Friday, 6 February 2015

What I expected from Waitangi Day at Waitangi

What I expected:
  • spectacle and ceremony
  • lots of loud protests
  • it would be a bit intimidating
  • I might feel out of place or unwelcome.
Why did I think that? I guess it was based on media representations of the day, seeing as I know very few people who have actually been there for Waitangi Day.

What it was like:
  • Yes, there was spectacle and ceremony, and it was always impressive, sometimes moving, against the stunning backdrop of the bay: at dawn, with the islands silhouetted against a pale gold sky, or in the middle of the day under alternate showers of rain and bursts of bright sunshine. 
  • There were protests, on Thursday outside the marae when John Key was talking and on Friday in the  Anti-StatOil  march around 3pm, but  even that was inclusive, with a woman at the back encouraging all of us who were waiting in the queue for shuttle buses to join in "for the sake of our mokopuna".
So what else was Waitangi Day in Waitangi like?

It was "no vacancy signs" at all the motels in Paihia.
It was flags flying from cars, houses and tents: the United Tribes flag and the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.
It was hundreds of people turning out for the dawn service at 5am, listening to karakia and singing hymns, some inside, some standing under a starry sky outside, kids lying under blankets.

It was families with children, grandparents with grandchildren, foreign tourists and backpackers; people in wheelchairs, or driving mobility scooters; kids in pushchairs; people having picnics, sitting on rugs, on chilly bins, on fold-up chairs, on the grass, in the shade under the trees.
It was kids climbing trees, swimming off the beach, jumping into the water off the bridge.
It was people eating, listening to music, playing cards, resting or asleep on mattresses, watching the performances on stage: people with and without sunhats, tattoos, sun or rain umbrellas; people of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes (although, unfortunately, that did show the extent of the obesity problem that we have to tackle in NZ.) 

It was catching snatches of te reo, and being able to understand some of it from my community  high school te reo classes.

There were stalls selling candyfloss, hot dogs, fruit icecreams, burgers, marinated mussels, watermelon, arts and crafts and, yes!!! coffee!!!
There were stalls for health and education providers,
a special corner of a tent for kaumatua to rest in,
a bouncy castle,
funfair rides,
bands playing on the three stages,
kaka haka groups practising before their turn on stage, and local people cheering for their own groups.

There were TV crews, waka crews and people gathered in fascination and admiration around the waka.
There were speeches, hymns, and frequent calls to pick up litter.
There were queues to buy food, to drive over the one-way bridge, to go through the Treaty House, queues for the toilets, for shuttle buses back to the car park.
There were HMNZS Canterbury and Te Kaha anchored off shore, and the Navy providing the 100 man guard and the 21 gun salute, and the Navy band keeping us amused with their funny and deft marching manoeuvres.

I guess the thing that really struck me was that when I've been to Waitangi before, it has felt like a place where we remember events that have happened in the past.
But this time, even though there were plenty of references to the events of 175 years ago, it felt like a place where things were happening now, where people journeyed to talk and discuss and protest and try to work things out.

It was great - it felt inclusive, welcoming, friendly. It felt like a time and a place to think about being a New Zealander and what that means.

In the evening, in the dark, it was the sound of celebratory haka floating up to our motel from the waka crews down on the river.

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