Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Trip Start Oct 23, 2011
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Trip End Mar 08, 2012


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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Friday, December 2, 2011

I have decided to go to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds today. It is about a 3 kilometer walk from the hostel.  It is a lovely walk, along the coast.  The day is crystal clear.  I treasure it.  I decide to go in the afternoon since I want to go to the twilight Maori performance that is put on at 6.  Also, I need to get caught up on my blog.  So, I head out about 2:30.  I take pictures along the way and observe people of all ages enjoying the various beaches.  One thing I take a picture of is a tree with gorgeous red flowers.  It is called the Pohutukawa. I learn later that it is considered the New Zealand Christmas tree. There are a couple of pictures for you to see.

I go on a guided tour at the Treaty Grounds and learn a lot more about the Treaty and the history of New Zealand and its peoples.  Our guide is Jo Jo, a young Maori gal with a lot of knowledge. That is not her Mauri name, but she uses it because it is easier for people to remember.  Her great great great great grandfather was Te Ruki Kawiti, a powerful Maori chief who was a reluctant signatory to the Treaty.  He later led a rebellion against the British.  As she points out, he was one of the last to sign the Treaty, but he put his name at the top, above the first Maori chief who signed.  She acknowledges that the Treaty is not perfect, but compares the situation of the Maori to the Aborigines in Australia and believes it was a good thing for the Maori to sign the treaty. 

We learn that the drawings on the faces of the chiefs are like a resume. They detail all their accomplishments.  They were done using carved bone.  Many became ill and died from the practice.  Survival was the hallmark of a leader.  We learn about the waka, the canoe. The one at the grounds is a replica of the one used by the first Maori who came to New Zealand.  It is much larger, however, than the one that was actually used. It is made from 3 Kauri trees.  I have a picture of the trunk of one that I took at the grounds.  It is enormous.  We also visit the flagstaff, which marks the spot where the Treaty was first signed.  The previous flag, initially preferred by the Maori, flies on an even level with the Union Jack flag, which is the one used today. 

The carved Meeting House (Te Whare Runanga) is most impressive.  It was opened during the Treaty Centenary Celebrations in 1940.  It is different from all other meetings houses, in that it is the only national one.  This means that it was designed so that each tribe is represented by its own carved totem, and the house is to be shared by all the tribes.  All other meeting houses are specific in their entirety to a particular tribe.  The word "runanga" means to discuss in assembly. 

I also learn that Cook was not the first European to come to New Zealand.  Abel Tasman, of the ?Netherlands was, over 100 years earlier than Cook, according to Jo Jo.  She tells us that Tasman approached the South Island but was unfamiliar with the customs of the Maori and he unbewittingly signaled that he was there to engage in battle.  When the Maori responded he ran away and claimed that the land was occupied by savages.  When Cook came he had a Polynesian person familiar with the customs in his party.  He was thus able to approach the Maori in a more peaceful fashion.  This is a perfect example of how important it is to get to know a culture before you visit or deal with it.  

Speaking of savages, there is a copy in what was the Busby's home, of a Geography Book from 1838, published in Dublin, that says the world is made of Europe, Asia, Africa and America.  Regarding America, it says that “much of America is unpolished and savage” and “many parts of it are yet unknown.”

 The land of which the treaty grounds are a part consists of over 2300 acres.  It was purchased in 1932 by Governor-General Lord Bledisloe and his wife, and was given in trust – through the Waitangi National Trust they established - to the New Zealand people.  The land includes the surrounding Waitangi Endowment Forest, which consists of commercial forest along with native trees. The intent was to provide a scenic backdrop for the reserve as well as a source of funds for its upkeep.   A prior potential purchase by some Americans for commercial purposes had fallen through, allowing the Bledisloes to purchase the land. Thank goodness. The gift is said to have redirected attention back to Waitangi and the documents and events which form the cornerstone of New Zealand nationhood. The news media referred to the Treaty as New Zealand's Magna Carta.  The gift was purportedly welcomed by the Maori, who proposed the building of the Te Whare Runanga.

 I ended my visit to the Treaty Grounds by attending the twilight performance put on by the talented Maori group of 2 men and 4 women.  There were only 5 of us to view the performance, but we clapped very loudly – at their request.  The 3 women in the audience, moi included, got to learn how to dance with the poi – a ball of yarn tied to a string that you hold onto and toss around in different ways. The men got to partake in a haka – traditional war dance.  It was all quite enjoyable.

 I walked back to the hostel, had dinner and got back to writing my blog.  I need to get caught up, as I leave for Southeast Asia in a couple of days.  I am going to make a concerted effort to write every day or other day.  I keep handwritten notes in a little pocket notebook, but I could not find the time or energy to type up the actual blog when I was doing the tour.  Hopefully this next one won’t be as busy.  Not to the extent I can help it, it won’t.
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