Thursday, February 08, 2007

Waitangi Day

Unfortunately, it seems that when I want to be in a particular location on a particular day (i.e. Gisborne for New Year’s Eve), New Zealand likes to make things difficult for me. Waitangi Day was on Tuesday, and ever since my boss Geneva offered to take me up to Waitangi for the day I’d been super excited about it. However, an overload at work coupled with some seriously bad weather devolved our plan from a fun little overnight trip into a three day solitary excursion to Kaitaia in a massive rainstorm (about 5 hours north of Auckland, as opposed to only 3 to Waitangi), with only about 2 hours actually spent at Waitangi.

Rather than give you background on Waitangi Day, I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry. Long story short, Waitangi Day celebrates/commemorates (depending on who you ask) the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which established joint rule of New Zealand by the Maori and England back in 1840. From what I could gather, the events at Waitangi (where the treaty was signed) are a cross between a carnival (lots of activities and food stalls), a jamboree (people camp out for a couple nights), a government spectacle (lots photo op appearances and patriotic speeches by politicians) and protest demonstration (see if you can find footage of when Queen Elizabeth visited and got stuff thrown at her). So obviously I wanted to go.

I was fortunate enough to go to Waitangi not really as a tourist, or at least as a tourist in disguise. Instead of just braving the activities myself, as I saw other tourists doing, I was fortunate to have an insider edge. My friend William, who is very involved in and well-connected to the Maori community, took me around and provided access to people and places that most tourists would not be able to approach.

A few entries ago, I wrote about how my race creates a different experience for me over here than if I were, for example, white. Like a lot of situations, both here and in the States, things would be easier if I were white. However, at all the Waitangi Day events, I couldn’t help but think about how being a person of colour was actually very much to my benefit. Not that William or any of the people I met would exclude a white person, but I was able to more easily slip in and out of interactions because I did not immediately stick out. I was introduced to some people as being an American, but people who I just said “kia ora” to and shook hands with may have been completely unaware just how much of an outsider I really was. Granted, my 6+ months of working in Maori health has taught me a lot of general protocol, but a white person who knows Maori protocol still sticks out more than a brown one.

There’s not that much to say about Waitangi Day, since the rain washed out a lot of the festivities and we didn’t stay for that long. Attendance was low, most of the tents/stalls closed down early, and the sea was so rough they had to cancel the wakas and the Navy salute. Fortunately, I still managed get some pictures of all the Tino Rangatiratanga flags.

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