I started writing this post on 6th February, on a grey, damp and dingy Monday. Like many of my compatriots, on days like this I dream of running away to sunnier places. Three years ago my sister and I did just that, we flew to New Zealand together to visit relatives, including our brother. So as today is Waitangi Day (well, by the time I finish this post Waitangi Day will have finished in NZ, but never mind) AND it is my lovely sister’s birthday, I thought I’d share a little bit of Kiwi sunshine with you.
On February 6, 2014 we were in Wellington, the “Coolest Little Capital in the World”. It was sunny and windy and the air had an astonishing clarity. In New Zealand that clear air means that colours are brighter, more saturated than anywhere else I’ve been, it’s like an entire country in high definition. This visual zing, a bit of jet lag and a couple of beers are a heady mix!
I took a LOT of photographs, of course. Unfortunately, due to a corrupted memory card many of my Wellington photos (including the Botanic Garden, waaah!) were lost, but Waitangi Day was saved. Scroll down at the end of this post for a few more.
The Treaty of Waitangi was not unequivocally A Good Thing. Signed on 6 February 1840, this agreement between the British Crown and the Maori chiefs was not accurately translated into Maori and was a source of dispute from that date onwards. I’m not qualified to précis the entire history of New Zealand, but we all know that Victorian colonialism rode roughshod over inhabitants with a prior claim in so many countries. New Zealand was no different. There is still a legacy of disadvantage for the Maori people but at least their feisty, nature loving, artistic culture is celebrated publicly. New Zealand is all the richer for that. Waitangi Day is now a holiday, a day of getting together, maybe spiced with some debate, even protest, but mostly just a day of celebrating New Zealand.
When we were there we listened to speeches in both Maori and English, and wandered about on the waterfront, meeting a few of my brother’s friends. There was street food, there were souvenirs and crafts, street performances and a relaxed mix of people down near the water front. It was a fabulous people watching opportunity, set off by sunshine, street art, sculpture, adventurous architecture and that glittering blue sea.
My favourite part of the entire day was the performances of haka and Maori songs by schoolchildren. These were not the slightly embarrassed, shuffling performances you might get from British teenagers, they were loud, proud and fierce. The kids didn’t hold back, they stomped, grimaced, swayed, sang, and generally blew us away. Even though I hadn’t the faintest idea what it all meant it made tears ooze from my eyes and I had difficulty focusing my camera. If only we had some traditions as impressive as this – much as I love Morris Dancing it all looks a bit faint next to a haka!
So I wave from chilly, wet England to the friendly people of New Zealand. I hope that you’ve had another gloriously sunny Waitangi weekend, hope to see you again one day.