Waitangi Day to most New Zealanders (read Palagis) is another day to go visit the garden store, to get that thing out of the way you’ve always wanted to do, to paint the house, mow the lawn, or to go to the beach. In fact, I’d say most Samoans treat Waitangi Day the same way. Well here’s my perspective on this day of historical importance. Sure it’s a Maori “thing”, but it’s also a Polynesian “thing”, and New Zealander “thing”, a human “thing” too.
One of the fascinating things about live in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Niu Sila) is the interaction between the indigenous peoples (Maori) and the majority Western culture.
Maori – The Polynesian people travelled the Pacific and discovered and populated nearly every island from Fiji to the west, Hawaii to the north, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to the east and Aotearoa/New Zealand to the South. Maori are said to have arrived to these shores from the Cook Islands or Tuamotu’s (French Polynesia). However they did not call themselves Maori until the arrival of the Pakeha/Europeans/Palagis. Affiliations were to hapu and iwi (tribes and villages). So when confronted with the Palagis, they called themselves normal – Maori (mao’i/maoli in other Polynesian languages) – pretty logical to me.
The British Palagis saw a group of sparsely populated islands the size of their own homeland, and there were calls for Britain to annex it. However, Britain at the time was in no mood for a military campaign and sent representatives of the British Crown to draw up an agreement with the Normals/Maori.
So, on February 6 1840, some northern tribal Chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown, what is known as the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and later signed by other Chiefs (but not all). In the Americas (apart from some Canadian areas who also had treaties), military force and disease created a near mass extinction and cleared the way for the modern bully that we know today as the U S of A (and the side kick Canada). Australian Aborigines fared worse because the British Palagis didn’t even consider them as humans, therefore the island continent was uninhabited and free to take over?!?!
So in this respect, Maori had it easy… (disclaimer: after the signing there were military wars between various Maori tribes and the British Army. Also the South Island of Niu Sila was also thought to be uninhabited – go figure?) All because of this piece of paper.
However, it wasn’t as easy as that. This piece of paper was actually two pieces of paper, the English version and the Maori version. This has become one of the greatest contentions about the Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi debate: the interpretation of both treaties. The English treaty basically cedes all sovereignty from the chiefs to the British Crown. The Maori version gives ‘kawanatanga’ (transliteration for governorship) to the British Crown but leaves rangatiratanga (chieftainship) with the chiefs and guaranteed ownership and control of taonga (property or valued possessions).
Guess which one the Maori chiefs signed? The Maori treaty.
Instead of adhering to Te Tiriti o Waitangi or the Treaty of Waitangi, the British Palagis took over the country, implemented their own laws and institutions and basically forgot about the piece of paper (- years of neglect almost destroyed the original Treaties). Throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand’s short history, Maori have constantly tried to have their rights redressed to no avail. In 1877 the (Palagi) Court ruled it as a legal nullity and ignored, arguing New Zealand was annexed. Another Court in 1938 said it was not part of New Zealand law. Any political pressure by Maori were hindered by laws created by and enforced by Palagi New Zealanders. The fact that certain aspects of the Treaty (ie what is now known as the Treaty Principles) came in by accident.
But even once the pieces of paper gained the national spotlight (1970s), mainstream New Zealand (read Palagis – again) were biased towards the Treaty of Waitangi (English version) as opposed to the Maori version.
Today, a survey came out saying for the first time, the majority of Aotearoa/New Zealand now see the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document. So while Palagi New Zealand have come a long way in accepting the Treaty has a place in the constitutional make up of Aotearoa/New Zealand, this is based on the English version.
I suspect that as the Maori (and Pacific) population grow, and the corresponding decrease in the Pakeha/Palagi population, there will be more change in attitudes towards the Treaty of Waitangi, and more importantly Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Unfortunately, amongst Samoans there is a great deal of apathy towards this Maori movement. And it’s understandable… “Samoans have Samoa to go to, it’s the Maori’s fault they lost their land, we didn’t sign it, will it put food on the table?”… Yet it’s for all those reasons we do need to support Maori. Sure it didn’t happen to Samoa (land loss), but it is because we are fortunate to have our homeland, that we should therefore help our fellow Polynesian brothers and sisters with their homeland. While we didn’t sign the Treaty, it was because of the signing that Samoans were allowed to be here to begin with (- technically, we are part of the people who came here under the Crown/ we are Tauiwi – visitors).
But most of all, our Maori brothers and sisters are not too different to us. Many of the policy advantages Pacific people have gained was because Maori fought for it ahead of us. We all live in the same neighbourhoods, went to the same schools, work alongside each other. We all have the same genetics, biological features, linguistic similarities, shared socio-economic histories. The story of the Maori is merely a chapter in the book of the Polynesians. The betterment of Maori will also mean the betterment of Samoans here in Aotearoa/New Zealand/Niu Sila.
So while we may be heading to the beach this Waitangi Day, think who’s beach it once belonged to…