We are in the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere. Weather arrests the North Island and the Bay of Islands. Paihia emerged as a summer warmth in such a welcoming way that it held us back for almost a week.
The same magnetism that attracted foreign visitors in catadupa, had been responsible for a good part of the large private houses in the town being now inns with irreverent names.
Morning after morning, this horde, mostly teenagers, left the barracks and headed for the nearby docks. We all shared a destination: the turquoise waters and inviting coves of the Bay of Islands, where some 150 meadow-lined islands, here and there with arboreal vegetation, dot a rounded corner of the New Zealand coastline.
Discovering the Bay of Islands
On board the “R. Tucker Thompson” – an iconic huge sailboat from the Northland region – we enjoyed one of these airy and sunny tours. We admire the rugged and grassy coast. We bathe in divine coves without a soul.
We disembark at a picturesque sheep farm on the extension of a gully nestled between hills where the blue Pacific reaches so softly that it seems to be bathing, please. There, flocks of sheep suspiciously they roam the pastures in a line, looking for the shade of the few trees that the cattle raisers have spared.
As the afternoon progresses, more sailboats anchor in different coves. Successive expeditions by canoeists ply the calm sea in a communion of discovery and evasion that the relief of the Bay of Islands prolongs.
These days, sailing is peaceful and recreational. But the imagination of the French and British ships confronting each other across the two large islands of the Maori people dazzles us, just over two centuries ago.
Russell: a den of other times
In the middle of the XNUMXth century, Russell, the village opposite Paihia, was known for the “infernal hole in the Pacific”. It attracted all that were escaped convicts from Australia, whalers and sailors who got drunk until they lost track of where their ships were moored and, soon, their senses.
When, in 1835, Charles Darwin visited there, he allegedly doubted the applicability of his Theory of Evolution, already in its embryonic stage. Instead, he described the place as averse to any social pattern.
These days, Russell, much more than Paihia, has the oldest buildings in the New Zealand. They are elegant and well-maintained testaments to British colonial perseverance, patience, and the diplomatic acumen with which the British dealt with the Maori people, until they both reached an understanding that nevertheless urged.
Waitangi's Solemn Soil
Less than 2km north of Paihia, Waitangi translates this historical reality like no other place in the world. New Zealand. There we are welcomed by Executive Director Andy Larsen. Andy guides us through the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. It introduces us to three young Maori extras from the show shown when enough tickets are sold.
But neither spectators then joined, nor did visitors abound in those historic and museum precincts of the Bay of Islands. Considering the beauty of the surrounding scenery and the leisure they provided, it would not be surprising.
a curious Hook Juvenil
Instead of the show, the shortened cast dedicates us to a small photographic production with the right poses and frightening expressions of haka, under the roof of the house waka erected to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
They do it next to a Maori war canoe, the largest in the world, 35 meters long, room for a minimum of 76 paddlers, six or twelve tons (depending on whether it is dry or soaked) and a name to match: Ngātokimatawhaorua.
We appreciate the wide-eyed young people, with their eye sockets almost exploding, eyebrows raised to the limit and tongues exposed and drooping, emulating the monstrous looks with which the Maori impressed enemy tribes, including, from the mid-XNUMXth century , the European invaders of their lands.
Nearby, recovered from the abandonment and almost irretrievable decay in which it found itself from 1882 to 1933, is the Treaty House, the former residence of the British governor in the New Zealand.
Your wooden chalet is located opposite Te Whare Runanga, the Maori Assembly House, carved according to the traditional precepts of the native people but created as an expression of unique art, for the supreme purpose assigned to it. Together, the two buildings symbolize the partnership reached by the Maori and the British Crown.
Just a few meters away, highlighted by the sea on the edge of a vast lawn, the three flags that wave the New Zealand it had throughout its times as a nation: side by side, at a lower level, that of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the Union Jack of the United Kingdom; at the zenith, the current New Zealander.
