Mana Tuturu: Maori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights

Mana Tuturu: Maori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights. Barry Barclay. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005. 268 pp.

Reviewed by David Delgado Shorter

The mark of a significant contribution to scholarship is not that the work resolves long-standing debates. The debate often becomes more complex, entangling emotions, politics, ethics, legalities, and competing historical manatuturu.jpgnarratives. Rather than providing definitive answers, truly valuable research multiplies the questions, complicates the discussion, and demonstrates the stakes. Such are a few of the accomplishments of Barry Barclay’s Mana Tuturu: Maori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights. With extended discussions of indigenous intellectual property rights and the necessarily related issues of law, ownership, sovereignty, archiving, and art, Barclay’s book offers much to an incredibly wide variety of audiences. And although the book and its arguments prove problematic in terms of widespread practical usage, Barclay effectively demonstrates that a middle ground can and must be forged between native and non-native notions of law.

Barclay begins with a lengthy Introduction, called “Before the Beginning,” which exemplifies the type of thinking and writing substantiating the book as a whole. Academic readers might need to adjust their expectations because one does not confront footnotes, scholarly arguments, or ethnographic research. Rather, Barclay’s gift is eloquence, at times to odic heights. Perhaps he is writing as best a filmmaker can: the narrative moves as a montage of scenes. Barclay imagines James Cook arriving to Turanga’s east coast with a film crew, ready to film “first contacts.” He further imagines the scripting of director’s cues, camera shots, the signing of release forms, archiving the film, the film’s viewings at lofty institutions of British art and science, even the relationship between such an imagined filming and tea-towel sets featuring images of exotic natives. Although fantastical, the introductory essay articulates most of the issues addressed in the following chapters and Barclay tallies them in a link between biodiversity and intellectual property: “This is extraordinary; it’s likely nobody will ever see a moving image that was not, at conception, invested (via copyright) with market rights. Is every plum that grows ‘owned?’ Maybe most are. It is possible, nevertheless, that there is some place on the planet where a plum grows independently of ready-for-market ticketing. It is not possible that there is such a place for the moving image. There probably never was” (p. 14). And with these concerns over copyright, ownership, images, plants, and rights woven together, Barclay ends the introduction but begins the book.

The main content of Mana Tuturu consists of four parts that build upon each other incrementally, though each part offers mostly differing case studies. One could easily excerpt a part or two for a course reader without losing much of any sense of a larger argument. In fact, one of Barclay’s strong suits is that each part seems to be a variation on a theme; and although that theme might shift between plants, art, film, archives, copyright, land rights, etc., the reader is gifted a rigorous, indigenously informed lens by which to examine the topic at hand. Because Barclay seamlessly ties the themes together across the parts, and because the issues organically overlap, I will address his central claim instead of surveying each part’s sections.

Throughout the book, Barclay literally travels the world examining powerfully telling and often tragic incidents of where indigenous intellectual property rights (IIPR) fail to address the real, living relationships maintained by people with their land, arts, oral traditions, literatures, designs, fauna, flora, seeds, medicines, sciences, and technologies. Worse, Barclay successfully proves, that the IIPR language and standard was ostensibly created and mandated in order to serve the best interests of indigenous peoples. Not only do IIPR laws group together the thousands of indigenous life ways (Cree, Inuit, Kayapo, Maori, et al.), but they do so to universally rule how these diverse communities are to think of their own “natural” and man-made worlds. Land, seeds, paintings, genetic code, and dances are properties. And being property, they exist in a world of market relations, able to be owned, bought, sold, and valued according to the values of other “things.” Among the many problems with this object-oriented view, one of Barclay’s strongest arguments is that whereas copyrights expire over time, indigenous treasures grow more valuable. The net effect is that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), various United Nations’ agencies, and of course academics everywhere, are reproducing a legal and ethical framework that robs indigenous communities at the single instance they are seemingly giving them protection from theft. Barclay quotes himself sufficiently on this point: “Are not these things we value—concrete and abstract, ancient and modern—are they not called taonga by us? Treasures, in the English? Treasures, some of them, with a mauri . . . We once had taonga. We once had guardians. We once had keepers . . . What we have now—if we are to believe what we hear—are owners. What we have now are properties” (p. 65).

