While everyone back home in the States is celebrating the Giants winning this year’s Superbowl (a Manning still got to play in Indy, and Tom Brady lost, oh the joy!), here in New Zealand they’re celebrating a slightly more important, though perhaps equally as controversial, occasion: the Kiwi version of the Fourth of July, Waitangi Day.
The Treaty of Waitangi, signed between the British Crown and 540 Maori tribal leaders on February 6, 1840, is considered to be New Zealand’s founding document. After many years of bloody conflict between Māori and Pākehā (white Europeans), the Treaty made New Zealand a part of the British Empire, guaranteed Māori various land rights, and – most importantly – gave Māori the rights of British subjects. While many Maori considered the Treaty to be a sacred pact, it in fact made little immediate impact and the promises in it were not universally honored. In fact, it was lost in the catacombs of the government buildings in Wellington and was only re-discovered, rat-eaten and water-damaged, in 1908!
While New Zealanders celebrate the signing of the Treaty as the birth of their nationhood, it is still a highly controversial document. The English and Maori versions of the Treaty were translated differently, and many native Maori still claim that they should have been given full sovereignty over their land. For example, according to NZHistory, in the Maori version, the word ‘sovereignty’ was translated as ‘kawanatanga’ (governance), and thus some Māori believed they were giving up government over their lands but retaining the right to manage their own affairs. The English version guaranteed ‘undisturbed possession’ of all their ‘properties’, but the Māori version guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (full authority) over ‘taonga’ (treasures, which may be intangible). And as Māori society valued the spoken word, explanations given at the time were probably as important as the wording of the document. Since the 1970s, even among the celebrations, there are still protests and confrontations about the promises made and kept since the Treaty was signed.
This year, I spent my first Waitangi Day cleaning, ensuring that the documents in my current hosts’ garage would not suffer the same fate as the Treaty and succumb to the moisture and mice in mouldering cardboard boxes. I did listen to the radio as I worked though, and I caught snippets of the Prime Minister’s speech (cut short due to protesters!) and reports on the various Waitangi Day activities going on around the country. At least it’s good to know that, despite being covered in dust and grime today, there’s always a reason to celebrate!
P.S. For those who are interested, more information on the Treaty can be found here, while the full text can be read in both English and Maori here and here, with an explanation of the differences immediately following. I highly recommend taking at least a quick look!