Head-butt performer unapologetic

By Jon Stokes

A Maori cultural performer who headbutted a Dutch tourist during a traditional welcome is unapologetic about the attack which left his victim with a broken nose and two black eyes.

Speaking after being sentenced in court yesterday, Richard Minarapa Mitai-Ngatai said the victim had laughed during the "sacred" ceremony.

"He was disrespecting my culture that I love, a culture I am proud to be a part of," Mitai-Ngatai said.

"I don't apologise for what I did. But I do apologise for hurting a man. What I did was serious. I do know I am lucky I am not in jail because of it."

The 40-year-old was ordered to do 150 hours' community service in the Rotorua District Court for the November 24 attack on Dutch tourist Johannes Scheffers.

Mitai-Ngatai had admitted assaulting Mr Scheffers during a welcome for a 160-strong tour party to the marae at the Tamaki Tours village, about 25km south of Rotorua.

He told the Herald he was angry that Mr Scheffers smirked and looked about during his wero (challenge) to the group.

The tourist was one of the nominated "chiefs" for the welcome and had been told laughter or humour would be disrespectful.

Mitai-Ngatai said he called to the group's tour-guide in Maori urging him to take Mr Scheffers out of the front row, but this did not happen.

Judge Chris McGuire said while he was swayed by the "glowing references" for Mitai-Ngatai and accepted the feeling he held for his culture, it was important that tourists knew they were safe when they visited.

"This was manuhiri [visitors] from the other side of the world who had paid to experience some of the richness of the culture we in this region are so proud of. Manuhiri must know when they come to Rotorua they are going to be safe."

The case was a tragedy for Mitai-Ngatai, who had no previous convictions, and his family.

The judge said there were conflicting reports about Mr Scheffers' facial expression. Police had claimed Mr Scheffers merely had a nervous grin during part of the ceremony when Mitai-Ngatai moved upwards into Mr Scheffers' face from a kneeling position.

This sent him "backwards with blood ejecting from his nose", the judge said.

Judge McGuire said the sentence was mitigated by by Mitai-Ngatai's remorse, his early guilty plea, and his almost immediate attempts to apologise.

Mitai-Ngatai's lawyer, Bill Lawson, requested a discharge without conviction. He was completing the restorative justice process.

The incident had cost him an almost 17-year career as senior cultural adviser, along with his wife, at Tamaki Tours.

Mitai-Ngatai said he was asked to leave by Mike and Doug Tamaki shortly after the court case began.

His near-10-year job as complex manager at the Tamaki Tours Village also ended.

He said tour operators should ensure that guides tell visitors what to expect and remove people who acted inappropriately during ceremonies.

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