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Sir Keksalot

The Etymology of Matoran Names

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There's probably hundreds of works of fiction that lift names, ideas, and even specific folkloric/religious characters straight from other cultures, and yet those cultures don't bat an eye. There is nothing wrong with this. When you write fiction, you base it on what you know or what exists unless you're actively trying to make something hard to relate to. Tolkien ripped off Norse mythology openly and deliberately.

There's nothing wrong with basing a work on something already there, the problems start when you take things exactly as they are, as Lego did with the Maori words. Yes, Tolkien based things on real world mythology, but he didn't actually call his characters 'Odin' or 'Loki', did he?

 

Stan Lee did. Are there a lot of Scandinavians upset over this?

 

t's easy to understand why there's so little opposition to this kind of thing when you ask one question: what is the consequence of cultural appropriation? What actually happens as a result, provided it's not done in a way that promotes bigotry or ethnocentrism? Lego and Templar either couldn't come up with really good names or they wanted to have names with meaning, so they turned to existing languages as a result. This is something writers do all the time.

I'm not saying it was wrong for Lego to refer to the Maori language at all, obviously you have to start somewhere when coming up with fictional names. I just think that, if they wanted to use the words exactly as they were, they should've (at least) spoken to the Maori about it first to see how they felt about it.

 

I somehow doubt most writers do, anyway; and it's not something worth getting upset over, so I wouldn't expect Lego to even consider that the Maori would get mad, especially given the aforementioned bit about most groups not really caring.

 

How did this really affect the Maori? The result was just that kids were exposed to foreign languages, and now us fans can, as adults, look into and appreciate the etymology of these names and terms. How horrible.

The problem is kids don't know the words are from a real language, they just think of 'Toa', 'Tohunga', 'Kanohi', 'Whenua' etc. as entirely Bionicle words and nothing else. This is what I think the Maori were angry about: their words being rebooted as the words of a fictional people/world for a company's commercial interests without any consideration for how they felt about it.

 

The fans would have to find out eventually, as a lot of us did. Plus, the usage of Maori words wasn't toted as a marketing point; Lego needed names for characters, ideas, and places, so they did what writers who also sell their work do all the time and turned to existing languages. The use of fancy terminology in the advertising is never really important; it serves to hold the world and narrative together.

 

My point is that then they'd be a possible racist caricature, which is bad because it encourages ethnocentrism. It's the kind of portrayal of other cultures you see a lot in the early days of American animation, especially when trying to paint other countries as the bad guy.

But it can't be racist if the group of people portrayed are fictional (and not even human in this case).

 

It can if it's a deliberate sleight against them that's obviously meant to draw parallels. That's thankfully not common these days, but it's been done; old antisemitic political cartoons tend to depict Jews as "vermin" without explicitly naming them as such, for example. I don't wanna get into racial politics, though; much less on a forum for Lego, of all things.

 

Except Xenomorphs were created on purpose as art by a person for entertainment. They aren't a centuries- or even millennia-old cultural construct used for everyday matters that was not only created by people long dead, but which has changed so much over time that it's not even the original thing anymore.

The difference doesn't really matter, I was just using this to show the difference between 'taking inspiration from' and 'taking and using it exactly as it is' (as Lego did with the Maori words).

 

But it does matter. It means the act of "using as is" has dramatically different implications in these 2 contexts. Ripping off the Xenomorphs is profiting off of another artist, of something someone else deliberately created for a specific purpose in recent history, without crediting or compensating that artist. Languages don't exist in the same context.

 

Xenomorphs are owned. The words "puku" and "kopaka" are not.

Not legally, but they are owned by the Maori in the cultural sense.

Language cannot be owned because culture cannot be owned. If a Chinese toy company makes a line of action figures whose names are English words based on traits relevant to the characters, can the collective of the English-speaking world sue them? Or would it be more rational not to waste our energy on something so inconsequential? If the usage of words and names from other cultures truly warranted a lawsuit, why don't cultural groups sue for that reason all the time? Because even the aforementioned angry Hindu minority didn't take Hi-Rez to court; if they tried, the clearly weren't able to.


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Stan Lee did. Are there a lot of Scandinavians upset over this?

