Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta accepts moko kauae 'will be something of a curiosity' as author Olivia Pierson faces backlash for labelling it 'uncivilised'

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says her moko kauae "will be something of a curiosity" as a New Zealand author faces backlash for labelling the facial tattoo "uncivilised".

Mahuta's appointment has gone global but the focus has often been on her moko kauae, a traditional Māori female chin tattoo the Labour MP got in 2016 to mark the anniversary of her father's death and acknowledge her tribe, Ngāti Maniapoto. 

Despite Mahuta making history as the first wāhine Māori Foreign Minister, her appointment has been criticised by author Olivia Pierson, who said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had gone "full wokelette on stilts" for giving the role to someone with facial tattoos. 

"Facial tattoos are not exactly a polished, civilised presentation for a foreign diplomat in the 21st century," the NZ-based author wrote on Twitter. "Facial tattoos, especially on a female diplomat, is the height of ugly, uncivilised wokedom." 

Online retailer Mighty Ape NZ confirmed on Twitter it had made Pierson's book Western Values Defended: A Primer unavailable following her comments on social media. 

"Tēnā koutou e hoa mā," Mighty Ape replied to a Twitter user. "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have made the book unavailable and will not be making it available again. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou."

Pierson claims to have been sent death threats after criticising Mahuta's moko. The author told NZME threatening violence and death is "uncivilised and wrong", but she stands by her original remarks on social media. 

Mahuta has chosen not to respond directly to the controversy, but the Hauraki-Waikato MP told The Project she accepts that her moko kauae will spark curiosity and opinions. 

"No doubt my moko kauae will be something of a curiosity to many people, but now more than ever before I think many countries could look to their indigenous people for many solutions. I hope to share a perspective that could add value," Mahuta said. 

"I know in New Zealand we are growing more and more aware of the way in which Māori can contribute to the economy, to the wellbeing of our nation, and how that can get cut-through and make a difference. I see myself as contributing that perspective in international forums and in the relationships that we develop."

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: The Project

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark and Māori Council executive chairman Matthew Tukaki have spoken out against international media for describing Mahuta as a "tattooed Maori woman" and fixating on her appearance.

"The headline is in poor taste," Clark said of an article by The Times with the title: 'Ardern appoints tattooed Maori woman as foreign minister'. 

"Undue attention is still paid to the appearance of women in politics," Clark told Newshub. "The focus should be on their ideas and accomplishments."

Tukaki said it was a "disgrace" that Mahuta had been subjected to "offensive" headlines overseas. 

"It's a disgrace that one of our most recognised Māori leaders, who just happens to be a woman and carries a moko, is subjected to headlines that do more to grab attention and readers than it does to actually celebrate what has happened here - a Māori woman bringing a new perspective to the world of international affairs," he told Newshub. 

"But the headlines have also triggered a wave of hate across social media, referencing the articles and the headlines to then pour hate on someone else. The headlines are both offensive and have now been weaponised by racists and keyboard warriors.

"We are seeing trolls and key board warriors right here in New Zealand, our country, plying the trade of hate onto a woman who is doing nothing more than celebrating her culture and being comfortable in her own skin."

Mahuta told The Project she is proud to be Foreign Affairs Minister. 

"Well obviously it's an honour and a privilege to steward through this portfolio for foreign affairs during these uncertain and unprecedented times. When the Prime Minister offered it to me I kind of had to take a bit of a breath."