Happy Waitangi Day
February 5, 2017 4:29 PM   Subscribe

On February 6th, 1840, New Zealand's founding document was signed. The Treaty of Waitangi was a contract between the British government and the chiefs of the iwi (tribes) of New Zealand (although many didn't sign). It has a complicated history.

Waitangi Day is a national holiday, with concerts, cultural festivals and public events around the country, and a powhiri (welcoming ceremony) in which the government of the day is welcomed onto Te Tii Marae at Waitangi, for speeches and commemorations. The logistics and protocols of that annual powhiri have their own complicated history and 2017 is no different.

Some years have been marked by intense protests and general argy-bargy, and others years have been milder. But it's always a day of discussion, contemplation, celebration and generally hashing things out.

This is the second year in a row that the New Zealand prime minister has not attended the official Waitangi event, because in what appears to be an internal miscommunication by the organisers, he was told he wouldn't have speaking rights on the marae (the marae is a ceremonial space outside the traditional carved meeting house).

Then there was more controversy when the hosts asked various media organisations to pay $10k for broadcasting rights, whereas in previous years media have simply paid a koha (a voluntary cash gift).

At a pre-Waitangi hui (meeting) between the PM, Bill English, and a large group of iwi leaders, a range of issues were discussed including the idea of taking Waitangi celebrations to different parts of the country.

English says that a lot of NZers "cringe" at the protests on Waitangi Day. But an Australian expat living in New Zealand has argued that New Zealand should be proud of the day's mix of reflection, diversity, debate and culture.
posted by reshet (13 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
What I learned this Waitangi day is that there's a range of Waitangi Day events here in Australia as well, including locally to me. (Which I couldn't attend this time unfortunately.)

Thanks for the great post. I especially appreciate your use of Te Reo terms in an international forum. There needs to be more of that.
posted by lollusc at 4:45 PM on February 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

I mostly cringe at people cringing at protests. There's a very strong tendency in this country to want to smooth over the past, forget about any injustice that occurred, and just want to pretend that everything is perfect. And it clearly isn't, and hasn't been.

I do wish politicians didn't have things thrown at them (though I'm willing to make one exception), but they should expect to be confronted in very strong terms - not only is that right in this particular case, strong debate is part of Maori culture - there's not a lot of circumlocution - everything is said very strongly and very directly.

In terms of celebrations, the best was back in the day when we realised that February 6 was also Bob Marley's birthday, and Wellington started hosting big, almost free parties with reggae/dub and other bands (Fat Freddy's! The Black Seeds! Sola Rosa! Don McGlashan.....) and everyone came together and hung out in the sun.

(Incidentally lollusc and anyone else interested - none of the Maori terms in the OP would be translated in a New Zealand newspaper, they'd all be understood as part of NZ English).
posted by Pink Frost at 6:48 PM on February 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is a really interesting collection of links - great post.
posted by fever-trees at 6:51 PM on February 5, 2017

(Incidentally lollusc and anyone else interested - none of the Maori terms in the OP would be translated in a New Zealand newspaper, they'd all be understood as part of NZ English).

Lol I didn't even notice them, that's a nice point to make.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:16 PM on February 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yes, I know, but we still generally censor ourselves and translate when writing in international spaces like this one, which is why I thought this example was a nice change.
posted by lollusc at 10:09 PM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are fortunate enough to live near Chicago, one of the very small handful of whakairo outside New Zealand is at the Field Museum. They usually host an event for Waitangi Day at the Field, but it's not always public. Also whenever notable NZ celebrities visit Chicago, mostly including the ambassador and the All Blacks, they host an event there.

(It was pulled out of a river in NZ and transported to Chicago; its status was uncertain for many years but since the late 80s the Field has flown Maori leaders to Chicago frequently to "keep it warm" and perform the necessary actions to keep it alive, and it's become again a living meeting place with living ancestors. It's served not just as host for Maori ceremonies and meetings, but (with the blessing of its Maori friends/keepers) as a location for meetings among rival gang members and members of communities impacted by violence in Chicago. The Maori have also invited American First Nations peoples to use the meeting house.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:38 PM on February 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I was back in NZ last month, one of the things I kept noticing is how Māori terms seem to be included more seamlessly in our media. More so than when I was a child, for sure. Yes, our government departments have bilingual names for years now, we learned some Māori at primary school and I had plenty of exposure to the language and culture coming from Rotorua. But last month when I listened to National Radio, read our local newspaper (which now has a section called Te Māori), or just spent time out and about, it all seemed a lot less... forced? I hear more and more speakers talking about their iwi, their whānau, their mokopuna... public hui are advertised as such without translation... news presenters will introduce or sign off in Māori, and not just during one week of the year either. It also helps that I have friends who work in conservation or ecology that have taken enthusiastically to Māori species names. Thanks to them I spend more time outside getting to know our native species under their original names, and I also hear more about how there is a growing awareness of mātauranga Māori in that area. It's wonderful. It adds a richness to our culture that might otherwise have been quashed. So perhaps I live in a bubble - but it feels like a positive step.
posted by dashdotdot dash at 11:02 PM on February 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