I'm not a comics expert so I can't judge this exactly, but I would at least point out that Norse mythology is quite prominent, so many people would probably know that names like Thor didn't begin with the comics. I don't think many people would know the same about the Maori words and culture, given that the Maori are from small islands on the edge of the known world and so not extremely prominent.

 

it's not something worth getting upset over, so I wouldn't expect Lego to even consider that the Maori would get mad

I would. If you're going to take something that another group considers theirs and pass it off as your own, a reaction to that isn't unlikely.

 

The fans would have to find out eventually, as a lot of us did.

Why would they have to? Bearing in mind most fans move on after just a few years, and those of us who stayed interested for many years are a minority of all those ever interested in Bionicle.

 

And I think it was only because of the Maori action that many people learnt that the 'Bionicle words' were actually Maori words.

 

Lego needed names for characters, ideas, and places, so they did what writers who also sell their work do all the time and turned to existing languages.

And swiped a load of words exactly as they were and applied them to fictional things apparently without caring how the people associated with the language felt about that.

 

It can if it's a deliberate sleight against them that's obviously meant to draw parallels. That's thankfully not common these days, but it's been done; old antisemitic political cartoons tend to depict Jews as "vermin" without explicitly naming them as such, for example.

Of course people can draw parallels if the people depicted are extremely similar to real world people - but when we're dealing with a bunch of rainbow-colored robot beings with big masks on their faces, it's surely going to be very hard for audiences to make any parallel with real world people.

 

Ripping off the Xenomorphs is profiting off of another artist, of something someone else deliberately created for a specific purpose in recent history, without crediting or compensating that artist. Languages don't exist in the same context.

But language is also deliberately created for a specific purpose, and Lego didn't credit or compensate the Maori for the use of their language.

 

Language cannot be owned because culture cannot be owned.

No, not owned in the legal sense (as I've said), but culture is owned in an associative sense by the people/area it originated in. I mean, are Samurai and Tengu not part of Japanese culture? Are Pegasus and the Cyclops not part of Greek culture?

 

If a Chinese toy company makes a line of action figures whose names are English words based on traits relevant to the characters, can the collective of the English-speaking world sue them?

I think this analogy doesn't work because the English language isn't spoken only by or associated with a specific group of people as the Maori language is; English is now too widespread for its use to be controversial or restricted.

 

If the usage of words and names from other cultures truly warranted a lawsuit, why don't cultural groups sue for that reason all the time? Because even the aforementioned angry Hindu minority didn't take Hi-Rez to court; if they tried, the clearly weren't able to.

Often they don't have the money or means to, plus the use of cultural terms probably isn't outright illegal anyway.

 

Did the Maori actually sue, BTW? They might have just contacted Lego and complained in the way customers do.

Edited by Sir Kohran

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Stan Lee did. Are there a lot of Scandinavians upset over this?

I'm not a comics expert so I can't judge this exactly, but I would at least point out that Norse mythology is quite prominent, so many people would probably know that names like Thor didn't begin with the comics. I don't think many people would know the same about the Maori words and culture, given that the Maori are from small islands on the edge of the known world and so not extremely prominent.

 

It's still lifting someone's cultural heritage for use as your own work.

 

it's not something worth getting upset over, so I wouldn't expect Lego to even consider that the Maori would get mad

I would. If you're going to take something that another group considers theirs and pass it off as your own, a reaction to that isn't unlikely.

 

That doesn't normally happen, though, mostly for the aforementioned reason that--and I cannot stress this enough--this happens all the time. Why would Lego expect a cultural group to get upset when it's so rare for a company to get in hot water for this?

  

Lego needed names for characters, ideas, and places, so they did what writers who also sell their work do all the time and turned to existing languages.

And swiped a load of words exactly as they were and applied them to fictional things apparently without caring how the people associated with the language felt about that.

 

Because there's A. nothing to get upset over and B. no reason to expect anyone to get upset because that's so rare.

 

It can if it's a deliberate sleight against them that's obviously meant to draw parallels. That's thankfully not common these days, but it's been done; old antisemitic political cartoons tend to depict Jews as "vermin" without explicitly naming them as such, for example.

Of course people can draw parallels if the people depicted are extremely similar to real world people - but when we're dealing with a bunch of rainbow-colored robot beings with big masks on their faces, it's surely going to be very hard for audiences to make any parallel with real world people.

