The didgeridon’t

// 3 September 2008

Harper Collins, the publisher, are sticking with their new Australian edition of The Daring Book For Girls – despite the fact that some Aboriginal leaders are outraged with its advice on how to play the didgeridoo.

That’s because the didgeridoo is viewed in some Aboriginal cultures as a solely male preserve, and if a female even touches it, it’ll lead to all manner of evil, including infertility.

I’d be relatively impressed with HC’s defiant stance if it was in fact a stance, but it seems they just hadn’t done their research – they “weren’t aware” of any taboos on the instrument. However, at the moment they’re sticking to their guns. It’ll be interesting to see if they bow to pressure.

Comments From You

Lauren O // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:22 pm

Infertility?

NOOOOOOOOO!!!

earlgreyrooibos // Posted 3 September 2008 at 9:29 pm

Infertility!! I need to get me one of these! Way cheaper than a tubal, for sure!!!

Seriously, though, I hope the people at HC don’t cave to the pressure.

Cara // Posted 3 September 2008 at 10:05 pm

Go HC! I hope they don’t give in, too.

I had a go at playing a digeridoo when in Oz, they have a museum on the harbour where anyone can have a go.

I didn’t realise I was going against sacred tradition *gasp* why, I should put on a skirt, and give up my job, too!

“Culture” is not an excuse for sexism.

chem_fem // Posted 3 September 2008 at 10:24 pm

This is the problem with books aimed at specifying what girls and boys can or can’t do.

Zenobia // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:07 am

But how do we know that the tradition actually is sexist?

Culture isn’t an excuse for sexism, sure, but can’t you see the colonial mentality going on here? White colonisers taking something meaningful from some of the most thoroughly colonised, erased, poverty-stricken indigenous people in the world and treating it as a form of entertainment – go Harper Collins! But I guess they’re only natives, so they’d have irrational reasons that have probably been fully reported here for objecting to something like this. I mean, of course, they don’t have minds, they have traditions.

Also, this is naturally because Aborigines subscribe to a 1950s Western middle-class version of femininity, and think women should also wear skirts and not go to work. Like a lot of Aboriginal women are likely to be in a situation where they have much of a choice in the matter.

So yeah, culture isn’t an excuse for sexism, but there’s so much more than culture going on here.

Liz // Posted 4 September 2008 at 11:08 am

Agree with you there Zenobia, not sure if this Harper Collins thing represents any real kind of victory.

Sarah // Posted 4 September 2008 at 11:32 am

But it *is* an irrational belief that playing a didgeridoo causes infertility, there is no plausible mechanism by which that could work – what is the point of pretending otherwise?

I agree that there is a shameful history of oppression of the Aboriginal people, and they are probably right to feel this book is an example of their traditional culture being commodified or ridiculed – it could almost certainly have been written more sensitively. But I also feel it’s patronising and insulting to them to pretend to ‘respect’ their absurd superstitions when we would laugh at similar beliefs in other populations. I think we show them more respect by treating them as intelligent human beings like the rest of us, and holding them to the same standard of rational thought and behaviour as everyone else, not fetishizing them as superstitious peasants.

It’s not an isolated example, you see the same thing with well-meaning people tiptoeing around religious beliefs and customs to avoid offending anyone, even when these beliefs are antithetical to feminism and also completely irrational and nonsensical. Neither ‘tradition’ or religion are valid excuses for sexism or ignorance.

Zenobia // Posted 4 September 2008 at 12:00 pm

But it *is* an irrational belief that playing a didgeridoo causes infertility, there is no plausible mechanism by which that could work – what is the point of pretending otherwise?

I agree, but I think there may be more to it, because there’s a history of colonial occupiers interpreting aboriginal people’s observations as ‘beliefs’ and ‘superstitions’, which is often used as an excuse to colonise them, and so I also agree that using those ‘beliefs’ and ‘superstitions’ as an excuse to respect people whatever they do or say is equally racist, and patronising to boot.

That’s exactly why I think there’s probably more to this. Why would they have ancestral beliefs and superstitions, where we have rational deductions and common sense? These kinds of things are always reported as ‘they have this ancestral belief and we mustn’t offend them’. That’s why I’m suspicious, as Aboriginal culture isn’t exactly one of the most accurately represented in the mainstream media around the world.

