Visiting Waitangi

By Hayley White

Reading time: 10 minutes

Children born in New Zealand all grow up learning about the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi. Here, it is mandatory for schools and kura to teach their students about the Treaty as an intrinsic facet to the history of New Zealand. Of course, as a kid, I did not really engage with how important the Treaty really was. It was not until university that its real significance clicked in my mind, and I realised that I wanted to go and see the Waitangi Treaty Grounds myself.

If you have been in New Zealand for any amount of time, it’s possible that the Treaty of Waitangi is something you have come across. In essence, it is a document that was founded in 1840 when the British wanted to secure sovereignty over New Zealand – but it was not the first of its kind. In 1835, the Māori chiefs met at Waitangi because of their desire for international recognition and their concern about the growing number of European settlers. Following this concern, the chiefs put together and signed a document that declared New Zealand’s independence. He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Treni (the Declaration of Independence) was recognised by the British government, but not by anyone else because the United States and France were looking to build settlements here as well.

By Hayley White

Reading time: 10 minutes

Children born in New Zealand all grow up learning about the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi. Here, it is mandatory for schools and kura to teach their students about the Treaty as an intrinsic facet to the history of New Zealand. Of course, as a kid, I did not really engage with how important the Treaty really was. It was not until university that its real significance clicked in my mind, and I realised that I wanted to go and see the Waitangi Treaty Grounds myself.

If you have been in New Zealand for any amount of time, it’s possible that the Treaty of Waitangi is something you have come across. In essence, it is a document that was founded in 1840 when the British wanted to secure sovereignty over New Zealand – but it was not the first of its kind. In 1835, the Māori chiefs met at Waitangi because of their desire for international recognition and their concern about the growing number of European settlers. Following this concern, the chiefs put together and signed a document that declared New Zealand’s independence. He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Treni (the Declaration of Independence) was recognised by the British government, but not by anyone else because the United States and France were looking to build settlements here as well.

As time went on and relationships with the British became vital through business, trade, marriage, children, and religion, the Māori and British became interdependent. Five years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Captain William Hobson drafted the Treaty of Waitangi, and Reverend Henry Williams translated it into Te Reo Māori. After a lot of discussion and debate, the Treaty was signed on the sixth of February 1840 by about 40 chiefs. ‘By the end of the year, about 500 other Māori, including 13 women, had put their names or moko to the document; all but 39 signed the Māori text.’ (Signing the treaty, 2016).

Something became very clear to the Māori in the following years; they felt they had been tricked into signing a treaty in good faith – a treaty that seemed to have been translated into their language but in favour of the British. Explanation, interpretation and understanding of the document was likely to have been very different from the very different British and Māori perspectives.

As time went on and Treaty violations went unchallenged, Māori were slowly outnumbered and dispossessed of a lot of their land. In 1867, Māori were granted four seats in parliament and gradually grew their political strength. More than 100 years passed before the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 was put in place. It was an act enabling Māori to bring to attention issues created by the Crown and any other claims relating to the Treaty. At the same time the Act was put through, the Waitangi Tribunal was created. The role of the Waitangi Tribunal was to make recommendations on Māori claims about legislation, policies, actions, Treaty breaches and omissions by the Crown. The implementation of the Act and the Waitangi Tribunal gave Māori access to the tools of law that the English had previously used against them.

Unfortunately, the history of Waitangi Day has been rather problematic. The first official Waitangi anniversary was celebrated in 1934 when the Governor-General at the time gifted the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to New Zealand. For many years, the Ngāpuhi iwi had pushed for Waitangi Day to be a public holiday in recognition of the Treaty. As part of their campaign promises in 1957, the Labour Party had said they would make Waitangi Day a public holiday, but, once elected, claimed New Zealand could not afford another holiday and the Waitangi Day Act was not signed until 1960. The Act stated that any region in New Zealand could celebrate Waitangi Day, as long as they would not celebrate their regional anniversary public holiday as well.

In 1963, the National Government made an amendment that allowed Northland to celebrate Waitangi Day instead of the Auckland anniversary. It was not until 1976 that the National Party made Waitangi Day an official public holiday. They attempted to rename it New Zealand Day, which led to a lot of protests. Māori rightfully felt that it drew attention away from the Treaty of Waitangi, so they campaigned for the name to be changed back. National’s new Waitangi Day Act in 1976 reinstated Northland’s anniversary and changed the name back to Waitangi Day. It has continued to be Waitangi Day ever since and is one of the most important public holidays for Aotearoa New Zealand.

The carved and decorative stern of Ngātokimatawhaorua

As a person trying to connect with their Māori heritage, visiting the treaty grounds was something I had been wanting to do for a while. Only 2km out of Paihia, Waitangi sits in Hobson’s Beach with 16 hectares of native New Zealand bush and a view of the Bay of Islands. Seeing and experiencing the history of the most important founding document of New Zealand was moving. With the full experience, which included a guided tour and a performance, we were shown around the entire grounds with the history spoken right into our ears. There were two museums, one of which was Te Rau Aroha, an exhibition and tribute to all the Māori who had died in World War II, and another, the Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi which showcased the history of the Treaty. For those who wish to look upon the history of the Treaty, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds host the building in which the document was signed as well as the ceremonial waka, Ngātokimatawhaorua.

To say that the waka was massive is a spectacular understatement. Built in 1940, it is the world’s largest waka of its type. The construction of Ngātokimatawhaorua commemorated the centenary of the Treaty signing and was built by members of the northern and Waikato iwi. It is beautifully carved and made from the trunks of three kauri trees blessed by Tāne Mahuta, the Māori God of the Forest. The waka was named after the legendary canoe of Kupe, the original discoverer of Aotearoa. His waka, named Matawhaorua, was re-carved or re-adzed and ‘ngātoki’ (the adzes) was added to the name: Ngātokimatawhaorua. The waka took two years to build and is owned by the Northland Ngāpuhi iwi.

Looking back on it now, I wish I did more kapa haka in school. Sitting in the Waitangi Te Whare Rūnanga (the carved meeting house) while kapa haka performers told us all about their cultural dances, the poi, and the taiaha, I was in awe.

The official welcome into Te Whare Rūnanga

The whare itself was beautifully carved full of styles from multiple iwi and designed to represent the unity of Māori throughout the country. Typically, meeting houses are seen as the embodiment of tribal ancestors. The main ridge across the roof is symbolic of the backbone, with the apex of the roof said to be the ancestor’s head. The diagonal bargeboards represent the arms, and the lower parts represent the fingers. On the inside of the whare, the centre pole is seen as the heart, the rafters are the ribs, and the entire interior is the chest and stomach. The concept for the whare was created by Tau Henare, a Māori member of parliament for the Northern Māori electorate and Sir Āpirana Ngata, who was the Minister for Māori Development of New Zealand. The building of the whare commenced in 1934 at Tau Henare’s own home and was finished in 1940, made to commemorate 100 years after the signing of the Treaty.

Seeing all this history for myself was an extremely emotional and enlightening experience. While the history of Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a little tumultuous and essentially signifies the beginning of the colonisation of Māori, it is still important to know about this big part of our country’s history. I was taught about the Treaty throughout my schooling and all the way into university. However, there was something about going and seeing everything for myself that really made me appreciate the hard work that our ancestors put into establishing the Treaty agreement. While the history may not be a completely happy one, I am glad to know that our country and future generations are working to right those wrongs and better respect everything the Treaty of Waitangi represents.

 

Source: ‘Signing the treaty’, nzhistory.govt.nz

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