 

And that's probably for the best. Can you imagine if colonialism got involved in all this? It'd be a much messier situation.

 

Ripping off the Xenomorphs is profiting off of another artist, of something someone else deliberately created for a specific purpose in recent history, without crediting or compensating that artist. Languages don't exist in the same context.

But language is also deliberately created for a specific purpose, and Lego didn't credit or compensate the Maori for the use of their language.

 

There's no need for them to do so. Whole religious narratives can be lifted from living cultures with only minor eye-batting and maybe some articles on various tabloids spewing the things tabloids spew; history and culture is not owned.

 

Language cannot be owned because culture cannot be owned.

No, not owned in the legal sense (as I've said), but culture is owned in an associative sense by the people/area it originated in. I mean, are Samurai and Tengu not part of Japanese culture? Are Pegasus and the Cyclops not part of Greek culture?

 

They are, but why should their usage require compensation for the cultures who consider that part of their heritage? It's history, it's information, it's not the product of a small group trying to make art.

 

If a Chinese toy company makes a line of action figures whose names are English words based on traits relevant to the characters, can the collective of the English-speaking world sue them?

I think this analogy doesn't work because the English language isn't spoken only by or associated with a specific group of people as the Maori language is; English is now too widespread for its use to be controversial or restricted.

 

That doesn't change the fact that it's still part of our collective cultural heritage. If the English-speaking world bands together and says "this is our cultural heritage and we don't want you to use it," are we justified in doing so? Prevalence doesn't change the language's cultural significance.

 

If the usage of words and names from other cultures truly warranted a lawsuit, why don't cultural groups sue for that reason all the time? Because even the aforementioned angry Hindu minority didn't take Hi-Rez to court; if they tried, the clearly weren't able to.

Often they don't have the money or means to, plus the use of cultural terms probably isn't outright illegal anyway.

 

Of course it's not; there's nothing that needs protecting. Language, like other cultural constructs, is going to be spread around no matter what. Sometimes, this happens through art. Now that we have the internet, we don't need direct cultural contact for this spread to occur; I can google whatever language I want and get words for it, provided there's sufficient information about it.

 

This is distinct from ripping off contemporary art, where the artist loses their thunder when they get ripped off because they worked on something and aren't being credited for it and because homogenizing something otherwise totally original makes it less distinct. Language, on the other hand, loses nothing from this.

 

Did the Maori actually sue, BTW? They might have just contacted Lego and complained in the way customers do.

They threatened a suit, apparently, but it doesn't look like they had a chance to follow through before Lego decided to cave in.


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It would have been interesting to see how the lawsuit would have panned out if they had gone through with it. How would a court decide if they “stole” things that weren’t originally “owned” in the legal sense?

 

Oh, and on the Stan Lee/Thor thing, I remember reading that the majority of Americans didn’t really know anything about Norse mythology prior to the comics. He wanted to make a mythology-based superhero, but by that point, Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology were so well known that they’d seem stale. So he did take a mostly unknown culture/language and use it as basis for a story. I guess the key difference is that his characters were basically fictionalized versions of the originals rather than entirely new characters.

 

Edit: Come to think of it, while we’re on the subject, some Roman mythology is just Greek mythology with either altered or completely different names, and a lot of people think of those myths as Roman instead of Greek. So people have been “stealing” from other cultures for thousands of years.

Edited by Cheesy Mac n Cheese
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It's still lifting someone's cultural heritage for use as your own work.

Which I feel is at the very least dubious, though I'd need to know more about how the comics used the mythology before I could say for sure that it was outright wrong.

 

That doesn't normally happen, though, mostly for the aforementioned reason that--and I cannot stress this enough--this happens all the time. Why would Lego expect a cultural group to get upset when it's so rare for a company to get in hot water for this?

It may be rare, but it has happened. In the decade before that point, Disney got a bad reaction from Middle Eastern people over the portrayal of Arabs in their Aladdin movie, and from the Greeks over the huge changes made to their mythology in Hercules.

 

Therefore it would make sense to consult with the people concerned when dealing with them or their culture.

 

Because there's A. nothing to get upset over

In your opinion as somebody who wasn't affected (I assume you aren't a Maori). The Maoris clearly felt there was something to get upset over.

 

And that's probably for the best. Can you imagine if colonialism got involved in all this? It'd be a much messier situation.

