Waitangi Day

Waitangi Day is celebrated in New Zealand on the 6th February each year.  The day celebrates the Treaty which was signed between forty Māori chiefs and the British Crown making New Zealand part of the British Empire.  The treaty guaranteed Māori people rights to their land and also the same rights as British subjects. The signing of the treaty took place in Waitangi which is located in the Bay of Islands on the North Island of New Zealand.

Waitangi or (Independence Day) signage on a New Zealand flag.

The circumstances that led to the signing of the Waitangi Treaty go back as far as the nineteenth century. James Busby, the appointed British Resident of New Zealand, arrived on the Bay of Islands in March 1933.  His duties were to protect British commerce and control the Pākeha settlers and the Māori in New Zealand.  Pākeha is the Māori word for New Zealanders of predominantly European ancestry.  Busby had no resources to control the unruly settlers and so requested the help of William Hobson who was the Lieutenant Governor. On 26th May 1837 Hobson sailed to the Bay of Islands where he joined James Busby.

William Hobson remained in New Zealand until 1838 at which point he returned to England and submitted a report in which he proposed the establishment of a British sovereignty over the islands.  The famous treaty was eventually signed on 6th February 1840 on the grounds of James Busby’s house.  Copies of the treaty were carried to other parts of New Zealand to be signed by chiefs who were unable attend on 6th February.  There were several tribes that did not sign the treaty, these included Ngāi Tūhoe, Waikato, Te Arawa, Ngāti Pāoa and Tūwharetoa.

Today Waitangi Day is celebrated all over New Zealand and official celebrations are held at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on the Bay of Islands.  These celebrations include speeches from Māori and Pākeha dignitaries and a naval salute.  There is also a festival that includes live music, dancing and even kite flying.  Families celebrate with picnics or food from local stalls and also traditional Māori customs including the kapa-haka, the famous Māori dance known the world over.

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