The 6 February is a highly significant date in New Zealand history – Waitangi Day – so named after the historic Treaty of Waitangi that was signed on this day in 1840. This event took place in British resident James Busby’s House at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands.
The Treaty is widely recognised as New Zealand’s founding document, establishing an agreement between the British and the Maori people and securing British sovereignty over New Zealand.
In 1934 James Busby’s house was restored and this, together with the surrounding grounds was dedicated a public reserve on 6 February 1934 – a date recognised as the first Waitangi Day.
Ceremonies were held yearly after that, becoming increasingly recognised internationally, and after several transformations, Waitangi Day became a national holiday in New Zealand.
During the 1970’s Waitangi Day became a day of protest for Maori activists who believed that the Treaty was unjust and deprived them of their land. The Nga Tamatoa (Maori term for “The Warriors”) was a Maori group that protested against Waitangi Day during this period.
Since then a certain level of discontent has surrounded the day although considerable effort from both the Pakeha (Europeans) and the Maori people to use the day as a time of unification has occurred in recent times.
Major cultural events take place every year at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, including the yearly launching of the Ngatokimatawhaorua, one of the largest existing Maori war canoes. This vessel can carry 80 paddlers and 55 passengers.
Other celebrations include a Maori festival that showcases traditional music, dance and customs, with similar events also occurring in other cities across New Zealand. Tourists are welcome, and a large international contingent is present at modern day events.
The Treaty of Waitangi, although remaining somewhat controversial, is regarded by many as a model for relationships between Europeans and Indigenous communities.
Image: James Busby’s restored residence, Treaty House, Waitangi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.