I'm not quite sure what colonialism has to do with this?

 

There's no need for them to do so. Whole religious narratives can be lifted from living cultures with only minor eye-batting

Yeah, the people involved in Charlie Hebdo got only eye-batting for their handling and portrayals of Islamic content, right?

 

They are, but why should their usage require compensation for the cultures who consider that part of their heritage? It's history, it's information, it's not the product of a small group trying to make art.

No, it probably shouldn't require compensation, and I doubt the Greeks or Japanese have been paid for all the movies that have been made about or with their culture - but then, the movies didn't ever pretend the culture was that of a fictional world or people as Lego did with the Maori words.

 

That doesn't change the fact that it's still part of our collective cultural heritage. If the English-speaking world bands together and says "this is our cultural heritage and we don't want you to use it," are we justified in doing so? Prevalence doesn't change the language's cultural significance.

I feel it does, as you'll find English speakers in almost every part of the world now. Its use by so many different people means that English just isn't specifically any person or group's cultural heritage at this point, whereas the Maori language remains the cultural heritage specifically of the Maori people because it hasn't spread beyond New Zealand in any significant way.

 

There's also the fact that English itself contains many words that are there almost intact from other languages (French and Latin mostly), so English words are not 'uniquely' English in the way Maori words are.

 

there's nothing that needs protecting. Language, like other cultural constructs, is going to be spread around no matter what.

This is distinct from ripping off contemporary art, where the artist loses their thunder when they get ripped off because they worked on something and aren't being credited for it and because homogenizing something otherwise totally original makes it less distinct. Language, on the other hand, loses nothing from this.

Whilst languages may not be commercial or copyright property, they do need protecting when they are dying out with the rise of another language, or just aren't spoken by many people to begin with (as is the case with the Maori). Language, when it is of a specific group of people, is or can be an important part of a culture's heritage and its people will probably want to make sure it's not used in a manner that changes it in an undesirable way (as Lego's use for their line of building toys arguably was).

 

It would have been interesting to see how the lawsuit would have panned out if they had gone through with it. How would a court decide if they “stole” things that weren’t originally “owned” in the legal sense?

Lego might have actually won on the grounds that (as you say) the words probably weren't the Maoris' strictly legally, but 'big Western company exploits natives and gets away with it' wouldn't be too good for Lego's image, so they may have actually wanted the Maoris to win to a degree.

 

And/or perhaps they just realised their use of Maori culture for their own products without any kind of consultation wasn't right, as I've argued it wasn't.

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It's still lifting someone's cultural heritage for use as your own work.

Which I feel is at the very least dubious, though I'd need to know more about how the comics used the mythology before I could say for sure that it was outright wrong.

 

Thor is the god of thunder. He is from Asgard. His dad is Odin, the one-eyed king of Valhalla. Loki, a trickster and former friend of the family, does some stuff and everyone's like "please don't do that stuff" but he does it anyway. All manner of things from the Prose Eddas are lifted and re-tooled. Stan the Man changed various details to make it usable as a superhero comic, but it's very obviously a ripoff of Germanic mythology. Stan took something he did not create and made something new with it. Marvel later took that same idea and did it with other mythologies, albeit much less--Hercules got a comic sometimes in the 2000s IIRC, and there was a Spider-Man comic that combined him with the West African folkloric figure Anansi at one point.

 

That doesn't normally happen, though, mostly for the aforementioned reason that--and I cannot stress this enough--this happens all the time. Why would Lego expect a cultural group to get upset when it's so rare for a company to get in hot water for this?

It may be rare, but it has happened. In the decade before that point, Disney got a bad reaction from Middle Eastern people over the portrayal of Arabs in their Aladdin movie, and from the Greeks over the huge changes made to their mythology in Hercules.

 

First, I wasn't under the impression Agrabah was supposed to actually be a representation of the Middle East. I thought it was like Camelot--a made-up, faraway land somewhere in a part of the world that exists.

