Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A sense of "Sacred Place".

Silenced by the place
Years ago I was fortunate enough to go with friends to visit Uluru, or Ayres Rock and Kings Canyon in central Australia.  At Uluru three of us jogged around it at sunrise. (It is about 9k around) As we ran we burst into singing a chorus or a verse of a hymn. It felt sacred. A friend and I climbed it, though even then there was unease about climbing "the rock". My wife and I walked around it in the early afternoon. There was a patch where in a shallow cave you could see markings on the wall that showed Aboriginal habitation from thousands of years earlier. At Kings Canyon we walked around the top and at sunset we came across a group of people sitting in silence, watching the sun sink over the desert. Both places gave that sense of the passage of time, of life and the mystery of life itself. It "forced" a sense of reverence/respect to come over you. There have been similar experiences in other places. As I looked into dwellings that were thousands of years old at Scara Brae on the Orkney Islands, and walked among the circle of standing stones nearby, the same sense of awe pervaded me. When I tramp up Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh and look at the city underneath and muse on all the changes these rocks have witnessed, I wonder at humanity's journey and creation itself. I recall standing outside the Houses of Parliament in London and thinking of all the debate, drama and decision making that has gone on there to produce the democracy, the freedoms and rights we have in the West. There are many places that invoke that sense of awe, often because of the things that have happened there. My wife and I yesterday visited such a place.
Treaty House

Carving on the bow of ceremonial canoes

The Treaty of Waitangi
When New Zealand was "discovered" by Europeans in the 18th Century, Maori lived here in tribes spread throughout the islands of NZ. Europeans began to move here and establish themselves. Missionaries, whalers, traders good and bad arrived. Inevitably trouble between the two cultures broke out. In the early 1830's a representative of the English Crown (Busby) was sent out to help bring order. A Confederation of Tribes - or at least their tribal leaders established relationships and a flag was even designed so that other nations knew that New Zealand was a nation, governed by Maori tribal leaders. More Europeans came and so the English crown decided a Treaty had to be established between Maori and English. A Governor Hobson arrived on an English navy ship to preside over matters. A document was drawn up, Maori leaders called together and signatures gathered. This was on 6th February, 1840. Copies were made and sent around the country, where other tribes' leaders signed them.  Not all tribes were reached or signed the document, but enough for England to declare New Zealand one of its colonies and a special partnership with Maori established by this important document.
Document difficulties and disastrous departures.
For it's time it was a great document declaring a partnership with Maori and the Crown. But there were difficulties. There were significant differences in Maori and English understandings of "ownership" of land. This brought problems as governing bodies acquired more and more land. There were differences in understanding as the English version was translated into Maori. Maori seemed to be promised "authority" and the expressions used did not mean the same in Maori as in the English. There were wars, confiscations of Maori land and injustices. The Treaty was not adhered to by the settlers and the Governing bodies. There continued to be breaches of the treaty right through to the present time. Having said that, the Treaty brought about better race relations between settlers and indigenous people than in most other colonising situations. It was and is an important document. In the second half of the twentieth century, there was a growing recognition of the Treaty breaches and readiness to re-establish the essential partnership between Maori and European in NZ. We call ourselves a "Bi-cultural Country" and more and more the Maori culture is finding an important place in New Zealand society. (Of course we have many other cultural groups in NZ but ideally Maori are recognised by all as the "Tangata Whenua" - the people of the land.)  I have grown up as this resurgence of Maori Culture has been happening and the renewed recognition of the place of the treaty is being established. The above is a very much abbreviated introduction to "The Treaty of Waitangi."
The "sacred" place.
Jean and I have been holidaying. We drove north from Dunedin to Christchurch and caught up on family there. (The Maori word for "extended family" is "Whanau" and is becoming a real part of New Zealand's spoken English language.) We flew across Cook Strait to Wellington and saw more whanau there. We caught a scenic train ride to NZ's biggest city Auckland (We really do live in a beautiful country) then went by car further north to the beautiful area known as The Bay of Islands. This was our first visit there. It is there that Waitangi is to be found, the Treaty Grounds. There is a Museum, the original house where the English Diplomat, Busby was living, a Maori Meeting House and a significant flagpole. Busby's house (named now "The Treaty House") was where the treaty was drawn up. The new Governor Hobson was to establish himself so he signed on behalf of the crown.  The Flagpole has three flags flying upon it. The original Maori Confederation flag; the New Zealand Flag and the British Union Jack. The flagpole marks the actual spot where the "Treaty of Waitangi" was signed. The treaty established NZ as a place where diversity of culture was to be recognised, and it still stands as a "North Star", an ideal vision for New Zealand as a society. So yesterday we travelled slowly through the museum reacquainting ourselves with the Treaty's history. We walked almost reverently up a grassy slope to the Treaty House and I sat at the table where the treaty was finalised. We then watched a Maori welcome at the Meeting House and went down to the flagpole marking the spot where the signing took place. We went to the beach where Governor Hobson landed and explored ceremonial war canoes. It was for me a pilgrimage. I am a proud New Zealander. I have had a growing appreciation of Maori culture. In our family we have children with Maori in their ancestry. I love the values that the Treaty in its day endeavoured to express and establish. So I felt that the time we spent at the Treaty Grounds was one of those special times where we walked on "sacred ground". I am grateful to have visited and really do love my country and its people.

Ironically at Piahia, the township closest to the Treaty grounds we called at a shop owned and run by an Asian man. We were wandering around looking for bargains and heard raised voices at the counter. A Maori man had taken exception at something the owner had done, and was ranting threateningly at the Asian man. Some of what he was saying was racist anti-asian ranting, and he was looking for a fight. The Asian man remained calm but did not back down. (I kept hoping he would just shut up and let the other man run out of bluster.) He even invited the Maori man to come back at the end of business and they could "sort it out". i.e. fight. We stayed in the shop moving closer to the counter hoping that our presence would stop any physical confrontation. At one stage the Asian man said, "This is my country too!" The Maori responded, "This is my town!" followed by more threats... Eventually he left after a mate came in to encourage him to stop. The Asian man had his phone out and was threatening to phone police. We wondered if the aggressor was on drugs of some kind. ... I love my country; I love its ideals. But I am deeply sad that New Zealand like many places still has many problems. Even at my age, I still want to be part of the solution in some small way.   

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