Today is Waitangi Day in New Zealand, named after the northern coastal site, Waitangi, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed – a significant day in the history of New Zealand. It is a public holiday held each year on 6th February to celebrate the signing of the treaty, New Zealand’s founding document, on that date in 1840. The treaty of Waitangi was signed in a marquee on the grounds of James Busby’s house (now known as the Treaty house) at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. The treaty made New Zealand a part of the British Empire, guaranteed Maori rights to their land and gave Maori the rights of British subjects. There are differences between the English version and the Maori translation of the treaty, and since 1840 this has led to debate over exactly what was agreed to at Waitangi. Maori have generally seen the treaty as a sacred pact, while for many years Pakeha (the Maori word for New Zealanders of predominantly European ancestry) ignored it. By the early twentieth century, however, some Pakeha were beginning to see the treaty as their nation’s founding document and a symbol of British humanitarianism. Unlike Maori, Pakeha have generally not seen the treaty as a document with binding power over the country and its inhabitants. In 1877 Chief Justice James Prendergast declared it to be a “legal nullity,” a position that was held until the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, when it regained significant legal standing.
Prior to 1934, most celebrations of New Zealand’s founding as a colony were held on 29 January, the date on which William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands. In 1932, Governor-General Lord Bledisloe and his wife purchased and presented to the nation the run-down house of James Busby, where the treaty was signed. The Treaty House and grounds were made a public reserve, which was dedicated on 6th February 1934. This event is considered by some to be the first Waitangi Day, although celebrations were not yet held annually. At the time, it was the most representative meeting of Maori ever held. Attendees included the Maori king and thousands of Pakeha.
In 1940, another major event was held at the grounds, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the treaty signing. This was less well attended, partially because of the outbreak of World War II and partially because the government had recently offended the Maori king. However the event was still a success and helped raise the profile of the treaty.
Annual commemorations of the treaty signing began in 1947. The 1947 event was a Royal New Zealand Navy ceremony centering on a flagpole which the Navy had paid to have erected in the grounds. The ceremony was brief and featured no Maori. The following year, a Maori speaker was added to the line-up, and subsequent additions to the ceremony were made nearly every year. From 1952, the Governor General attended, and from 1958 the Prime Minister also attended, although not every year. From the mid-1950s, a Maori cultural performance was usually given as part of the ceremony. Many of these early features remain a part of Waitangi Day ceremonies, including a naval salute, the Maori cultural performance (now usually a ceremonial welcome), and speeches from a range of Maori and Pkeha dignitaries.
Waitangi Day was proposed as a public holiday by the New Zealand Labour Party in their 1957 party manifesto. After Labour won the election they were reluctant to create a new public holiday, so the Waitangi Day Act was passed in 1960 making it possible for a locality to substitute Waitangi Day as an alternative to an existing public holiday. In 1963, after a change in government, Waitangi Day was substituted for Auckland Anniversary Day as the provincial holiday in Northland. In 2013 it was decreed that the Waitangi Day public holiday would be shifted to Monday if it fell on the weekend.
In 1971 the Labour shadow minister of Maori Affairs, Matiu Rata, introduced a private member’s bill to make Waitangi Day a national holiday, to be called New Zealand Day. This was not passed into law. After the 1972 election of the third Labour government under Norman Kirk, it was announced that from 1974 Waitangi Day would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day. The New Zealand Day Act 1973 was passed in 1973.
For Norman Kirk, the change was simply an acceptance that New Zealand was ready to move towards a broader concept of nationhood. Diplomatic posts had for some years marked the day, and it seemed timely in view of the country’s increasing role on the international stage that the national day be known as New Zealand Day. At the 1974 celebrations, the Flag of New Zealand was flown for the first time at the top of the flagstaff at Waitangi, rather than the Union Flag, and a replica of the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was also flown.
The election of the third National government in 1975 led to the day being renamed Waitangi Day because the new Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, did not like the name “New Zealand Day” and many Maori felt the new name debased the Treaty of Waitangi. Another Waitangi Day Act was passed in 1976 to change the name of the day back to Waitangi Day.