maoringlish would be the first sign of something, making both languages your own? a la Singlish, Hinglish, Spanglish et al?
posted by infini at 2:09 AM on February 6, 2017

There's actually a longstanding debate as to whether a specifically "Maori English," a form of contact-pidgin, actually existed in the nineteenth century, and if so, what happened to it. A "Maori English" is attested in a number of Pakeha colonial texts, but this may well just have been a form of typographical condescension, equivalent to the nineteenth-century metropolitan-English habit of using non-standard spelling and grammar to represent (and denigrate) Irish, North Country, and other provincial or stigmatised accents or idiolects.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:26 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

One thing I've always wondered about Māori. It feels like it's the only example, or at least the largest example, of an indigenous people somewhat effectively negotiating with colonialists. I mean they weren't equals, but Māori were fierce enough fighters and Britain a diminished enough empire that they actually sat down and negotiated a treaty. It seems different than the genocide in North America or the complete occupation of Australia.

Is this view accurate?
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on February 6, 2017

Nelson: when I visited NZ a few years ago that was very much the impression I was given: that the Māori were a uniquely successful example of a native people who negotiated with the arriving colonialists and ensured themselves political representation. The way it was described to me is that the Māori really liked debating, and jumped at the chance to engage the new arrivals in many day-long negotiations.
posted by simonw at 8:08 AM on February 6, 2017

I mean they weren't equals, but Māori were fierce enough fighters and Britain a diminished enough empire that they actually sat down and negotiated a treaty. It seems different than the genocide in North America or the complete occupation of Australia.
It's been over 20 years since I studied law and political philosophy at Auckland, so take this with a grain of salt, but from what I recall of the lectures I sat through and the readings I was assigned, things were rather more complex than that. It's not that Māori were excellent fighters and therefore won a unique degree of "respect" from their colonizers, or that Britain was in some way a "diminished" empire by 1840. (Far from it!) Remember that the land wars came a good two decades after the Treaty and stemmed from grievances over settlers'—and the colonial government's—failure to respect the Treaty's provisions. Rather, it's that a specific tradition in English and English-derived common law has been erased from cultural memory since the late nineteenth century.

The Treaty of Waitangi wasn't by any means unique. Instead, it derived from the same strain of jurisprudential thought that gave rise to the c. 375 treaties signed with Native American Nations before or after 1776. It was taken for granted in English common law in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries that indigenous peoples had certain natural rights to land and other natural resources and that these could be ceded via treaty. Central to this was agriculture. Māori and Native American nations grew crops, thereby "mixing their labour" with the land in the classic Lockean sense. They traded with European settlers (and in many cases, that trade formed the founding basis of the colonial economies that took root in each territory). To colonial administrators and theorists educated in the Enlightenment tradition, it was therefore axiomatic that they possessed a title in the lands they occupied, since they clearly understood the concept of property. (Of course, the viewpoint of the average European settler may have been rather different, but they weren't the ones making the laws.)

Australia presented a different case. Native Australians were not believed to practice agriculture (of course, this was untrue) and the land was therefore not seen as "settled" in the same way the Americas and New Zealand were, making the legal nicety of a treaty superfluous.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:19 AM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't really have anything substantive to contribute, sadly never having been to New Zealand, but I wanted to mention:

1.) I don't have my reading glasses on, and I first read the title as "Happy Waluigi Day"; and

2.) My first exposure to Waitangi Day was in London in 2008, when it was still legal-ish to drink on the tube. It seemed like every Kiwi in the city was riding the Circle Line and doing the exact same pub crawl. It was my first exposure to the pub crawl concept, but fortunately, while loud, everyone was well-behaved, not (yet) throwing up, and having a good time, so it was a neat experience.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:57 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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