to the point of being unteachable, but they do not want the school to close either. The result is a comedy that makes many social comments on education and human frailties, as the students and teachers co-operate to fight a common enemy, the Education Review Office (ERO).
Mr Gormsby with the Education Review Officer
In Series 2, episode 6 titled “An Inspector Calls” tackles the often avoided topic of menstruation. Mr Gormsby uses implied menstrual customs to avert the ERO inspector from inspecting a wharenui, a traditional Maori meeting house. He blurts out a string of menstrual euphemisms and confronts the ERO inspector. The fear is that a menstruating woman would reduce the sacred power of the carvings in the wharenui. There is often a relationship between fear and respect, for example, a strict and disciplined teacher often has the respect of the students. The mystic power of a woman to create life engenders both fear and respect and must be treated carefully. Part of the insult for the ERO inspector is that a woman’s menstrual status is considered a personal and private matter in western culture, irrelevant to her ability to perform her duties.
Many traditional cultures had restrictive and sacred customs associated with menstruation. Although Mr Gormsby’s aim is stalling the ERO inspector, there is evidence that menstruation required specific treatment in traditional Maori society. This is an article describing some menstrual customs in Australia and New Zealand, New Zealand Institute, 1904. Full article can be found in the National Library of New Zealand.
A more modern article gives a Maori interpretation of celestial bodies and describes the moon in female symbology. Some traditional cultures required women to have exclusion in separate huts, during their menstruation. One example is of Ethiopian Jews who settled in Israel Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. This exclusion allows women space and privacy under the protection of purity rites. In highly patriarchal societies, this totally female space was potentially a refreshment, a time out for women.
Photo - Margaret Kalms
Please, do not get the impression that Maori culture is stuck in the past. Wharenui are a cultural focus for Maori life both past and present. A descriptive background and short history of wharenui is found in this Education Resource, used with kind permission from Wellington City Gallery, Te Whare Toi. This resource includes definitions of many Maori sacred words and explains how symbols of today’s modern world view are incorporated into contemporary Maori ideas.
Modern art is revitalising the wharenui with new building techniques, technology and modern symbolism. Here is a wonderful modern rendition of a wharenui by a modern fractal artist, Rerewhakaaitu, which includes a description of the meaning of wharenui that is well worth reading. The Chrysalis Seed Trust magazine which explores the intersection of art and faith, describes the potential for Maori tradition to be integrated with the Christian faith in meeting houses. Many wharenui have become churches.
This integration of indigenous culture with mainstream (western) culture has not happened to the same extent in Australia. Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby is an amazing blend of the issues of indigenous culture and spirituality with mainstream and can teach us all to look life directly in the eye and face many difficult issues with courage and bold, good humour.