SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
February 22, 2017
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
35°16’ S x 174° 7’ E
Calm winds, mild and sunny
Today the class visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the site of the signing of New Zealand’s founding document. The Treaty Grounds sits atop a hill, providing a panoramic view of the Bay of Islands region. Our guide, a Maori man named Owen, walked us through the grounds and we gathered around Ngaatokimatawhaorua, a 35-meter-long canoe requiring at least 76 paddlers that the Maori builders first launched in 1940. Just up the hill we arrived at a flagpole marking the spot where the treaty was signed on 6 February 1840. The treaty was not without controversy: the Maori-language version of the treaty stated that all land would be under British governance while the land remained owned by the Maori. This differed with the British version of the treaty that ceded all lands to the British. The document remains a source of tension for many New Zealanders.
Next came a visit to the marae, or Maori ceremonial house. As we waited outside to enter, Maori performers staged a traditional visitor greeting called a powhiri. Once inside the marae, loud forceful slapping and stomping echoed through the building as we took in the performance, outside visitors to a display of traditional and contemporary song and dance critical to expressing Maori cultural identity across generations. A powerful, ear tingling performance!
Finally, it was time for lunch. We dined local style, with food cooked in a hangi, a traditional earth oven used by the Maori. First a pit is dug into the ground, then large stones are placed in a fire to heat to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Next our chefs place baskets of food on top of the hot stones. Finally the area is covered with soil and bark and the meat or vegetables, often yam and taro, are cooked. It was a privilege to experience a modern version of this cultural tradition where a metal cage holds the food in a cement walled cube dug into the ground. The hot volcanic rocks make steam off of the wet sacks full of meat/vegetables, and once the trapdoor on the hangi is closed the space acts as a pressure cooker, containing the heat underground. This is a sacred or tapu area to the Maori, so it was even more special for us outsiders to get to experience excellent food in a historically important place to both the Maori and New Zealand in general.