On the other side of the sound from Russell is Waitangi and it is here in 1840 that a treaty was signed between the indigenous population (numerous Maori tribes) and the settlers (mainly the British). New Zealanders regard this treaty as the founding of the nation of New Zealand. Hence Waitangi is an important place in New Zealand life and annually there is a public holiday (February 6th) called Waitangi Day.
The treaty grounds are also used to provide various shows and talks for national and overseas visitors -the “Cultural Experience” is one of these. Visitors are welcomed according to Maori tradition with a speech
and then given the opportunity to see and hear various Maori dances and also the infamous Haka.
Visitors are given the opportunity to make fools of themselves with maidens showing their prowess at twirling the Poi (apparently repeated often enough, it gives maidens sought after muscular forearms)
then this exercise is demonstrated properly
and finally male warriors are asked to show how fierce they are by sticking their tongues out and widening their eyes whilst slapping various parts of their body!
Within the grounds are the Treaty House where
James Busby lived – he (with the title British Resident) was sent over by Queen Victoria to maintain order in the emerging colony. In 1835, he hosted a meeting of 35 chiefs who signed the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand – a precursor to the 1840 Treaty.
His house (which was prefabricated in Australia and shipped over in crates) is laid out as it might have been when he lived there (above is the Parlour)
and in front of the house is a large flagstaff which marks the approximate spot where the Treaty was signed by numerous Maori chiefs and Settler dignitaries.
A recent addition to the grounds is a meeting house
constructed in 1940 in traditional Maori style – our guide explained the meanings behind the carvings and also showed one done by one of her ancestors which (apparently) showed her line back 16 generations.
Carving was used by Maoris to record facts and history because there was no written form of the language until the early 1800s.
There is of course, considerable controversy over the content and translation of the Treaty – it was hinted at during our visit that the origins of the problems lay in the lack of skills of the translator rather than intentional deception by the British.
One cannot fail to be impressed by the efforts made by early settlers to establish this nation and how hard their lives were. The Treaty Grounds are in themselves, also very impressive and it does not take much imagination to be back in the 1840s when the signing took place.
Again, we felt that we were hearing about the history of a nation which was more at ease with its indigenous past than we ever felt in Australia.