Although this is New Zealand’s national day, the commemoration has often been the focus of protest by Maori activists and is often embroiled in controversy. From 1971, Waitangi and Waitangi Day became a focus of protest concerning treaty injustices, with Nga Tamatoa leading early protests. Activists initially called for greater recognition of the treaty, but by the early 1980s, protest groups were also arguing that the treaty was a fraud with which Pakeha had cheated Maori out of their land. Attempts were made by groups including the Waitangi Action Committee to halt the celebrations. This led to major confrontations between police and protesters, sometimes resulting in dozens of arrests. When the treaty gained greater official recognition in the mid-1980s, emphasis switched back to calls to honor the treaty, and protesters generally returned to the aim of raising awareness of the treaty and what they saw as its neglect by the state.
Some New Zealand politicians and commentators, such as Paul Holmes, have felt that Waitangi Day is too controversial to be a national day and have sought to replace it with Anzac Day (April 25th commemorating military campaigns). Others, for example the United Future Party’s Peter Dunne, have suggested that the name of the day be changed back to New Zealand Day.
Several hundred protesters often gather at Waitangi to reflect the long-standing frustrations Maori have held since the treaty’s signing. Although not part of the Government celebrations, Maori sovereignty activists often fly the Tino Rangatiratanga flag from the flagstaff. Attempts at vandalism of the flagstaff are often an objective of these protests, carrying on a tradition that dates from the 19th century when Hone Heke chopped down the British flagstaff in nearby Russell. In 2004, protesters succeeded in flying the Tino Rangatiratanga flag above the other flags on the flagstaff by flying it from the top of a nearby tree.
Because of the level of protest and threats that had previously occurred at Waitangi, the previous Prime Minister Helen Clark did not attend in 2000. The official celebrations were shifted from Waitangi to Wellington in 2001. Some Maori felt that this was an insult to them and to the treaty. In 2003 and 2004, the anniversary was again officially commemorated at the Treaty House at Waitangi. In 2004 Leader of the Opposition Don Brash was hit with mud as he entered the marae (sacred meeting place).
On 5 February 2009, the day before Waitangi Day, as current Prime Minister John Key was being escorted onto a marae, he was challenged by Wikitana and John Junior Popata, nephews of then Maori Party MP Hone Harawira. Both admitted to assault and were sentenced to 100 hours of community service. In 2011 Wikitana and John again heckled Key as he entered the marae. A wet t-shirt thrown at Queen Elizabeth II and other attacks on various Prime Ministers at Waitangi on 6 February have resulted in a large police presence as well as the large contingent of the armed forces.
Celebrations at Waitangi often commence the previous day, 5 February, at the Ngapuhi Te Tii marae, where political dignitaries are welcomed on to the marae and hear speeches from the local iwi (clan). These speeches often deal with the issues of the day, and vigorous and robust debate occurs. At dawn on Waitangi Day, the Royal New Zealand Navy raises the New Zealand Flag, Union Flag and White Ensign on the flagstaff in the treaty grounds. The ceremonies during the day generally include a church service and cultural displays such as dance and song. Several waka (canoes) and a navy ship also re-enact the calling ashore of Governor Hobson to sign the treaty. The day closes with the flags being lowered by the Navy in a traditional ceremony.
In recent years, communities throughout New Zealand have been celebrating Waitangi Day in a variety of ways. These often take the form of public concerts and festivals. Some marae use the day as an open day and an educational experience for their local communities, giving them the opportunity to experience Maori culture and protocol. Other marae use the day as an opportunity to explain where they see Maori are and the way forward for Maori in New Zealand. Another popular way of celebrating the day is at concerts held around the country. Since the day is also Bob Marley’s birthday, reggae music is especially popular. Wellington has a long running “One Love” festival that celebrates peace and unity. Another such event is “Groove in the Park,” held in the Auckland Domain before 2007 and at Western Springs subsequently. Celebrations are largely muted in comparison to those seen on the national days of most countries. There are no mass parades, nor truly widespread celebrations. As the day is a public holiday, and happens during the warmest part of the New Zealand summer, most people take the opportunity to spend the day at the beach.
In London, UK, which has one of the largest New Zealand expatriate populations, the occasion is celebrated by the Waitangi Day Ball, held by the New Zealand Society UK. The focus of the event is a celebration of New Zealand’s unity and diversity as a nation. The Ball also hosts the annual UK New Zealander of the Year awards, cultural entertainment from London based Maori group Ngati Ranana and fine wine and cuisine from New Zealand.