As Barclay constantly reminds us, the conundrum is global and civilizational: aboriginal vs. colonizer law (and already we fall into an overly simplistic binary). How do we conjoin disparate notions of right relationships, one object-orientated and market driven, the other intersubjective and based on kinship? One of my favorite aspects of this book is how Barclay reminds the reader again and again of the real emotional hurt and violence that comes from being dispossessed of one’s animals, plants, land and even ceremonial art designs. In academic classrooms and museum exhibitions, we rarely talk about such pain and hurt resulting from completely legal dealings; though I imagine we do so in Indigenous Studies settings more so than elsewhere. Barclay proposes some interesting, though practically problematic, solutions. And to be sure, the worth of his book should not depend upon this criticism. That said, Barclay makes the claim that indigenous words and perspectives must be incorporated into the legal documents that structure copyright, ownership, and accessibility. He centers his argument on the Taonga Maori Deposit Agreement at The New Zealand Film Archive. When asked to modify the agreement to establish a “Maori marker stone” in the English-language legal landscape, Barclay finally decided upon “mana tuturu.” For the purposes of the agreement, Barclay tells us, “mana tuturu” would be translated as “Maori spiritual guardianship” (p. 115).

As in his books and films, Barclay should be complimented for his insistence on the use of indigenous words in English works when the indigenous words best convey the reality being expressed. With “mana tuturu” Barclay spends some time expressing why “guardianship” is more appropriate than “ownership.” And although he discusses to a lesser extent that “spiritual” is to account for the ancestral guardians, his use of “spiritual” raises important questions that Barclay does not address. “Spiritual” carries with it a certain amount of colonial baggage to be sure. Following René Descartes, psychologists, physicists, theologians, legal scholars, indeed most of the Western world, has relied upon the binaries of mind and matter, body and spirit. As a scholar of indigenous religions, I can say that we rarely see such binaries at work in pre-colonial, indigenous worldviews. And while I have no basis for querying his translation of Maori words, I see a subtle but misleading possibility arising when we start using Cartesian notions of the world to make sense of indigenous lifeways. If this binary is organically Maori and not an adoption of Western categories, Barclay should have gone at least some distance in unpacking that worldview. Does Barclay’s understanding of Maori “spirituality” mean that Maori people think of the world as having spirits (bodiless beings)? Are Maori spirits the same as souls? Do these spirits experience reincarnation? I mean to be waggish here with very serious consequences. My concerns with Barclay’s semantic proposals are that such solutions sometimes reassert colonial ethics (Cartesian frameworks); sometimes they demonstrate the magnitude of the problem (international law applied broadly to disparate indigenes); or perhaps in Barclay’s case, they do both. Barclay simply could have done more to make sense of that very heavy concept, spiritual, since it pervades his entire book, starting with the title.

Born of Maori descent (Ngati Apa), Barclay grew up in Wairarapa. With training in radio and film (as well as the priesthood), Barclay’s earlier films covered topics such as energy conservation and the life of Indira Ghandi. Barclay then went on to work with Michael King on the watershed film series Tangata Whenua (1974), which focused on Maori culture and worldview. He wrote and directed a film on genetic resources, ownership, and erosion entitled Neglected Miracles (1985), which brought him popularity among the groups fighting over crop biodiversity. Only two years later, Barclay directed the film, Ngati, which was widely praised as being the first Maori directed dramatic feature. His next film, Te Rua, continued the focus on the Maori while also delving into art, ownership, and museums. Then, his film Feathers of Peace centered on the Moriori of Rekohu (The Chatham Islands). All considered I cannot imagine a more appropriate author than Barry Barclay for a book on “Maori treasures and intellectual property rights.” And judged by its contributions, I can see how Mana Tuturu was a lifetime in the making. This is a very smart, very relevant book. Barclay has produced a text that is hard to categorize, and harder to stop thinking about.

