On Wednesday 6 February we will once again commemorate Waitangi Day. Our sister site NZHistory has a comprehensive feature on the day. The feature suggests that on Wednesday there will probably be protests, speeches, drama, laughter, tears and theatre. And, whatever happens on Waitangi Day, it will be an interesting day.
Waitangi Day is a national holiday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. The treaty was signed between Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. A number of these chiefs had earlier been members of the United Tribes who had signed the Declaration of Independence.
There were a number of other signings after 6 February on various sheets. All but one were in Māori.
In 1934 commemorations began at the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi after Lord Bledisloe (in the top hat) and his wife Alina (wearing a fur stole) gifted James Busby’s residence, where the treaty had been signed, to the nation.
For the centennial celebrations in 1940 a meeting house, Te Whare Rūnanga, was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The centennial is often depicted by an iconic image of Āpirana Ngata leading the haka in front of the meeting house at Waitangi (below). Not all was well, however, with Waikato and Taranaki tribes boycotting the occasion.
Waitangi Day has only been a national holiday since 1974, when it was also renamed New Zealand Day. The renamed day did not sit well with many and it was changed back to Waitangi Day in 1976 and has been so since.
Protests from the 1970s though into the 1980s were common. The 1984 hīkoi to Waitangi was one of the more well-known.
Politicians and royalty have felt the sting of protest at Waitangi. This Wednesday promises the possibility of continued protest.
But inevitably – depending on the weather – there will be numerous community events around New Zealand, like this Ngāti Kahungunu-run Waitangi Day event in Hawke’s Bay (below) – where the local community will get together for the day. Waitangi Day, love it or loathe it, there’s never a dull moment.