Playboy model angers Maori with nude shoot on sacred mountain

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Naked woman on top of a mountainImage source, Instagram
Image caption,
Jaylene Cook on top of Mount Taranaki

For many people, constantly on the hunt for a striking image to post on Facebook or Instagram, reaching the top of a mountain overlooking the clouds might provide the perfect shot.

And if you're a Playboy model, with nearly 300,000 followers, why not quickly drop your kit and step right into that shot - butt naked.

That is what happened when Jaylene Cook climbed New Zealand's Mount Taranaki.

However local Maori say the move was culturally utterly insensitive.

The top of the volcano is sacred for Maori.

"It's like someone went into St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and took a nude photo," Dennis Ngawhare, a spokesperson for the local Maori tribe, told the BBC.

"It's a sacred place and something like this is just very inappropriate."

A sacred ancestor

The picture of Ms Cook, herself from New Zealand, was taken when she climbed the mountain a few days ago with her partner.

Posted on her popular Instagram account, the picture of her gazing into the distance from the 2,518m peak has clocked up nearly 10,000 likes.

Image source, Huw Evans picture agency
Image caption,
Mount Taranaki is a volcano on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island

"People might say it's just rocks and earth so how can you disrespect it?" says Mr Ngawhare.

But for the local Maori, the volcano is considered the burial ground of the tribe's ancestor and is itself seen as an ancestor.

Traditionally, even just climbing to the top of the peak is inappropriate and only very rarely done for ceremonial purpose.

Since the country was colonised by the British, the local tribe often had very little say regarding the mountain - which was named Mount Egmont by Captain Cook - and today accept that tourists want to climb the beautiful volcano.

"It's only recently that we can have some input on what goes on at the mountain," the local Maori spokesman explains.

"We simply ask people to please be respectful. This latest case is just another really annoying example where someone obviously didn't know how to behave here."

Mayor of the local Stratford district, Neil Volzke, agrees the move was culturally insensitive.

"I don't think the picture itself is offensive or obscene - it is just inappropriate to take on top of Mount Taranaki because it is a place with great deal of importance for the Maori community," he told the BBC.

A clash of beliefs

When Ms Cook's nude photo began to draw criticism, she defended herself - saying she did research before and thought taking the picture was not offensive.

But local Maori were left somewhat puzzled.

"It's a clash between Western assumptions and indigenous values and beliefs," Mr Ngaware says.

Previous incidents on Taranaki have also outraged the local Maori community, including a group of hikers taking a barbecue to the peak for a summit grilling session, and people leaving graffiti on the mountain.

"It's a place that should be treated with the utmost respect at all times," insists Mr Volzke.

Image caption,
Nude shots of tourists on Malaysia's Kinabalu mountain caused massive outrage

This is not the first time that a nude picture on a mountain has drawn condemnation from local communities.

In June 2015, a group of Western tourists climbing Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia caused massive outrage and a subsequent deadly earthquake was blamed on their disrespect towards the sacred mountain.

It was only after court proceedings, a few days in prison and a financial penalty, that the tourists were allowed to leave Malaysia.