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Reflections on Waitangi Day

Reflections on Waitangi Day

by Andrea Stevens - Thursday, 6 February 2014

Waitangi Day means different things to different people. Andrea Stevens talks to Auckland Museum staff born in other parts of the world, to find out what this national day means to them.

Dina Jezdic – Serbia

Dina talks with Mere Tipene next to the dog skin cape in the Māori Court. The tōpuni (dogskin cape) was a ceremonial cloak worn by high-ranking chiefs.

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.
“What Waitangi Day means to me, as an immigrant, is about knowing my own whakapapa (genealogy) and understanding the kaitiaki (guardians) of this country at the same time. So I have a foot in two different countries.

For me as a mother, it is also important to teach my son this because I want him to have his feet in both countries too. So in a sense he will be a New Zealander first, and a Yugoslav second.

“But I also think there has been a huge partnership and relationship between people from Dalmacia and former Yugoslav with the Māori because we are quite similar – we are very family orientated, we love song and dance, and we love food. So there is a common understanding.

“The dog skin cape for me is a perfect way of understanding the knowledge of the whakapapa and the ancestors—because the dogs that the cloak was made from came from the original home land. We know the whakapapa of the dogs which was why they are the taonga. It’s about making roots in a new homeland but maintaining the links from where you came from.”

View the tōpuni in our Taonga Database.

Valerie Noiret-Leblanc – France

Valerie sits next to the carved ipu pungarehu (ashtray) in the Māori Court. A metal bowl sits atop a carved timber plinth of four carved figures, each with paua shell eyes

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.
“The object that represents the Treaty for me, is an object in the gallery that has a traditional carving of a figure – a beautiful figure with a hand on the puku – but on top of the head an ashtray! And that for me really symbolises those two very different cultures, trying to become one but they don’t really have a clue about each other.

“And do they want to know? They’re not quite sure. For me this object is a perfect summary of the Treaty: the temptation to combine both, but they don’t have a clue how they shall do it.”

View the ipu pungarehu in our Taonga Database.

Ma’ara Maeva – The Cook Islands

“So what does Waitangi mean to me? Wai is water. Tangi is to cry or tears. So for me it is the flowing waters, it is the tears falling. So in that sense, I think Waitangi is about agendas brought upon some Māori, not all Māori, upon some iwi, driven by colonialist agendas and imperial paradigms, to fit into a certain mode of thinking.

“The collection objects we have at Auckland Museum related to the Treaty of Waitangi reignite the passion.

“Even in the Cook Islands today, the New Zealand expats celebrate their identity on this day. They hold a dawn service or the like, the partaking of food, the hangi, and then games of touch rugby, and haka. I think it is more meaningful outside the country as a day of national identity. Inside your country you take it for granted, but when you are removed from your culture, you miss your culture so you wish to remember. So that’s one way those in Rarotonga are doing it. Both Māori and kiwi Paheka.”

Johnny Hui – Hong Kong

Johnny admires Te Toki a Tapiri, a waka taua (war canoe) built about 1836 near Wairoa on the East Coast for Te Waka Tarakau of Ngati Kahungunu.

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.
“Waitangi Day feels like the national day of New Zealand, and it gives us a chance to reflect on the diversity of cultures here. The focus is for Māori, but multiple cultures can reflect on the history here, in what is quite a young country. So to me Waitangi Day is a celebration of the growth and the cultures of New Zealand. But we have to respect the significance of Māori culture first.

“For me, the waka is symbolic of Waitangi Day. People first arrived on waka to New Zealand. It symbolises journey, how people got here.

“But for Chinese people in New Zealand, Waitangi Day always falls inside Chinese New Year. And during the two-week celebrations it is all about family. So I guess Waitangi Day, because it is a holiday, gives us a chance to get together and catch up with family and friends in the New Year. So it has another dimension for me. A celebration dimension.”

Read about the waka Te Toki a Tapiri.

Carl van den Berg – South Africa

“The Treaty to me was the starting point of a conversation. Initially it failed, and turned into a protracted war. But even though some people get frustrated around Waitangi Day with the protests and uncomfortable things that can happen, I think that is part of the process, part of the ongoing conversation.

“For me, the Treaty of Waitangi is an important conversation document in an era when multicultural diversity does sometimes mean the loss of identity. And having the start of a conversation, on a document such as a Treaty I think is an advantage.

”Coming from South Africa, with all its conflict, then coming here to New Zealand and seeing hīkoi in Queen Street happening around Waitangi Day – I see the protests as good democracy. To me it is not failure of the conversation. It is the conversation. It is the ongoing process, and the Treaty is the basis from which to talk.”

Moya Radley – South Africa

Moya studies a series of pounamu (nephrite jade) adzes in the Māori Court. The large one on the left is made of a South Island pounamu known as totoweka – weka’s blood. Weka are native New Zealand birds.

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.
“When I think about Waitangi Day, I think about land, people and inclusivity. This Pounamu adze is reflective of the land because it comes from the land. Inclusivity is a really big one for me because it is about including people, and everyone contributes to make something. We are all building together. People are respected for who they are, what they believe in, their culture, and they form part of the whole.

“This Pounamu is such a beautiful piece because it has all sorts of different colours in it, and the colours all form to make something really beautiful. So I think that is the thing about Waitangi for me; diverse people can come together and form something amazing.”


The opinions stated here are personal reflections, and not the views of Auckland Museum.

Further reading

Read about the history of the Treaty of Waitangi on Te Ara, The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, told by Claudia Orange.

Visit the online Māori Dictionary

  • Post by: Andrea Stevens

    Andrea is a freelance features writer, author and editor. Her special interests are culture and heritage, architecture and design. She was co-author for the book Beyond the State: State Houses from Modest to Modern (Penguin, 2014).




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