Airport security staff tell man his walking stick is a 'mini-taiaha'

The Aviation Security Service isn't apologising after refusing to let a man onto a flight because his walking stick was a "mini-taiaha".

But it's also not explaining why he was allowed to take it on a flight just a few days beforehand.

Piripi Winiata, 29, was gifted the walking stick after graduating from a Māori language academy. On Tuesday he was returning home to Wellington from a graduation ceremony in Auckland when he was pulled aside, RNZ reports.

"I explained to her 'oh no it's not a taiaha, a taiaha is much longer, a different shape - it's a tiripou, it's a carved walking stick'," Winiata told RNZ. "She said 'no, you can't take it on'."

According to Te Ara, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage's Encyclopedia of New Zealand, a taiaha has not just a body, but a head (upoko) and tongue (arero).

Winiata claims the staff member told him if it was a plain walking stick there would have been no problems. Winiata said that was a "damaging view", and drew "a connection between Māori culture and violence".

Wellington security staff had no problem with the tiripou when he flew up to Auckland, he said.

Aviation Security Service said in a statement it didn't matter what carvings the walking stick had - any blunt instruments capable of causing "serious injury" were banned. 

The service told the broadcaster it had reviewed security footage of Winiata's encounter with its staff, and was satisfied its staff made the right call. No explanation was given for why Winiata was allowed to take it on board in Wellington, but not on the return flight.

Winiata missed the flight, and had to check the item in and take a later one.

His four-year mission to become fluent in Te Reo was featured on an episode of Three's The Hui last year.