I mean, the situation is probably a great deal more complex than that even, and there are probably gnarly old fuckwits on both sides who believe that certain activities cause women to be infertile. I laughed at John Harvey Kellogg for saying more or less the same thing, so it’s no different here. But we shouldn’t jump to hasty conclusions, and we certainly shouldn’t be punching the air and going “Go big publishing house, you tell them sexist natives!”.

Flo // Posted 4 September 2008 at 12:32 pm

My reaction to this was largely the same as Zenobia’s, though I think that the taboo about women touching the digeridoo more than likely is sexist. I don’t know much about Aboriginal culture specifically, but it seems that whenever it is taboo for women to be involved with the divine, or women’s touch is feared to cause disaster, generally this is because women are seen as inherently inferior or polluting.

However, whilst I might fiercely disagree with traditional aboriginal culture on that point, I wouldn’t write their belief off as ‘irrational’. I would imagine that this belief, like any of our beliefs, is one that is part of a much broader system of beliefs, one that has been thought through in a rational way. I think it is wrong all the same, but that’s not the same as saying that it is irrational. After all, for example, I personally believe that people who say you can be a feminist stripper are wrong – I think there are flaws in the arguments they use to get them to that conclusion – but I wouldn’t say they were irrational, and I would feel disrespected if they called me irrational for diasgreeing with what must seem to them to be the rationally thought out truth of the matter.

This is a really tricky thing to get right, balancing belief in moral absolutes (i.e. it’s always wrong to treat women as inferior to men) with respect for others and awareness of post/neocolonial power relations. The best way forward seems to me to be not to compromise my feminist beliefs, but to try to disagree respectfully (easy enough when you’re just writing on a website about a relatively minor issue, not so much if you’re directly involved in campaigning against female circumcision etc. I would imagine). I think rational/irrational are such loaded terms that they need to be used with great caution, or a probably best avoided altogether.

Anne Onne // Posted 4 September 2008 at 1:23 pm

I’m not sure what to make of this. A part of me would like to see no activity defined as ”for girls” or ”for boys”, but the other part of me agrees with Zenobia. And that part wins over for me.

I think there’s something very different between culture being used as a excuse to deny women very important, fundamental rights (see story above about women being buried alive for wanting to choose who they marry, and how that is defended as ‘cultural’) and this, because there is no fundamental right to play the digeridoo, for anyone. I fully support aboriginal girls and women and their right to demand change in this tradition, as it affects them. For everyone else: what right have we to play the instrument? Sure, if it matters not to the people whose culture it is, it’s a different matter, but if the people who it belongs to decide they don’t want someone playing the instrument, what right have we to demand someone plays it?

I see the need to urgently take action where rights are being infringed, and essential services are being denied on the grounds of race, age, gender etc whatever culture it is, but the context and exactly what is affected is important. Here, whilst I would like to see a change where women are allowed to play a bigger part in their own culture, and I believe it needs to be fought for, this is not the way to do it, nor was the book doing it with helping aboriginal women in mind.

Who is the book aimed at? This book isn’t aimed at encouraging girls of aboriginal descent to make an impact in their culture and change the context in which a digeridoo can be played. It is aimed at predominantly white people who are ignorant of aboriginal traditions or beliefs. I’d argue that if aborigines have very strict beliefs on who should play the instrument, and probably believe non-aborigines shouldn’t, then outsiders shouldn’t play the instrument or tell them what to do with it. It’s not a divine right to play a random instrument, and playing an instrument that other people believe should only be used in certain instances gains nothing at the expense of listening to the desires of the people whose culture we are appropriating.

This is entirely separate to whether women being traditionally banned from playing the digeridoo is sexist, because one can believe that the practise should be open to all, without believing that it needs to be us white Western feminists telling people to end it. Yes it is absolutely sexist. It centres on a fear of women involved with religion, and on denying women positions of power or prestige on the grounds that it would cause a calamity if women forgot their place.

But you know what? The answer to a complicated question that involves the intersection of culture and sexism isn’t to jump in guns blazing. It’s to support the feminists or womanists and advocates for rights indigenous to that culture. It’s to listen to how they want their culture to change, and remember that a lot of their beliefs and superstitions are no more irrational than our own. I second Flo in this. There are many things in our culture we can easily define as irrational and rightly, as sexist, and the point here is not that we can’t criticise another culture or religion, but that we should always remember, and point out that we ourselves are far from perfect.

