February 6 is Waitangi Day (Rā o Waitangi) in Aotearoa New Zealand. It's a national public holiday that commemorates the first signing of New Zealand’s founding document: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, The Treaty of Waitangi, on 6 February 1840.
The history of Rā o Waitangi
The Treaty of Waitangi is named after the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. The Treaty is an agreement, in Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs). Around 40 rangatira signed the document on the 6th of February, and copies of the treaty then circulated around the North and South island.
The Treaty is a general statement of principles on which the British and Māori made a pact to found a nation-state and build a government in New Zealand. The document has three articles. In the English version, Māori ceded the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori gave the Crown an exclusive right to buy land they wish to sell, and, in return, were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori were given the rights and privileges of British subjects.
Different understandings of the Treaty have caused debate and protests. From the 1970s especially, many Māori have called for the Treaty's terms to be honoured.
It is important to note that the treaty is not part of New Zealand domestic law anymore - authority was given to the New Zealand Parliament. However, the treaty of Waitangi continues to live as part of New Zealand’s past, present and future and symbolises the partnership between Māori and the British Crown on which the nation of Aotearoa New Zealand is founded.
What happens on Waitangi Day?
A national holiday, Rā o Waitangi is a day of both reflection and celebration. A free festival is held each year at the treaty grounds in Waitangi, beginning at 5 am with a dawn service in Te Whare Rūnanga, a beautifully carved meeting house designed in traditional Māori form. The festival features all-day entertainment, market stalls and children's activities.
Other celebrations around the country usually include Māori cultural performances, speeches from Māori and Pakeha (European) dignitaries, hāngī' and a naval salute. In Auckland, the iconic Harbour Bridge lights up with Māori imagery and sounds. In Wellington, a family event is usually held at Waitangi Park on the city’s Ara Moana waterfront.
Another popular way to spend Waitangi day is to get together with whānau (extended family) at the beach, as it is summer after all!
If you are heading to the beach, make sure to stay safe and practice beach safety, like swimming between the flags and looking out for rip currents.
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Main Image credit: Maori Waka by Dirk Pons/WikiMedia Commons.
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