David Delgado Shorter is an Assistant Professor of Folklore at Indiana University. He is presently completing work on a book tentatively entitled Holy Dividing Lines: Rewriting Yoeme (Yaqui) Ethnography, that draws upon research conducted in collaboration with Yoeme peoples in northwest Mexico since 1993. One of the threads running throughout Shorter’s research is how non-indigenous terms and categories not only fail to accurately portray indigenous worldviews, but also how such terms actually have a role in the process of colonization. Additionally, he is creator of a major digital exhibition and archive project called Vachiam Eecha: Planting the Seeds, which explores Yoeme ethnography, digital media, history and politics. [2007.1.12]

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3 Responses to “Mana Tuturu: Maori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights”


  1. 1 bazzinmay May 4, 2007 at 2:47 am

    Dear Professor Shorter,

    What a wonderful review. Thank you for the way you embrace the material so warmly. Thank you for speaking up in blunt language against the phrase Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights – IIPR. And thank you also for drawing our attention to the dangers inherent in making free with a phrase like ‘Maori spiritual guardianship’. We all need a life after IIPR. We felt we might be gaining that by adopting the Maori phrase mana tuturu. In the fora of the Indigenous world in these parts, this phrase has a rich tradition. There will be similarly powerful phrases in the local languages of other Indigenous Peoples, plus proper native fora in which to weigh the whys and wherefores under those phrases. As we sought to navigate our way through the various traditions at play here, ‘spiritual guardianship’ served as a flag of convenience, a gesture to the outside world in signage once familiar there. But anybody would be crackers to hang a good outcome in the Maori world on such a phrase. Meantime, we have phrases of our own that go back hundreds of years. We also have traditional fora in which these matters are settled and support and guidance given. So it troubles me to read that what I have proposed might “prove problematic in terms of widespread practical usage”. What might be more widespread and practical than an arrangement whereby all Indigenous cultures feel free to protect and share their treasures in ways true to their traditional understandings and sayings? How cruel it would be to remove that hope, especially in these times when complete strangers may appear on the doorstep to tell us our laws don’t add up to much any more and we are just going to have to accept some new dispensation, not a protective one, as it turns out, but one facilitating acquisition by others.

    Naku noa, Professor; and may you come down this way soon to enjoy our warmest hospitality and more conversation on these important topics.

    Barry Barclay; Hokianga; Aotearoa/New Zealand

  2. 2 stephenturner May 22, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Barry Barclay’s s book is a “significant contribution to scholarship” because it complicates the debate around intellectual property rights. This is what “truly valuable research” does best, says David Shorter in his review. For Shorter, however, Barclay remains caught in western-derived binary thinking about spirits and material things that misconstrues indigenous life ways. Barclay’s book is not strictly academic, so “academic readers might need to adjust their expectations because one does not confront footnotes, scholarly arguments, or ethnographic research.” As a “scholar of indigenous religions” himself Shorter says that he is well-placed to point out Barclay’s unwitting use of mind-body dualisms. He is very appreciative of Barclay’s book, but his researcher’s interest undermines Barclay’s ability to speak with fully indigenous authority. This is what Shorter as an ethnographer-anthropologist would like Barclay to do. And this is what Barclay, mostly, does.

    Shorter’s problem with Barclay is the weasel phrase “spiritual guardianship” which appears in the book as a translation of Barclay’s key phrase “Mana Tūturu.” Shorter is rightly concerned about the ways translation misconstrues an Indigenous life world – his blurb says he has a professional interest in the matter – and here he catches Barclay out: the problem is when “we start using Cartesian notions of the world to make sense of Indigenous lifeways.” In his use of “spiritual guardianship” Barclay appears unaware of the “colonial baggage” that comes with talking about things of the spirit. Apart from this re-colonising element, the book offers a “rigorous, indigenously informed lens.” But Shorter’s problem obviously makes Barclay’s indigeneity less than rigorous. Scholarship is wheeled in to help, such as knowing about Descartes and western-derived binaries, though Barclay, whom I know personally, is a learned man. This is not the first time Indigenous peoples have mistakenly taken Western ideas about themselves to be their own.