It is far too easy to act as if we have all the answers and everybody else needs a Western viewpoint to save them. This is important because the overhwelming narrative paints non-western traditions as being irrational, silly and primitive, whilst defending Western ones as being traditional, noble and remnants of a golden era, or at best a little old-fashioned. The fact that Western culture often has the same kind of traditions, or had them until very recently seems to be ignored, and it’s very easy for us to fall into taking a superior voice, because that’s the training we have had, just like we are trained to be critical of women.

Besides, the publishing house clearly didn’t do that deliberately, and seems to have been quite ignorant of the traditions and beliefs around digeridoos in general, which is in itself something we should be critical about. A relicious and culturally important instrument is not a play toy for anyone, and they should have done their homework.

Carrie // Posted 4 September 2008 at 1:26 pm

I’m reading your comments with fascination! Lots of food for thought for all of us, I think…

Kath // Posted 4 September 2008 at 1:36 pm

Anne – the aborigines do not own the right to play the digiridoo and it is not for them to say who can or can’t play it – women, Westerners or whoever – any more than we should restrict them access to ‘our’ culture.

Zenobia // Posted 4 September 2008 at 2:32 pm

Anne – the aborigines do not own the right to play the digiridoo and it is not for them to say who can or can’t play it – women, Westerners or whoever – any more than we should restrict them access to ‘our’ culture.

That’s not the question though, the language you’re using to talk about this is completely wrong, since they don’t ‘own the rights’ to much at all, and as for saying white people should have as much access to aboriginal culture as they have to ours, it sounds a little like you’re unaware that aboriginal culture was forcibly removed from them, and in fact their kids were actually taken away and raised by white families to protect them from the ‘evils’ of their own culture. Ever heard of the stolen generation? For that to happen and then for elements of aboriginal culture to be packaged and sold to white people as entertainment, as aboriginal culture is effectively reduced to a load of tourist trinkets… I mean, how would you feel about that?

Kath // Posted 4 September 2008 at 3:21 pm

Zenobia – I’ve read your comments, I was aware of everything you mention and I still feel the same. Appreciating and playing the digiridoo is not necessarily reducing it to a tourist trinket. I’m pretty sure I can say that without condoning the disgraceful attack that was/is being perpetrated against the aborigines and their culture. The news reports may be wrong but they state that the aborigines objection was to the digiridoo being recommended to girls in particular not that it was being repackaged to tourists. Also I agree with Sarah that there is nothing wrong with calling their belief irrational. I will happily criticise all religions for being irrational and sexist. People are entitled to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose but not to impose them upon others.

Gwen // Posted 4 September 2008 at 3:27 pm

I agree with Zenobia. I don’t know enough about Aboriginal culture to judge the ban on women playing the didgeridoo, though it does sound sexist.

However, this is NOT about Aboriginal women challenging sexism within Aboriginal culture and asking for solidarity from White feminists. This is about a Western publishing company deciding that it can afford to ignore what Aboriginals say about their own culture – in short, assuming that they know what’s “best” for Aboriginals. They didn’t even KNOW about the cultural taboo beforehand, but have decided they can safely ignore it because of their racial privilege.

It definitely smacks of cultural appropriation and colonialism, as far as I’m concerned – white people ignoring the views of colonised peoples, appropriating the “cool parts” of their culture out of context and denying them a voice.

chem_fem // Posted 4 September 2008 at 4:32 pm

Zenobia, I agree and I’m aware of those things, however I’ve no idea about how on earth you start to make up for that (or if you can and I’m inclined to believe you can’t) – although the recent Rudd apology and giving them back rights to their ancestral lands is a start.

My personal view is that when you start making books about things for boys to do and things for girls to do, then you are going to get into these arguments. Had the books been gender neutral ‘dangerous books for kids’ would the issue have come up?

Anne Onne // Posted 4 September 2008 at 5:06 pm

Ah, but all cultures have NOT been treated equally through history, nor are they treated like that today.

I don’t recall writing that they ‘own’ the instrument in a legal sense, because there is no argument legally or strictly speaking for preventing anyone female or not, white or aboriginal, from playing the instrument. Just like there is no legal argument one mustn’t dress like a nazi, honk at women on the street or wear blackface. There are things we realise are patronising, insulting and treats a minority in an unfair way, and ignoring their wishes as to how their culture is treated is one of them.

