Yesterday, our picnic was indoors - we cancelled outdoor plans at Dingle Dell because of the weather forecast. During the service, Rev Pauline asked those who were born outside NZ to raise their hands. A majority of the people present raised their hands. Without a doubt our congregation comes from the four corners of the earth. Many people have only recently arrived. Along with many things, the public holiday Waitangi Day is new to them. Here is my brief explanation of the origin and significance of this public holiday:
Long before the Europeans came, the Maori people were already living in New Zealand. They gathered into tribes and they lived in settlements with extensive gardens that centered on a Marae (meeting house). They were a proud and warlike people and most of their villages were fortified because of the danger of attack from other tribes.
When the British came, misunderstandings and rivalry for land and resources led to battles and wars. The British never decisively defeated the clever and ferocious Maori. In the end, all parties wanted to put a stop to the battles so work began to write a treaty. The aim of the treaty was to put an end to the fighting and also to offer to the Maori tribes the protection of British law.
The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on 6 February 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and various Māori chiefs. It resulted in the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand in May 1840.
Today the Treaty is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. Despite this, it is often the subject of heated debate, and much disagreement by both Māori and non-Māori New Zealanders. Many Māori feel that the Crown did not fulfil its obligations under the Treaty, and have presented evidence of this before sittings of the Waitangi Tribunal. Some non-Māori New Zealanders have suggested that Māori may be abusing the Treaty in order to claim special privileges. The Crown (the New Zealand government), is not obliged to act on the recommendations of the Tribunal but nonetheless in many instances has accepted that it breached the Treaty and its principles. Settlements for Treaty breaches to date have consisted of hundreds of millions of dollars of reparations in cash and assets, as well as apologies.
For most of my life, I was not aware of Chinese New Year! How could that be when it is the biggest holiday of the year for billions of people? Well, that is what happens when you live in the Aussie bush or in the little country at the bottom of the earth - New Zealand. Aussies and Kiwis have been taught that a holiday is at the beach or some relaxing, far away place with your family. But, how could travelling for hours with huge crowds all with large bags be called a ‘holiday’? For most in our culture, especially for people like me who have no effective family of origin, what is so special about being with you're your parents and grandparents for a few days?
But, now we are part of an international community and Chinese New Year is all around us. Chinese friends beam when they tell us of the greatest time of the year.
Now I think I am getting it. What I most want to say is –
Happy Chinese New Year! In this Year of the Monkey – May your connection with your family be warm and loving – even if it has to be through the internet. For those who have gone home, I hope your travelling difficulties have not been too great and that your family time makes all your effort worthwhile.
Some of us still need to awaken to the preciousness of family. This is a concept we should all take to heart.
Rev Stan Stewart