    While Barclay talks much of injury and hurt, and is extremely attentive to the use and abuse of Māori words – such words in “free fall” in his own country as tapu and wairua and taniwha – it would seem that he has not thought through the colonizing consequences of the English language. Hence Barclay’s failure to explain what he means by “spirits” in his book; are these “bodiless beings” or “souls,” asks Shorter in a “waggish” but actually serious way. This rhetorical and academic question self-consciously misrepresents what’s at stake in Barclay’s book. Shorter fully grasps the major problem that burgeoning intellectual property rights law misconceives the living relationships of indigenous things it would protect, and he states this tectonic shift in Indigenous thinking very clearly. But the scholar of religion knows more. Shorter says that the issue of spirituality pervades the entire book – and so it is centrally misleading – “starting with the title.” Except, um, the book’s title does not say “spiritual guardianship.” It says “Mana Tūturu: Māori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights”. Mana Tūturu is a Maori phrase, not an English one, with manifold implications. According to H.W. Williams’ Dictionary of the Māori Language (reprint, 1992) tūturu means “upright, permanent” – so mana tūturu means something like mana that will always be. Thinking about a “sort of spiritual guardianship,” Barclay arrives at the phrase mana tūturu which he finds Maori speakers using to mean “prerogative” (the right to choose), “the right thing,” or “what’s right” (pp.112-113).

    Shorter understands well the problem of circumscribing indigenous life-worlds with the legal and ethical frameworks of intellectual property rights, but not the elusive movement of the Māori taniwha, a threatening spirit – oops –creature, often associated with tricky river-bends and unwelcome portents. The take-up by Māori of Christianity in the 19th century, which would have taniwha and such-like done away with, means that Māori may well talk of spirits, even in the most binary Augustinian way (a better reference than Descartes). Yet Māori can still feel, as Barclay says, the “interconnectedness between the animate and inanimate, the born and the yet to be born” (p.87), and are no less indigenous for their Christianity. Alas, Barclay is not sufficiently “organically Māori” for this anthropologist-reviewer.

    Nor, it seems, are many other Māori. The index of Hirini Moko Mead’s important guide to things “Māori, Tikanga Māori [Māori law]: Living by Maori Values” (2003) , has many entries under “spirit” (notably “wairua”). Mead’s book helps the reader to grasp the “spirit” or import of Māori values in a Maori world, though even the most well-chosen English word for a Māori one may not do that (for there is no equivalent to the Māori reality). Barclay’s real concern is not that words should be translated correctly, but that matters of Māori import should be heard in a forum in which Māori principles (again, mana, tapu, wairua) are properly understood, which can only happen if the forum itself is shaped by them. The practical “stewardship” of such a forum reflects a different mode of relating to Māori things than simply legal ownership, though Māori values now intrude upon settler-invader law, and it isn’t quite like being in church.

    Professor Shorter’s concern for the Cartesian overtones of “spiritual guardianship,” in the context of a local history of injury and hurt, is strictly academic. The really weaselly phrase is not “spiritual guardianship,” but “ethnographic research.” Anyone reading this book might ask, and is in fact forced to ask by the manner in which Barclay’s story unfolds, whether “ethnographic research” is what Barclay is “contributing to.” Shorter’s waggishness really does, as he says, have “serious consequences.” His questions are the concerns of an ethnographer of religion, but not any indigenous person’s. And why should they be Barry Barclay’s? The problem is not Descartes but a research agenda which bears little relation to the lived world of its “subject” – in this case an Indigenous world. Perhaps Shorter might come to New Zealand at Barclay’s invitation, and attend a hui (meeting) at a local marae (meeting house). This is the “proper forum” for addressing Māori issues so central to Barclay’s book. A hui is a palpable expression, for everyone present, of a place, the people of it, and the relations among them. A hui, dare I say it, fully embodies the spirit of those present. But there, questions about “bodiless beings” and “souls” might seem pretty odd. For this is a place of Māori common sense, Māori business – plain as day. Well then, is Māori-ness disembodied, a soul-like thing, the incarnation of a higher being, or beings? Barclay imagines folk at the hui, in a typical screenplay, worrying about a creek that has overflowed the road, turning back the mailtruck (p.241). Given his other problem with Barclay’s concept of Mana Tūturu, its questionable “practical usage,” Barclay’s recent documentary “The Kaipara Affair” shows how settler law in New Zealand is being tested by what Barclay calls decision-in-community, and how addressing people in community, in terms of their own understanding of who and where they are, can work for those people.


  1. 1 Long Road » Mana Tuturu Trackback on April 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm

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