We have the privilege (and responsibility thereof) of living with the culture that has for the last few hundred years at least, dominated those of other cultures via an empire, appropriating whatever influences it felt ‘quaint’. Western culture has been perfectly willing to take on whatever parts of other cultures it felt interested on all the while divorcing it from the context and seeing the owners of that culture as uncouth irrational savages.

Do you know how insulting it is for someone of another culture to have some ignorant foreigner decide that a part of their culture and heritage is some sort of quaint game? If they believe their instrument is sacred, why not respect their wishes and leave it to them?

Drawing some parallel between the dominating Western culture and other cultures is all very well, but it ignores hundreds of years worth of history. Western culture has had a huge impact on other cultures, which can be seen alone in how widely the English language is taught abroad, and how Western style consumerism spreads. This Westernisation affects other cultures, but not in a good way. This interchange is NOT taking place amongst equals, because the power is on the side of the superpower that is the West. The West is at a position where it can take up whatever it likes from other cultures whilst declaring them primitive. Is that flattering or insulting?

What do we mean by access to culture? Western culture isn’t something someone of another culture can avoid even if they were to choose to. On the other hand, by nature of being used to our culture being the dominant one, we are far more likely to see other cultures not as a very real aspect of their lives or the similarity between us as people, but as exotic and mysical rites belonging to some ‘other’.

Access to culture isn’t (nor should it be) restricted. By all means, read as much as you want about aboriginal culture. Go to Australia, get to see how they live and study the culture if you want. Nobody is saying that respectful, reasoned sharing of culture is a bad thing. But the cultures of others should be, wherever possible, respected. Cultures are complicated, and the best way to help ease inequalities is complicated, and certainly not about alienating those of different cultures or insulting them by insisting you know what’s best. Such a narrative has been used by the West for a long time, and it has done little more than make a lot of people very angry.

My point is: Why the entitlement? Why feeling that we are owed the right to play some instrument belonging to a people totally unrelated to us or our context? It’s all very well if they don’t care either way, but if they do, why so we think we’re being short changed?

Falling into feeling like we MUST have something, is all very easy, it also saves us from considering not whether we CAN do something, but whether we SHOULD, and what right we actually have to do so.

I add that this is NOT about whether women should be allowed to play it (they should), and I hope that feminists who understand aboriginal culture, and who are a part of that, are close to achieving it. But this is about whether anyone, particualrly a bunch of Westerners completely ignorant of the culture, has some sort of Divine Right to play the instrument. And the answer to that is no. It’s a matter of framing, and I think that whenever in doubt, it’s useful to turn the framing around and get rid of the entitlement that is so prone to swamping privileged parties.

I can’t find any specific references to explain this better than I can, but try Offical Shrub. The closest I can seem to get to a Western Privilege checklist is this article, but it’s not really what I was going for:

http://www.counterpunch.org/schwalbe1004.html

It’s not quite white privilege, because white privilege is primarily experienced as the privileges white people have over those who are POC in their own country. But there is a very real privilege that we have as people in a Western country, and I think this is playing into the equation here.

Louise // Posted 4 September 2008 at 8:07 pm

As a female didgeridoo player I certainly do not feel I am being “colonial” when I pick up this wonderful ancient instrument. The taboo surrounding female didge players exists in most tribes but apparently not in all. Some aborigene women do play the didge. However, in some of the tribes that ban women from playing the didge, the punishment for touching the intrument was traditionally rape. Sexism exists in many cultures. Cultural differences are no excuse for violence.

Cara // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:14 pm

Thanks, Louise, I’m glad a female didgeridoo player posted here. And yeah I figured if it was really that offensive no museum would let women play.

Wow, I had no idea I was a big evil white colonizer.

For the record, I called nobody “natives” and never would, nor do I think Aborigines are “ignorant peasants”.

Zenobia, I am aware that Aborigines of course do not subscribe to a 1950s middle-class Western idea of femininity. In fact most Aborigines are unemployed, as I’m sure you will tell silly little me, you being an expert and all. Have you been to Australia?

My point is that women not working and wearing skirts was once considered “tradition” and “the way things are” too. A society that doesn’t change, stagnates.

Sarah – “I also feel it’s patronising and insulting to them to pretend to ‘respect’ their absurd superstitions when we would laugh at similar beliefs in other populations. I think we show them more respect by treating them as intelligent human beings like the rest of us, and holding them to the same standard of rational thought and behaviour as everyone else, not fetishizing them as superstitious peasants”

Exactly, well put. It is very patronising and as bad as the converse i.e. both are seeing them as ignorant peasants.