 

Second, Disney kind of butchered Greek mythology in a lot of ways and sold it as. You know. The Heracles myth. Like, everything they could have gotten wrong, they did. Obviously the part where Heracles kills his kids might not have made a good cartoon musical for children, but Jesus H. Christ, they literally did not do their homework at all. When you try to represent something from a culture outright and then proceed to A. completely miss the point and B. change literally everything so that the whole thing is totally removed from the thing you're selling it as and lacks everything that made it timeless to start with. Which isn't to say that it's a terrible film (I personally haven't even seen it), but...they made Hades the bad guy! Hades! A bad guy!!! And Zeus is a competent dad!!! And Hera!!! Is just there!!! How do you fail this badly???????

 

Therefore it would make sense to consult with the people concerned when dealing with them or their culture.

 

In the case of Hercules, it's more because Didnee clearly had no idea what they were doing. If they accurately represented (as best they could, given constraints) the Heracles myth, there'd be less concern from the Greeks and mythology nuts everywhere.

 

Because there's A. nothing to get upset over

In your opinion as somebody who wasn't affected (I assume you aren't a Maori). The Maoris clearly felt there was something to get upset over.

 

Objectively, the Maori were unaffected. They didn't lose anything, nor were they taken advantage of.

 

And that's probably for the best. Can you imagine if colonialism got involved in all this? It'd be a much messier situation.

I'm not quite sure what colonialism has to do with this?

 

As the West decided it wanted to eat the rest of the world, it became convenient to paint other cultures as weird and/or inferior--an attitude that had already been around. The arts reflected this in some cases. See: old Disney cartoons where Africans and African-Americans are...well, they speak for themselves. But this really has nothing to do with anything, anyway.

 

There's no need for them to do so. Whole religious narratives can be lifted from living cultures with only minor eye-batting

Yeah, the people involved in Charlie Hebdo got only eye-batting for their handling and portrayals of Islamic content, right?

 

1. They're a newspaper making satirical political cartoons meant to say something about the real world. Of course people will react to that in some way. I'm talking about cultural appropriation purely for art's sake, not for satire; though art can be satirical, as with Life of Brian, for instance.

 

2. The shooting was uncalled for, in any case. Even if it offended people, there's no cause to shoot someone. That's never acceptable.

 

They are, but why should their usage require compensation for the cultures who consider that part of their heritage? It's history, it's information, it's not the product of a small group trying to make art.

No, it probably shouldn't require compensation, and I doubt the Greeks or Japanese have been paid for all the movies that have been made about or with their culture - but then, the movies didn't ever pretend the culture was that of a fictional world or people as Lego did with the Maori words.

 

If I had a nickel for every fantasy work that used its own fictional world but took heavy influence from foreign cultures, I could complete my Bonkle collection. Look at the Avatar series, which blatantly rips off Japanese and Chinese culture on multiple accounts, even borrowing bits from other cultures from time to time (Agni Kai is derived from the name of...actually, I referred to Agni in the OP, ironically).

 

That doesn't change the fact that it's still part of our collective cultural heritage. If the English-speaking world bands together and says "this is our cultural heritage and we don't want you to use it," are we justified in doing so? Prevalence doesn't change the language's cultural significance.

I feel it does, as you'll find English speakers in almost every part of the world now. Its use by so many different people means that English just isn't specifically any person or group's cultural heritage at this point, whereas the Maori language remains the cultural heritage specifically of the Maori people because it hasn't spread beyond New Zealand in any significant way.

 

There's also the fact that English itself contains many words that are there almost intact from other languages (French and Latin mostly), so English words are not 'uniquely' English in the way Maori words are.

 

Fine, bad example. Language isn't working here. Let's move to national icons. Here in the Colonies, George Washington and the American Revolution are distinct parts of our cultural heritage. They're uniquely American, and we "own" them as much as a culture owns a unique language. Now, let's say a Chinese filmmaker--let's call him Ted--gets really into US history and Tolkien's work. Ted says to himself, "Hey, you know what would be cool? High fantasy with a US revolutionary-era aesthetic!" So he rounds up his studio, gets some funding, and makes a real auteur film with characters whose names are derived from English. Sells it as original work. Now, he's going to profit off of something from someone else's cultural heritage. He is appropriating American culture. Is Ted harming us Americans in any way? Are we being exploited?

 

there's nothing that needs protecting. Language, like other cultural constructs, is going to be spread around no matter what.

This is distinct from ripping off contemporary art, where the artist loses their thunder when they get ripped off because they worked on something and aren't being credited for it and because homogenizing something otherwise totally original makes it less distinct. Language, on the other hand, loses nothing from this.

