07 February 2006

Happy (belated) Waitangi day

BerlinBear avatar Yesterday, 6th February, was New Zealand's national day. Our national day is called Waitangi day, and it's the day on which we New Zealanders "celebrate" the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6th February 1840, which is, in essence, New Zealand's founding document. Celebrate is in inverted commas there, because in the eyes of many on both sides of the equation (Maori and Pakeha), the Treaty and what has come thereafter are not viewed in an entirely positive light, to put it mildly.

I missed posting about Waitangi Day yesterday because I was on a train back from Berlin to Trier. A train which was delayed for quite some time due to some hapless deer being hit by another train ahead of us on the line, which in turn resulted in my train having to take a considerable detour and my arriving home in Trier very late and too knackered to bother posting. So I'm catching up today. Right here, right now.

This post is not actually even about Waitangi Day and the politics thereof, really. Well sort of. It's more about Americans. You see, although Waitangi day is "observed" by some in New Zealand, and services and whatnot are attended by dignitaries and televised, for most it is just viewed as a handy day off in the middle of summer. Along the lines of: "I'll take that public holiday and go to the beach, thank you very much." We have a half-hearted debate about national identity in the lead-up, tut-tut about the shafting of the Maori people by the British Crown and the New Zealand government, and/or tut-tut about the "Treaty grievance industry" and how greedy the "bloody Maoris" have got - depending on which side of the dividing line you fall - and fire up the barbie. That's about it, generally.
We certainly don't go around wishing people Happy Waitangi Day, or somesuch.

Why, then, have I called this post "Happy Waitangi Day"? Well, I have some former housemates in the UK to thank for that. Two of them. Both Americans. Both nice guys.

Back then, there were six of us living in the house: two Americans, two Kiwis and two Brits. One fine, cold 6th February in Oxford, the two Americans both wished me a "Happy Waitangi Day". Independently of each other, no less. I guess one or both of them must have had one of those international diaries which lists national holidays from countries around the world and noticed that 6th February was New Zealand's national day and was called Waitangi Day. I suspect they imagined it was something like Thanksgiving - hence the cheery "Happy Waitangi Day!" I was so impressed that a) they'd even noticed, and b) they'd bothered to say anything, that I didn't have the heart to let on that Waitangi Day wasn't necessarily considered that much of a cause for celebration and that we didn't really wish each other a happy one in our neck of the woods. Instead, I just thanked them and went about my business.

But it kind of stuck. So now, with no regard for whether or not it's the done thing, I cheerily wish people a Happy Waitangi Day. I don't care about the confuddled looks such a comment tends to draw. It's just, well, nice. Things aren't perfect in New Zealand, by any means, and we have our fair share of home-grown issues, especially with regard to race-relations. But we also have a pretty special and pretty unique tiny little isolated corner of the world that we have the privilege of calling home, and we have made something of it. On a national day, that is worth celebrating and being, well, happy about. Don't you think? Why it took me 25 years and some inadvertent prompting from a couple of Americans to make me realise that is completely beyond me.