Today, New Zealand celebrates Waitangi Day; the day which commemorates the signing of modern New Zealand’s founding document – the Treaty of Waitangi.
Signed on 6th February 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and a number of Maori chiefs from different North Island tribes, the treaty established New Zealand as part of the British Empire. It also gave the Maori the rights of British subjects while also recognising Maori ownership of their land.
Two documents were produced – one in English and one in Maori – but over time it has become clear that what was written in the two treaties differed wildly, with the Maori ultimately not receiving as many rights as they had been led to believe.
Nevertheless, this date is still given as the birth date of modern NZ and is celebrated as such every year. That said, the day has also become the focus of minor protests carried out by a small band of Maori activists who are still unhappy with the way their forebears were treated by the original British rulers.
For the most part, though, the day, a public holiday, is one of celebration with public concerts and festivals held throughout the country and traditional Maori displays and dances also on show nationwide.
Undoubtedly the most famous of these displays is held at Waitangi House which, among many other ceremonies, includes a re-enactment of the famous events that took place on those very grounds in 1840. However, due to the day’s controversial origins these celebrations are perhaps more muted compared to those for national days seen in many other countries.
During a special commemorative speech today in Waitangi, Prime Minister John Key took the opportunity to reflect on the many achievements New Zealanders have given to the world over the past 175 years.
“175 years,” began Key. “Just think about what we have achieved in that time. The great scientists, adventurers, sports men and women, pioneers and dreamers who call themselves New Zealanders. The first person to split the atom, the first women voters, the first conqueror of Everest. The first Rugby World Cup winners.
“The artists, writers, singers and musicians, actors and directors who not only entertain us, but who have also created a body of stories and songs which could have only been made in New Zealand.
“And the leaders, Maori and Pakeha alike, who have developed a Treaty partnership which is admired around the world.
That’s a lot to be proud of.”
We at Emigrate2, would like to wish all New Zealanders – and, of course, all those hoping to one day become Kiwis – a happy Waitangi Day.