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Canadian Brewery Muffs Beer Name

Language in the News

As part of our new geocultural series, InAppropriations, Bobb Drake examines what can happen when beer names go sour.

A Canadian brewery’s use of a Māori word has ruffled the feathers of at least one indigenous New Zealander. Māori television personality and advocate Te Hamua Nikora took to social media last week to call out Hell’s Basement Brewery over the name of their New Zealand hopped pale ale, Huruhuru.

In a statement to Radio New Zealand, Mike Patriquin, one of the Medicine Hat, Alberta, brewery’s co-founders, explained that the intended meaning of the name was “feather,” and that it was chosen to describe the beer as being “light as a feather.” Patriquin further clarified that the full name of the beer was in fact Huruhuru (the Feather) New Zealand Hopped Pale Ale.

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However, according to Nikora, huruhuru — which, among other things, can mean “wool” and “hair” — is commonly used in Māori to refer to pubic hair, a fact that he expands upon in great detail over the course of a nearly six-minute Facebook video rant, during which he also assails Wellington, New Zealand, Huruhuru Authentic Leather, a shop which originally had planned on selling wool but didn’t bother to change its name when they switched products. 

In the video, Nikora delivers what might best be described as a verbal tar and feathering (Yes, feathers! Definitely feathers!), asking both companies, with an air of something between humor and indignation, “Huruhuru think you are?” 

“Some people call it appreciation. I call it appropriation,” Nikora continues. “So they just help themselves. It’s that entitlement disease that they got.” 

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Continuing his unique, colorful monologue peppered with criticism, hyperbolic ridicule, and bits of sound advice for dealing with indigenous languages and cultures, the Māori advocate cautions such companies to, “Stop it. Just stop it. Just stop. Use you fellow’s own language.” 

“That’s my advice,” he concludes. “Take it or leave it.” He then suggests what might happen if they leave it. 

Patriquin apologized on behalf of Hell’s Basement Brewery, stating, “We did not realize the potential to offend through our artistic interpretation, and given the response we will attempt to do better in the future.” He admitted that the company should have consulted a Māori cultural representative and expert rather than relying on an online dictionary in order to avoid the accidental double-entendre. 

“We wish to make especially clear that it was not our intent to infringe upon, appropriate, or offend the Māori culture or people in any way,” the co-founder added. “To those who feel disrespected, we apologize.” The company is taking time to rebrand the beer.

On the flipside, Huruhuru Authentic Leather did in fact seek the approval of a Māori advisory committee at the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ). 

Store owner Ercan Karakoch, who emigrated from Turkey in 2018, feels let down by IPONZ in light of the backlash, stating, “We trusted the Māori officials and IPONZ. We have done everything legally. […] There are rules and we followed the rules. Nobody wants to invest money into a business to get harassed and insulted.” Karakoch says they have no plans to change the name, which he does not regret choosing.

Part of the issue for the leather shop lies in their change of course in terms of products from wool to leather, and the subsequent modification of their logo. 

A spokesperson for IPONZ told news sources that “the applicant had applied to register a logo comprising the word huruhuru and an image of a sheep as a trade mark in relation to goods and services such as clothing […],” clarifying that, “taking into account the trade mark in its entirely (including the image of a sheep) and the goods and services in relation to which the trade mark was to be used, the Committee did not consider the trade mark was likely to offend Māori.”

The IPONZ spokesperson advised business owners who seek to use elements of Māori language or culture to consider consulting with Māori language, culture and/or design experts, pointing to further information available on the Māori advisory committee and Māori trademarks page of their website. 

And to not beat around the bush, we find that to be sound advice.

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Bobb Drake is a foodie, book hoarder, and curator of fine and interesting information and artifacts. A long-time language services veteran, Bobb has spent much of his career exploring the secret depths and furthest reaches of the industry’s cultural underbelly. He is currently director of Geocultural Research at Nimdzi Insights.

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