Finally, a family emerges from the back of the complex. Arrival at the base of the mast pays tribute to the monument, aware of the long and poignant historical process symbolized there.
British vs French vs Maoris: an intricate dispute
By the 1830s, disorder and chaos were the order of the day among His Majesty's subjects in the New Zealand. The French represented an increasingly serious competition for their claims and threatened to declare sovereignty over the Maori islands, something that worried the British and the natives alike.
As humiliating as the imposition of British settlers had proved, after an initial period of war, coexistence seemed inevitable. Above all, it was necessary to combat the further intrusion of the French.
The coexistence of colonized British and French would not be unique. They had already colonized, for example, in a condominium, the Melanesian archipelago of Vanuatu, to the despair of the powerless indigenous people.
Accordingly, on October 28, 1835, the British representative at the New Zealand and thirty-four Maori chiefs from the north of the territory met at Waitangi and signed the New Zealand Declaration of Independence.
Four years later, there were fifty-two signatory chiefs, united under a confederation called "United Tribes of New Zealand”. The understanding would not stop there.
By 1840, parts of the two great islands were about to be taken over by the French. British colonists exerted strong pressure on the Crown to make New Zealand official as a British colony. At the same time, the Maori leaders themselves demanded protection from the British.
Waitangi: the possible deal between Britons and Maori
The Treaty of Waitangi finally came to fulfill this request, but not only that. It gave the natives a series of other rights which, despite the inevitable dissatisfactions that plague all nations, persist in the New Zealand. At least on paper, Maori ownership of much of their land, forests and other properties was recognized. They were even given the rights of British subjects.
Andy Larsen had left us for a moment to explore the buildings and other monuments in the complex. When we resume the conversation, Andy doesn't seem to contemplate any analogy with Portuguese and Spanish colonial history: “Don't get me wrong, they're not even comparable contexts” assures us that the British colonial integration in New Zealand it had been much smoother and fairer than that of the former Iberian powers.
We were aware that their efforts at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds were aimed at strengthening New Zealand's national consciousness. Still, for far too many natives, the equalization and self-determination that British colonists promised with the Waitangi Treaty remains unfulfilled.
As was the case all over Aotearoa – the term with which Maori nationalists responded to the “New Zealand” arising from the original Nieuw Zeeland of the Dutch discoverer Abel Tasman – many of the lands of the Bay of Islands that enchanted us, their coves and paradisiacal hills, aroused contestation. Above all, because they were transferred early to the possession of large farmers descended from settlers or even to the government of the Crown. So they remain, or whatever, in similar contexts.
On another morning we enjoyed the Bay of Islands, we flew over the coast along the North Island to the northern New Zealand limit of Cape Reinga. During the flight, we saw how much that succession of dunes, deserted beaches, meadows, heaths, capes and marine peninsulas glorified the disputed antipodean domain.
Difficult Misconceptions to Overcome
Differences in the Maori and English versions of the Treaty of Waitangi with regard to the detention and ceding of sovereignty led to national-level disagreements. Successive Crown governments believed that the Treaty had granted them sovereignty over the Maori.
Among Maori, the concept of absolute ownership of the land never made any sense. The latter still believe today that they were limited to granting the British the use of their land.
Numerous property disputes led to the Wars of New Zealand and that, throughout the nineteenth century, the Maori lost the lands they had controlled for centuries. This proves, even today, one of the stones in the co-existence between Maori and New Zealanders of colonial descent.
In 1975, the nation's political authorities Kiwi they finally came to themselves. The Waitangi Court was established and settled many of the claims with compensation awarded to the Maori tribes. Even if several disagreements about the terms of the Waitangi treaty remain, the treaty is considered the founding document of the New Zealand.
The Maori. That of the settlers' descendants. That of emigrants from the Pacific islands who arrive there full of dreams. That of dazzled European visitors who are considering moving there. For better and worse, everyone's.
More information about Waitangi and the Bay of Islands on the respective website UNESCO.