A spokesperson for Princess Cruises has apologized for “cultural insensitivity” after photos of a welcoming ceremony were blasted as “racist” on social media, primarily because the employees at the ceremony were dressed in traditional Maori attire, despite not being members of the indigenous group.
On Monday, guests traveling on Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess ship were welcomed aboard at the Port of Tauranga in New Zealand by a group of “non-Maori men” wearing “crude skirts” with “scribbles” across their faces, the New Zealand Herald reports. The men are said to have posed for photos with Golden Princess passengers and pretended to perform a pōwhiri ceremony, or the traditional welcoming ritual of New Zealand’s indigenous people.
A Facebook user identified as Steve the Maori soon shared images of the scene to social media, and the post has since gone viral with over 1,400 shares and 1,300 comments. Describing the sight as “racist,” Steve alleged that Princess Cruises likely had their own staffers dressed up in the Maori-inspired outfits in a bid to save money — as opposed to hiring a local Maori group for job of welcoming guests aboard the ocean liner.
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“Many cruise ships when traveling to NZ ports, such as the Port of Tauranga, opt to have a traditional Maori Welcome (Powhiri) welcoming the 3000-plus guests,” Steve wrote.
“A lot of cruise companies employ local Maori cultural groups to sing or perform dances etc., welcoming travelers to shore but in this situation Princess Cruises (purely an assumption based off the branding of the tent) are using their own non-NZ staff, with careless scribbles on their faces [and] wearing skirts which do not depict Maori culture which I personally find a disgrace,” he speculated.
“I find it deplorable to blatantly lie to guests in a racist attempt to save money on local performers… This practice needs to be discouraged,” he concluded.
Echoing similar sentiments, Maori cultural adviser Karaitiana Taiuru said that he found the social media posts to be so offensive that he first thought they were a prank.
“It is blatant racism and exploitation of Maori culture and of staff by the company. It is derogatory and there is no excuse for such behavior in today’s age where other actions have been in the media and criticized,” Taiuru told the Herald.
“Anyone with a basic understanding of the English language with access to any sort of media, whether it is a newspaper, radio or the internet, should be aware of the offensiveness,” he said. “There is absolutely no excuse for an international company to operate like this in New Zealand.”
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Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Port of Tauranga described the incident as “not acceptable” and claimed that the port had no responsibility for the event.
According to Stuff.co.nz, Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell said that many people called him with “very, very genuine concerns” following the incident.
“If the facts are as I understand, this shows a complete lack of cultural awareness,” Powell said. “Clearly we welcome the cruise ships and the visitors, but we expect them to have an authentic and warm welcome.”
In the days since, a spokesperson for Princess Cruises apologized for “cultural insensitivity” and confirmed that the welcoming ceremony had indeed by organized by the cruise line.
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“We give a complete assurance that no offense was ever intended and we apologize unreservedly for what has happened. We took immediate steps to address this sensitive situation,” a representative told the Herald. “After being made aware of the situation, the ship’s management team took action to withdraw the ship photographers from the area to prevent any further possibility of cultural insensitivity.”
A spokesperson for Princess Cruises was not immediately available to offer further comment.