And it is the same logic that says oooh don’t condemn wife-beating if a BROWN man does it, the poor things don’t know any better, when you would utterly condemn a WHITE man who beat his wife as a misogynist bastard.

Screw cultural relativism.

Anne – “I think there’s something very different between culture being used as a excuse to deny women very important, fundamental rights (see story above about women being buried alive for wanting to choose who they marry, and how that is defended as ‘cultural’) and this, because there is no fundamental right to play the digeridoo, for anyone.”

It’s the little things that add up to the big things. Playing an instrument may not seem a big deal, but if women are denied small rights that paves the way for them being denied more important rights. A society that has rigid rules about what men and women may do almost by definition sees women as inferior, less capable, other.

And just to make it clear to everyone, yes, I am very aware of the disgraceful way the Aborigines have been treated. I made an effort to go to museums, and so on to learn more about Aboriginal culture – that isn’t necessarily “packaging” it for “tourists”, because, sorry, I didn’t have months to take off studying Aboriginal language and culture, so what was I supposed to do, go and live with them?

And as Kath said, whether or not Aboriginal culture – or any culture – is demeaned by tourism is not the issue.

And any culture is, you don’t think the quaint Morris-dancing, Shakespeare, version of England sold to tourists is packaged?!

That wasn’t what Aborigines were objecting to, anyway, it was that girls were told how to play the didgeridoo. Once again, saying only one gender can do any activity is blatant sexism, no?

Ignoring this because people are of a certain race is bizarre. Everyone should be held to the same standards, and I would equally ridicule white people advocating stupid “traditions” – as with the church until recently not allowing women to be bishops, for example, or any workplace dress code requiring women to wear skirts and make-up etc.

Cara // Posted 4 September 2008 at 11:23 pm

“We certainly shouldn’t be punching the air and going “Go big publishing house, you tell them sexist natives!””. Er, did I say that, Zenobia? What’s the significance of HC being a big publishing house, would you applaud them if they were a small business? I generally think people should not give in to pressure from retrogressives, and would say the same if it was a small publishing house, film studio, etc. just as with a big one, and whether the retrogrades protesting were white, brown, or green with purple spots.

It is interesting to see that people are reading patronising and racist stuff like “irrational” “superstitions” and “natives” into any post criticising the practice of (some) Aborigines not allowing women to play the didgeridoo, when no-one has actually said “silly primitive irrational superstitious natives, we’d better go and tell them what to do!”

No-one and no culture is immune from criticism (and yes, that includes ours, no, we aren’t perfect).

Anne Onne: “I’d argue that if aborigines have very strict beliefs on who should play the instrument, and probably believe non-aborigines shouldn’t, then outsiders shouldn’t play the instrument or tell them what to do with it. It’s not a divine right to play a random instrument, and playing an instrument that other people believe should only be used in certain instances gains nothing at the expense of listening to the desires of the people whose culture we are appropriating.”

That’s ridiculous. The Aborigines who performed at the show I went to *encouraged* the audience to have a go. So sorry for not patronising them by saying oh well, I don’t want to appropriate your culture, yeah it wouldn’t have been entirely rude to not join in. Or wait, perhaps it would. Maybe SOME people aren’t precious and WANT to share their culture and some travellers are interested in it, not “appropriating” or “packaging” or being patronising. Some people who travel abroad are capable of that. I would be equally happy to share British culture, and in fact, when travelling I interacted with locals – both of us sharing our cultures. It’s a two-way thing, and while I see what you are saying about westernisation, responsible travel can can combat that, to bring the version of western culture that *isn’t* McDonalds and Hollywood. I spoke to a lad who seriously thought all westerners had swimming pools in their homes! I also shared feminism, and anti-capitalism. Not everything in “western” culture is bad.

I guess those “natives” shouldn’t play the violin or flute, then?

“Do you know how insulting it is for someone of another culture to have some ignorant foreigner decide that a part of their culture and heritage is some sort of quaint game? If they believe their instrument is sacred, why not respect their wishes and leave it to them?”

I’m not ignorant. I’ve probably read more about Aboriginal culture than you, thanks. Nor do I think it’s a quaint game, as I said, I *appreciated* the music and we were encouraged to have a go.

