February 6 is Waitangi Day in New Zealand. Waitangi Day celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by the British and a number of Maori chiefs on February 6, 1840. The Treaty is in many ways the founding document of New Zealand. The Treaty provided for a British governor of New Zealand, recognized Maori ownership of their land, and gave the Maoris the rights of British subjects. As often happens, though, disagreements about the Treaty soon developed, in part because the British and Maori language versions of the Treaty were different. However, since this is supposed to be more of a travel blog, I will go into that more below, after the pictures.
The main point is that the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which are near Paihia and which are where the Treaty was signed, are definitely worth a visit, even for non-New Zealanders. In addition to the Treaty House, where the Treaty was drawn up, there is a carved Maori meetinghouse (opened on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty), the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe, and more.
When we were in New Zealand two years ago, we were lucky enough to be in the Bay of Islands on February 6, and we were able to go to Waitangi that day. While we did not go to the official ceremonies at dawn (we were, after all, on vacation), we took a guided tour of the Treaty Grounds (highly recommended), attended a Maori cultural performance, and went to an interdenominational church service. (Note that there is a special schedule on Waitangi Day itself, so if you want a tour, etc., go the day before, too.)
In addition to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, take a ferry from Paihia to Russell. In 1840, Russell, then called Kororareka, was the largest settlement in New Zealand and was affectionately (?) called the “Hell Hole of the Pacific.” It is now just a wonderful little town. We had excellent meals at both the Duke of Marlborough and Sally’s Restaurant. Best, though, was the chance to see Christ Church, the oldest church in New Zealand. We also visited the Pompallier building, which was part of the French Catholic mission to New Zealand and the Western Pacific when the Treaty was signed.
Christ Church and Sally’s Restaurant:
Now a few comments on the history of the Treaty and what the future of Waitangi Day might be. As I mentioned above, disagreements about the Treaty of Waitangi started almost immediately. The Pakehas (i.e., those of European ancestry, especially British) cited the Treaty when it helped them and ignored it when it did not. Finally, in 1975, the Treaty of Waitangi Act was passed, which established the Waitangi Tribunal to address violations of the Treaty, though at that point only prospectively. Things changed dramatically in 1985 when the Tribunal’s jurisdiction was expanded to include past Treaty violations, too.
With that, and with the Maoris’ own revival of their culture and heritage, relations between what are called the two partners of the Treaty of Waitangi have improved. Have all problems been resolved? Of course, not. But the relations between the Maoris and the Pakehas are a model that groups in other countries should look at.
Does that mean that, in addition to being a national holiday, Waitangi Day should be considered New Zealand’s “national day”? (Another candidate is Anzac Day.) Before that can happen, however, New Zealand needs to address how the two-party partnership of the Treaty can be expanded to include all of the other groups that are part of New Zealand. While 1840 New Zealand included just Maoris and Pakehas, New Zealand today has all matter of Pacific Islanders, Asians, and more. Auckland, for example, is the world’s largest Polynesian city, and according to the 2013 census, there were almost as many Asians in New Zealand as Maori.
The solution may lie in the haka, the Maori traditional war dance. While the haka is a Maori dance, New Zealand sports teams, especially the All Blacks, perform a haka before their matches. All the members of the team, Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Islanders, etc., perform the haka, treating it as their own. But it’s not just the All Blacks, as noted by journalist and author Colin James in his column this week in the Otago Daily Times:
“Australian Marcus Woolombi Waters wrote last year of an impromptu New Zealand school haka involving whites, Pasifika, Indians and Chinese (and his son) alongside Maori.
He added: ‘In Aotearoa, presenters, no matter what colour, continually introduce and close shows in the Maori language.’ And, he said, ‘with language comes history and place’.”
Mr. James notes that Waitangi’s bicultural frame has been expanded to now include Pacific Islanders, once despised by Maoris. The key to making Waitangi Day New Zealand’s national day is to expand its reach to include Asians and others, too. Obviously, given the embarrassment of some of the candidates running for president in the United States this year, I am in no position to tell New Zealanders how to do this. I would just say that, given how far New Zealand has come so far, if anybody can do it, the Kiwis can.