Last month we had another excursion with our cruising buddies Jack & Marce from “Escape Velocity”. This time it was to historic Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, for the Waitangi Day festival which commemorates the signing of the famous treaty in 1840 between the British Crown and the Maori chiefs. When we picked up our hire care from our local ‘Rent a Dent” agent Colin and told him where we were going, he raised his eyebrows and warned us to beware of flying sex toys. Exchanging bemused glances, we reckoned we were in for an interesting day…..
Unfortunately a rather overcast and drizzly day, as it turned out. We arrived early and found a parking spot within easy walk of the treaty grounds. Already crowds were gathering to see the world’s largest ceremonial canoe being paddled out into the bay (with most likely the world’s longest name – Ngatokimatawharorua – Whew, try saying that quickly!), and the opening ceremony Haka performed by local youth on the beach.
The press was there in abundance, and we found ourselves corralled by a local radio host for an impromptu interview. When she realized we were ignorant Aussies who didn’t have much of a clue about the topical issues of the day, she mercifully let us go!
And there seemed to be plenty of topical issues, with many Maori flags on view and causes large and small being promoted.
We sampled the food stalls and the local delicacy, mussel fritters (not bad!) and watched the official ceremonies at the treaty grounds.
It was a strange juxtaposition of Naval pomp and ceremony (including a 21 gun salute from HMNZ Canterbury) with traditional dancers and singers, but I suppose it reflected the spirit of the original treaty, when Maori chiefs gathered to sign what they thought was an agreement to manage their own affairs in return for protection and governance by the Crown. It seems that maybe that hasn’t turned out as well as they expected…
We admired the long canoe house and the elaborate ceremonial Meeting House, with exquisite and intricate carvings by artists from New Zealand and the Cook Islands (thought to be the ancestral homeland of the original Maori).
As we left we were told there was a procession arriving, so we waited, not knowing quite what to expect. Turns out it was a protest meeting against the NZ Government’s negotiations about free trade with the TPPA – Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.
So there we were in the middle of a protest meeting, not being able to understand what was being said, but aware that people were generally pretty upset. Young and old got in on the action, but they were a well-behaved crowd and it was quite fun to be in the thick of it.
Later, when we got back to the boat we did some research and it all began to make more sense – Maori were concerned that the government had entered into negotiations without consultation with them, and as owners and holders of many natural resources including forestry and fishing rights, they were understandably upset that their autonomy may be eroded by the agreement with the other 11 Pacific Rim countries.
And what about the flying sex toys I hear you ask?? It seems that a week previously, a female demonstrator had thrown a dildo at Steven Joyce, the Economic Development Minister, shouting “That’s for raping our sovereignty”. Ah, it all becomes clear now…
New Zealand is definitely not a dull place!