February 6th is Waitangi Day, a national holiday in New Zealand which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the nation’s founding document, in 1840. Signed by representatives of the British Crown and various Maori chiefs from the North Island of New Zealand, the treaty established a British governor for New Zealand while recognizing Maori ownership of their lands and properties and gave Maori the rights of British subjects.
Waitangi Day was first officially commemorated in 1934, and it has been a public holiday since 1974. Compared to other “founding days” such as Australia Day or the Fourth of July, Waitangi Day is a more subdued affair with many New Zealanders, especially among the Maori community, seeing the day as an opportunity to reflect upon the meaning of the treaty and how it has been upheld.
Waitangi Day 2015 marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty and a special Waitangi Festival program has been organized for the occasion. Official celebrations are held at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands with concerts, craft markets, a range of sports events and competitions (both international and traditional Maori), and plenty of activities for children.
In Aukland, New Zealand’s biggest city, many residents take to the water in historic sailing vessels, traditional Maori waka and contemporary boats for a “haka powhiri” welcoming ceremony at Okahu Bay Domain, the city’s birthplace. In the capital city of Wellington, festivities take place at the waterfrong Waitangi Park with themes emphasizing New Zealand’s cultural diversity with a mix of lively events. At Rotorua, an area of geothermal activity, Waitangi Day is marked at Whakarewarewa – a “living Maori village” – with a “Whakanuia” celebrations aimed to “acknowledge, promote and celebrate” Maori culture.
Of course, Waitangi Day is observed throughout the country in a variety of ways with sporting and live music playing major parts in most celebrations. Beyond New Zealand’s shore, Waitangi Day festivities take place across the globe with some of the biggest occurring in London, Southern California and in a number of Australian cities.