Whilst languages may not be commercial or copyright property, they do need protecting when they are dying out with the rise of another language, or just aren't spoken by many people to begin with (as is the case with the Maori). Language, when it is of a specific group of people, is or can be an important part of a culture's heritage and its people will probably want to make sure it's not used in a manner that changes it in an undesirable way (as Lego's use for their line of building toys arguably was).

 

Using Maori words for worldbuilding doesn't worsen its chances of dying off. It's important to cultural heritage, but taking inspiration from it doesn't hinder its use or spread. If anything, it gives a small chance for it to get around a little more.

 

It would have been interesting to see how the lawsuit would have panned out if they had gone through with it. How would a court decide if they “stole” things that weren’t originally “owned” in the legal sense?

Lego might have actually won on the grounds that (as you say) the words probably weren't the Maoris' strictly legally, but 'big Western company exploits natives and gets away with it' wouldn't be too good for Lego's image, so they may have actually wanted the Maoris to win to a degree.

 

It was clearly a PR move. The press wouldn't be worth the minor artistic details, especially when there's plenty of dead languages to use in the stead of Maori.

 

And/or perhaps they just realised their use of Maori culture for their own products without any kind of consultation wasn't right, as I've argued it wasn't.

It's not right, and it's not wrong. It just is. If you appropriate culture in such a way that harms the culture or the perception of it, then that's bad; if you do so harmlessly or even beneficially, then it's not bad. It's all in how you use it, as with almost any facet of art. Not only that, but it's pretty hard not to do at times, especially where worldbuilding is concerned.


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Thor is the god of thunder. He is from Asgard. His dad is Odin, the one-eyed king of Valhalla. Loki, a trickster and former friend of the family, does some stuff and everyone's like "please don't do that stuff" but he does it anyway. All manner of things from the Prose Eddas are lifted and re-tooled. Stan the Man changed various details to make it usable as a superhero comic, but it's very obviously a ripoff of Germanic mythology. Stan took something he did not create and made something new with it.

I guess it would depend on whether it was close enough to count as a 'retelling', or just taking preexisting mythology and telling a largely new story with it (like Disney with Hercules).

 

First, I wasn't under the impression Agrabah was supposed to actually be a representation of the Middle East. I thought it was like Camelot--a made-up, faraway land somewhere in a part of the world that exists.

If it's not the Middle East, why are there mentions of Allah, and the words 'sultan' and 'vizier'? And the film's city was originally meant to be Baghdad until the Gulf War.

 

And none of the responses from Disney people tried to claim they were depicting a totally fictional culture or people. One of their arguments was actually "Aladdin and Jasmine are Arab!" (IE, we're depicting Middle Eastern people in a positive light.)

 

Obviously the part where Heracles kills his kids might not have made a good cartoon musical for children, but Jesus H. Christ, they literally did not do their homework at all. When you try to represent something from a culture outright and then proceed to A. completely miss the point and B. change literally everything so that the whole thing is totally removed from the thing you're selling it as and lacks everything that made it timeless to start with. Which isn't to say that it's a terrible film (I personally haven't even seen it), but...they made Hades the bad guy! Hades! A bad guy!!! And Zeus is a competent dad!!! And Hera!!! Is just there!!! How do you fail this badly???????

Do you mean all this or are you being sarcastic to make a point?

 

If they accurately represented (as best they could, given constraints) the Heracles myth, there'd be less concern from the Greeks and mythology nuts everywhere.

It's not really clearly if they were trying to retell the original story or just using it for a new story.

 

Objectively, the Maori were unaffected. They didn't lose anything, nor were they taken advantage of.

They arguably were taken advantage of, by a company using their language for financial gain without any consideration of them.

 

They're a newspaper making satirical political cartoons meant to say something about the real world. Of course people will react to that in some way. I'm talking about cultural appropriation purely for art's sake, not for satire; though art can be satirical, as with Life of Brian, for instance.

I don't think the context really matters; the basic point is that when you handle culture or other content that's associated with other people, there can easily be reactions.

 

The shooting was uncalled for, in any case. Even if it offended people, there's no cause to shoot someone. That's never acceptable.

