Rotorua's Te Puia has defended its highly popular Emotiki after coming under fire from a "digital Maori leader" who said they were "culturally unsafe" and offensive.

Earlier this month Karaitiana Taiuru published his opinion piece Cultural analysis of Emotiki app and why it is offensive on his website www.taiuru.maori.nz attacking
Te Puia's Emotiki mobile phone app.

The Emotiki app was officially launched just before Christmas and included about 200 Maori and Kiwi cultural icons.

The free downloadable app for iPhone and Android allows users to click on individual "Emotiki" icons and share them across social media platforms and was designed to share Maori words and concepts.

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Emotiki icons include tiki pukana expressions, taiaha, poi, hangi, kai moana, people - young and old - even the Maori wardens are featured.

However, Mr Taiuru said on his website "Emotiki contains a number of culturally unsafe issues: the satirical use of a Polynesian deity Tiki, Tame Iti and the use of his face and ta moko without permission, several other possible ethical and tikanga issues including possible intellectual property infringements".

According to his website, Mr Taiuru has "for the past 22 years ... been a digital Maori leader in the Maori renaissance of the Internet/Web in Aotearoa advocating for Maori rights, recognition and te tiriti awareness".

He went on to say: "Some Maori find it intolerable when their culture and images are inappropriately used, mocked with satirical images and Internet memes, but apparently not when it is made by Maori for Maori".

But, Te Puia sale and marketing general manager Kiri Atkinson-Crean said the Emotiki had been carefully considered and would not have gone ahead without approval of Te Puia's pakeke (elders) and the people featured in the Emotiki.

She said with regard to the Tame Iti image, that has only been developed as a draft as part of a collection of famous Maori faces for release later this year, Te Puia had
"reached out to Tame Iti and the other well-known figures regarding their possible involvement".

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"These figures will only be included in the app after meeting and discussing the draft versions with each individual personally.

"The only ones we have had approved so far are Annette Sykes and Lance O'Sullivan. Any other images are in draft only.

Dr O'Sullivan, a former New Zealander of the Year said the Emotiki were "a novel way to depict culture, people, and to communicate in the modern age plus it's fun".

Ms Atkinson-Crean said Te Puia and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute had been operating for more than 50 years facilitating the perpetuation of Maori art, leading a range of ground-breaking exhibitions and experiences.

"We do all of this with the approval and backing of our pakeke who welcome a meeting in person to discuss the concepts.

"We knew that this development would create discussion and we are proud of its advancement of culture into the digital space."