Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Happy Waitangi Day?

Why all the whinging?

We say Merry Christmas; we wish a Happy New Year; we might even wish our friends “a great long weekend.” I’ve heard friends say things like “Happy 4th of July!” and even “Happy Australia Day!” 

So how come nobody here ever says anything like “Happy Waitangi Day”?

You’d think we would. There are many worse places on the planet to to wake up, and there are very few that are better. 

And the symbol this day commemorates, the only day we actually do celebrate the birth of this great little country, played some part in its creation.

We celebrate the signing of a Treaty: an agreement that ended legal slavery and ritual cannibalism. What's not to celebrate about that?

A deal that put a stop (for a time) to never-ending inter-tribal warfare. There was no-one even at the time who didn't celebrate that.

A Treaty that, for the first time in British colonial history, explicitly offered to natives the same rights and privileges as the colonisers themselves, overturning the absolutism of chiefly tribal rule and bringing to these islands the promise of liberty, peace and the rule of law – and not the French absolutist law that might have arrived here if a French explorer had annexed the islands for Louis XVIII (as was feared at the time), but instead British common law and (with that) the protection of property rights that, for over 800 years in the home of its birth), it had delivered.

Sure, as a founding document it was far from perfect. 
  • There was some confusion between Articles I  and II over what sort of authority remained with the various chiefs.
  • And between them, the promoters of the New Zealand Company (who literally wished to pay for colonisation by legalised land sharking) and the missionaries of the Aborigines’ Protection Society (who altruistically thought that Maori, already demonstrating their abundant entrepreneurial acumen, nonetheless needed to be “saved from the impact of commerce”) managed to have inserted in the Treaty a disturbing nannying clause (part of Clause II) that prohibited Maori selling their land to anyone except the Government's own agents --- the cause of many a problem (and many a battle) from that day to this.
  • And, what is also true, those same meddlers also wanted the British class system exported here, and so (conscious that the American and Australian frontiers had liberated non-aristocratic lives), wanted to limit the land available to emigrating labourers here by opposing individual Maori title, and encouraging instead the retention of collective tribal ownership and “aristocratic” tribal leaders. The reason, said the Protection Society's promoters, was that there had to be “a class of persons in the island, who, by common consent and prescriptive right hold a position of eminence above the others.”
        To reverse Thomas Jefferson’s famous maxim, through the influence of the likes of the Society, they sought through these two means (and through the absorption of Christian mysticism) to create a mass of natives born with saddles on their backs, with a favoured few (beginning of course with those of the missionary persuasion themselves) booted and spurred to ride them, even by the grace of this bright new Treaty.
  • Also true is that, instead of promoting individual rights by treating with individual Maori individually and breaking up tribal land holdings, the British colonial government instead cemented in the tribalism and collectivism that had already benighted these lands for so long. 

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