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  • Writer's pictureMark Revington

Shoes off

At Te Maru Mōkihi it is shoes off. Inside the door is a pile of hū and a rack.

It makes sense to me but then I am used to it. As a custom it has been around forever.


A pile of shoes inside the door of Te Maru Mōkihi, NAIA's office.

Go to a marae and if there is a crowd, there will be a crowd of hū outside the door of the wharenui. Normal as. One explanation is that the wharenui represents a tipuna and removing shoes shows respect. Others reckon that outside shoes can bring in dust from Tūmatauenga, the god of war.


Māori have been taking shoes off forever. It is a cultural thing and it makes sense. And it has become an accepted show of respect in Māori households, and in some cases, Māori businesses.


In fact, Aotearoa isn’t alone in wanting outside shoes off at the door. In Malaysia for example, it is common to take your shoes off before entering any house or apartment. Some households even provide indoor slippers. In some temples and religious places, you must remove your shoes before you can enter. And most modern schools don’t let students go into designated classrooms, laboratories, libraries and carpeted administrative spaces while wearing their shoes.


In Japan, you take outside shoes off in the ‘genkan’ which is the entry to a house, apartment, or building, and change into ‘uwabaki’ or indoor slippers. In South Korea it is the same thing but the entry is called ‘hyun-gwan‘ and it is much more common to walk around inside barefoot or in socks.


Why drag the outside world in with all its dirt? Although, in saying that, my boy didn’t know what shoes were for the first half of his so-far short life and took his dirty feet everywhere. In fact, the rest of the world probably thinks we don’t know what shoes are in Aotearoa. Evidently, we are famous for popping to the dairy without shoes.


Another explanation for shoes off is that outside shoes do not belong inside. The Japanese reckon outside is totally unclean. And may have a point. Research suggests that not wearing outside shoes inside makes sense because there are a lot of germs out there. But it has taken a while. Experts reckon there is a generational divide and younger people are increasingly conscious of germs.


A Guardian story a while back quoted a professor of microbiology who mentioned one study of people’s shoes that found that 95 percent had faecal bacteria on the bottom and a third contained E. coli.

Maybe Māori (and other cultures) knew something all these years. At Te Maru Mōkihi it is shoes off. As a custom it has been around forever.


Nā Mark Revington

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