Friday, February 6, 2009
Waitangi Day Celebrations
Today – February 6th, 2009 – marks the 169th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Maori and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European ancestry) in 1840. The Treaty was signed in a tent in the grounds of what is now known as the Treaty house at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, north of Auckland. It made New Zealand part of the British Empire, guaranteed Maori rights to their land and the rights to be British citizens. The signing was not commemorated annually until 1947 and it wasn’t until 1973 that the day was officially marked into law as a public holiday – then called New Zealand Day. It was officially re-named Waitangi Day in 1976. Since then this national day of commemoration has often been marked by controversy and protests by Maori activists over what many feel to be treaty injustices. Away from the discontent though, many New Zealanders – Maori and Pakeha alike – celebrate the day with public concerts, festivals and traditional Maori performances. They see it as a chance to celebrate people, partnership and unity. I spent the best part of today – a very HOT day – attending the Waitangi Day celebrations at Christchurch Art Gallery. We watched a terrific traditional kapa haka performace by the Mareikura group (above), which was followed by a reading by Maori poet, Ben Brown and a performance by contemporary Maori singer, Toni Huata. I sat beside an English couple who had only been in the country three days. They’d just watched a showing of Vincent Ward’s movie, “Children of the Rain,” they were tucking in to a hangi platter and they were “blown away” by the “singing and dancing” – all up a pretty good first immersion into Maori culture I told them.