The men responsible obviously thought there was cause, just like the Maoris thought they had cause to be upset with Lego's use of their culture, though to their credit they didn't start killing people over it.

 

Look at the Avatar series, which blatantly rips off Japanese and Chinese culture on multiple accounts, even borrowing bits from other cultures from time to time (Agni Kai is derived from the name of...actually, I referred to Agni in the OP, ironically).

I see what you mean, but - a bit like the English language - Japanese culture is so widespread that it isn't under threat of being distorted like Maori possibly was with Bionicle. I mean, Ninjago uses 'ninja' in a fictional setting, but I think most people do already know that ninja existed in the real world, so the use of the word 'ninja' isn't really controversial.

 

So he rounds up his studio, gets some funding, and makes a real auteur film with characters whose names are derived from English. Sells it as original work. Now, he's going to profit off of something from someone else's cultural heritage. He is appropriating American culture. Is Ted harming us Americans in any way? Are we being exploited?

It would depend how closely the end results resembled the original (real) elements. If there was a character exactly named 'George Washington' leading people exactly called 'Americans', then I could understand Americans reacting to it (positively or negatively). If the character and people had made up names (English or otherwise) and only vaguely resembled anything real, I probably couldn't.

 

Using Maori words for worldbuilding doesn't worsen its chances of dying off.

I feel it does, because giving the words new meanings that are irrelevant to the Maori culture/world can lead to the old 'true' meanings being replaced and forgotten.

 

If anything, it gives a small chance for it to get around a little more.

Problem is that it's not in a way that has it recognisable as a real world language with the original meanings.

 

especially when there's plenty of dead languages to use in the stead of Maori.

Kinda wonder why they chose Maori when Bionicle's overall story had almost nothing to do with the Maori culture and history.

 

If you appropriate culture in such a way that harms the culture or the perception of it, then that's bad; if you do so harmlessly or even beneficially, then it's not bad.

And I guess you feel Lego's use was the second?

 

it's pretty hard not to do at times, especially where worldbuilding is concerned.

This is more a matter of how you do it and in what situation.

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Kinda wonder why they chose Maori when Bionicle's overall story had almost nothing to do with the Maori culture and history.

I don't want to dive too far into this debate, which is at risk of overwhelming the actual interesting subject matter of the topic as a whole. But I can answer this—I remember reading that Lego went with Polynesian languages and an island setting to help it stand out from the mainstream European fantasy that was taking off in franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

 

Also, I also think I remember hearing that Lego sourced more of the names from a proto-Polynesian language, rather than directly from Maori. The reason the issue arose is because of the extant Polynesian languages, Maori is the one that has the most in common with that earlier language, leading to the issue of certain terms having culturally important meanings to indigenous people of New Zealand.

 

Ultimately, I think Lego's response to that whole kerfuffle was a good one, changing the names that caused the offense to replacements (most of which were homophones anyway). It doesn't hurt anyone to err toward cultural sensitivity.

Edited by Lyichir
  • Upvote 1

Formerly Lyichir: Rachira of Influence

Aanchir's and Meiko's brother

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Also, I also think I remember hearing that Lego sourced more of the names from a proto-Polynesian language, rather than directly from Maori. The reason the issue arose is because of the extant Polynesian languages, Maori is the one that has the most in common with that earlier language, leading to the issue of certain terms having culturally important meanings to indigenous people of New Zealand.

Do you know which language this was or might've been? I'd be interested to know if more name meanings could be found from it.

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If it was ever said by anyone that Lego took the words from some proto-Polynesian language, whoever said it was misinformed. It was Alastair Swinnerton who initiated the word-appropriating, and while he does say that Maori wasn't his 'first choice' (that was Rapa Nui, which as far as I can tell is no more proto than Maori), he says he used a Maori dictionary. That said, even the initial four words Swinnerton took to name the Toa (Tahu, Gali, Fonua, Lewa) come from a selection of languages - it seems that either the dictionary he had was woefully inaccurate, or from very early on the Bionicle team was comfortable taking from whatever culture they liked without much specificity beyond "Polynesia." Either way, all the languages used are modern and, quite the opposite from being early and archaic, many are in danger of dying out thanks to colonial practices violently suppressing Polynesian languages. Gamilaraay, the language Gali's name is taken from, is already deemed dead, with no fluent speakers left alive today.

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