Another tradition has arisen in recent years to celebrate Waitangi Day. On the closest Saturday to 6 February, New Zealanders participate in a pub crawl using the London Underground’s Circle Line (the inner circle in yellow on the map). Although the stated aim is to have one drink at each of the 27 stops, most participants stop after a handful of stations, usually beginning at Paddington and moving anti-clockwise towards Temple. At 4 pm, a large-scale haka (traditional dance) is performed in Parliament Square as Big Ben marks the hour. Participants wear costumes and sing songs such as “God Defend New Zealand,” all of which is in stark contrast to the much more subdued observance of the day in New Zealand itself. Police estimate the number of ex-pats taking part in the pub crawl these days at between 10,000 and 12,000, causing major overcrowding on the underground, and the need to close roads around key gathering spots such as Parliament Square.
For Waitangi Day 2007, Air New Zealand commissioned a number of New Zealanders living in Los Angeles and Southern California to create a sand sculpture of a silver fern on the Santa Monica Beach.
At the Kingston Butter Factory in Kingston, Queensland, Australia, Te Korowai Aroha (Cloak of Love) Association have been holding Waitangi Day Celebrations since 2002, with an excess of 10,000 expats, Logan City Council representatives and indigenous Australians coming together to commemorate in a peaceful alcohol and drug free occasion.
On the Gold Coast, in Australia, where there is a large New Zealand expatriate population, Waitangi Day is celebrated by around 10,000 people at Carrara Stadium. It is called the “Waitangi Day and Pacific Islands Festival.” It not only embraces Waitangi day, but Pacific Islander culture. In 2009, iconic New Zealand bands Herbs and Ardijah featured, as well as local singers and performers.
New Zealand cuisine is largely driven by local ingredients and seasonal variations with ingredients from land and sea. The cuisine of New Zealand is a diverse, British-based cuisine, like that of Australia, with Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences. Historical influences came from Maori culture. Contemporary North American cuisine, Southeast Asian, East Asian, and South Asian culinary traditions have become popular since the 1970s.
Present day Maori cuisine is a mixture of Maori tradition, old-fashioned English cookery, and contemporary dishes. Most large Maori gatherings feature a hangi, which is likely to contain foods brought to New Zealand by Maori and by Pakeha. Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven still used for special occasions, as throughout Polynesia. To “lay a hangi” or “put down a hangi” involves digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a large fire, placing baskets of food on top of the stones, and covering everything with earth for several hours before uncovering (or lifting) the h?ngi. There are many variations and details that can be altered. Hangi experts have developed and improved methods that often, like the stones themselves, have been handed down for generations.
Two dishes regarded as distinctively Maori are the “boil-up” of pork, potatoes, assorted vegetables, and suet dumplings, and “pork and puha” (sow thistle) both of which combine introduced and indigenous foods. Both dishes owe much to nineteenth century British cooking methods. A simple method of cooking, a boil-up is literally the boiling of different ingredients in a large pot (usually a stockpot) together to create a cross between a soup and a stew. Traditional ingredients are pork bones, Sonchus (indigenous greens, usually the sow thistle), potato, pumpkin, watercress, and suet dumplings. The cooking method is basic for any experienced cook – that is, simmer a good quantity of meaty pork bones in water or light stock for 2 hours, or until the broth is rich and the pork very tender. Remove the meat from the bones (optional), return the meat to the pot with the vegetables of your choice and simmer for another 30 to 40 minutes. In the last 20 minutes add the dumplings. The dumplings are simplicity itself, but I adore them in soups and stews and have done since I was a small boy. You can easily alter quantities depending on the number of guests. They are a 2:1 ratio of self-raising flour to shredded suet.
8 oz/200g self raising flour
4 oz/50g shredded suet
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the flour, suet, plus salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl, and mix thoroughly. Hands work best, like making pastry.
Add 6 tablespoons of cold water a little at a time until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough.
Using floured hands shape the dough into balls. Size is cook’s choice. I make them about the size of a golf ball but I have also had them tennis ball sized. Just remember that the bigger they are the longer they will take to cook. Best to err on the side of overcooking than having a raw center. In fact, it is quite hard to really overcook them. Golf ball size take about 20 minutes (with the pot covered).