Does a 6-year-old making their first inept attempts to play the violin disrespect the sacred traditions of classical music?

And lots of well-known female composers and musicians, hmmm, not, maybe Jacqueline du Pre should never have been allowed to pick up a cello as it wasn’t considered seemly for women to play the cello (putting stuff between their legs and all) in the Victorian era?

“It’s not a divine right to play a random instrument” – no, it isn’t, but it is a life-affirming and joyous thing. I have played the clarinet since the age of 11 and can’t imagine not being allowed to take part in music. Which is effectively what the ban is, since they don’t have other instruments. It’s not travellers that suffer, it’s the Aboriginal women who could have got respect and social status, made a career and money from playing the didgeridoo, or just, you know, got pleasure from it.

Furthermore, not only am I entirely aware of the appalling way the Aborigines were treated, I am all for apologies and compensation for that, land rights, welfare, anything else that will help Aborigines prosper. On respecting Aboriginal culture. I DID, OK? At Uluru (yes, I’m even using the Aboriginal name for it, see, I do understand) I didn’t climb it and think westerners should be banned from doing so. Not only does it detract from the natural spectacle, not only for people trying to enjoy it without seeing ant-like climbers all over it, but for the climbers themselves who don’t stop to absorb it – it’s disrespectful. I wouldn’t climb a cathedral either, not because I agree with religious beliefs but because it would offend people and detract from a thing of beauty.

Not climbing stuff doesn’t harm anyone. Haivng rigid rules about which gender does what, does cause harm.

Cara // Posted 4 September 2008 at 11:35 pm

I also notice that in another article on this site, Noel Gallagher is ridiculed for not allowing women on his list of top ten bands.

Blatant sexism.

Non-white people should be held to the same standards.

Women are excluded from music by not being allowed to play the didgeridoo.

Kath // Posted 5 September 2008 at 10:09 am

chem_fem hits the nail on the head – how can you even start to make up for all the suffering that the aborigines have endured? Certainly not by deciding not to play the didgiridoo. It’s so small as to be irrelevant. It is the injustices they have suffered that need to be acknowledged and made amends for but restoring social justice is the issue here not a musical instrument.

I don’t see why playing the didgiridoo is seen as playing a “quaint game”. Surely it can be respectful to want to take part in someone’s culture? They may believe the digiridoo has spiritual significance but culture evolves and religious taboos generally get broken down and this is a good thing.

Zenobia // Posted 5 September 2008 at 10:44 am

Just saying, it seems a little callous to be saying that we should have a right to adopt parts of Aborigine culture just as they have the choice to participate in Western culture, simply because they don’t have a choice, whether this particular incident is about the didgeridoo being accessible to girls or Aborigine culture being repackaged as a tourist trinket, the fact is that Aborigene culture has been practically erased and the majority of what is left has been repackaged as a tourist trinket.

And whether you feel you’re ‘being colonial’ when you play the didgeridoo (please! this isn’t about whether someone said you were wrong, stop being so self-centered), this history has taken place and you can’t erase it. So to an extent, if you want to put it in such a stupid way, you can’t avoid ‘being colonial’.

As for whether you think you should play it or not, I think you’re the best judge of that.

Rosemary // Posted 11 September 2008 at 12:31 pm

I don’t know much about Aborigine culture, admittedly, but I think it is naive to suggest that their sexist traditions are worthy of more respect than our own! Of course the troubling issue here is that this particular stance against sexism is coming from people outside of the culture.

I saw a performance and bought an album by a father and daughter duo called ‘Khyrkhaas,’ who are musicians and singers from Khakassia, a country that is currently part of Russia. Yulia Charkov, the daughter, is the first female musician to dare to challenge the formerly male preserve of ‘khai,’ or overtone-singing. This taboo is enforced by the popular belief that khai performance causes female infertility and consequently impedes marriage. It was very moving to see the courage and talent of this woman triumph over such an ancient taboo.

Has anyone seen the film or read the book ‘Whale Rider?’ The book was written by the Maori author Witi Ihimaera, and recounts the tale of a young girl who eventually wins the right to become the next chief of her tribe, despite much opposition due to the traditionally patrilineal mode of succession.

I am sure there are many instances of Aboriginal women fighting their own battles against sexism within their communities, which never get the press attention which this publishing house’s row has garnered.

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