WAITANGI DAY aka NEW ZEALAND DAY
Welcome to class everyone and Happy Waitangi Day! Today, you’re going to learn some New Zealand history, rich in fact, controversy, and of course, the author’s opinion. There is a good chance you will disagree with some of the things I say, but I hope we can still be friends.
Let us begin with a simple statement. On February 6th, in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. It was on this day that Maori and the British settlers became the nation of New Zealand.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Around 700 years ago, some brown people arrived in New Zealand. Depending on who you talk to they were either fearless adventurers or hopelessly lost. It is hard to distinguish fact from legend as there is only oral tradition from this time. Unfortunately we know how murky things get even when there are peer-reviewed scientific studies agreed upon by the vast majority of leading experts.
Most of Polynesia mention originating from a place called Hawaiki. It is difficult to say where Hawaiki actually was. However, DNA testing seems to point to Polynesians spreading from islands in east Asia. They journeyed down through the Pacific Islands in eventually to New Zealand, which makes sense.
Fast forward several centuries to December 1642. Abel Tasman arrived in New Zealand looking for the Great Southern Continent. The aforementioned Polynesians didn’t appreciate him turning up without calling first and told him to piss off, which he kindly did.
A century or so later, in October 1769, James Cook visited New Zealand and Maori were a little more receptive. British whalers, sealers and missionaries started settling in New Zealand, followed by merchants, bringing new materials, weapons, and the usual array of communicable diseases.
After initially putting up with settlers, Maori decided they weren’t all that happy with the situation. The British didn’t make the best neighbours. Also, the British trade in muskets meant Maori were more effective in warring against each other. The Musket Wars were an extension of Maori inter-tribal wars, now aided by the British firearms. The period from 1807 and 1845 were a terrible time in New Zealand’s history.
THE TREATY OF WAITANGI IS WRITTEN AND SIGNED
Eventually, Maori approached the King of England, William IV, asking him to sort everything out. In response, a treaty was negotiated that would make New Zealand a British colony. This would hopefully stop the British from doing what the British usually did with newly discovered lands, and the Maori from killing everyone they possibly could.
The treaty document was penned and the English version translated into Maori. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6th, 1840 at a place called Waitangi in the Bay of Islands by forty-three Northland chiefs before being transported around New Zealand to be signed by other Maori chiefs throughout the country.
Then, as is usually the case when you have two versions of the same thing, a shit-fight started.
Unfortunately, intentional or not, the translations differed slightly and the result was war. There are several terms in the documents which differ when compared to each other. By 1843 many Maori, forced from their land by British settlers under the provisions of the Treaty, decided to fight back. Though outnumbered and outgunned, the Maori did a fairly good job of withstanding the British for a number of bloody years in what are now known as the New Zealand Wars.
The superior numbers and firepower of the British eventually won out and the Maori were defeated, however the British were left with a bloody nose and a healthy respect for Maori warfare.
After the wars land was confiscated and the questionable sales continued. Though colonisation was not as excessively repressive as it had been in other countries (I’m looking at you Australia) it wasn’t an amicable relationship either.
In the early 20th century, two things happened; World War I and the World War II. During this time English and Maori fought and died together, and the 1950’s saw a resurgence in Maori culture. Throughout the following years, the Treaty of Waitangi would be the centre of a new battle, this time in the courts. These battles have lasted through until present day.
MY VIEWS ON THE TREATY OF WAITANGI
Whenever the Treaty of Waitangi is brought up there is some kind of controversy. As with any kind of racial disagreement it is usually along the lines of:
- “Why should they get something we don’t?” even though there is clear evidence of inequality and inequity.
- “The world owes us something, give it to us” even though that something can usually be obtained with a bit of commitment and some elbow grease.
So I have chosen to largely stay out of it with the exception of writing this article, correcting people when they’re sharing inaccurate information on Facebook, and nodding in a bored fashion when someone shares their opinion on racism in New Zealand.
I prefer to celebrate Waitangi day based on the “Spirit of the Treaty”. The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi marked the day when English settlers and Maori became one people; New Zealanders. It is when our journeys from Hawaiki and the United Kingdom joined, and now we wander along together. We might not be holding hands all the time, but we’re on the same road and heading in the same direction, so we may as well all get along.
I’m half Maori and half Pakeha (European New Zealander). I grew up with both sides and so perhaps I have a different perspective than many. While a number of loud people refuse to acknowledge it, the fact is New Zealand is a multi-cultural mixing pot of all kinds of ethnicities. That is the way it should be. Increasing globalisation has introduced even more to our country. This will always be a good thing.
Is New Zealand perfect? Of course not. Maori are still over-represented in crime, domestic violence, substance abuse, and unemployment. They are under-represented in higher education and higher earning employment. There must continue to be concerted efforts to resolve these issues, both by society to minimise inequality and inequity, and by Maori to make the most of the opportunities they are presented.
New Zealand, I am proud to say, has been listed as one of the least xenophobic countries in the world. That is such a hugely amazing thing to be great at. If I could pick anything I would want New Zealand to be great at, it would be that…and maybe rugby, which, (surprise surprise), we’re also the best at!!
Kia Kaha, New Zealand!