On the Banks Peninsula you are always driving over a hill and today is no different! However, this time everyone else is going the same way: to Okains Bay for the annual Waitangi Day celebrations. The locals are so keen to get there that we literally follow a surfer chick (she had a “Sex Wax” air freshener) in a car that starts leaking all sorts of fluid and smoke is pouring out from under the bonnet, but hell, it’s Waitangi Day! She isn’t pulling over in concern! She has a powhiri to get to!
What is Waitangi Day?
Parking wardens are directing us to park wherever the hell we can in this super tiny beach village mainly consisting of a holiday park and the Okains Bay Maori & Colonial Museum – the base of today’s celebrations. In short, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s “national” day: the day the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in 1840 between the Maori people and the British to make New Zealand a nation. Of course, with any colonisation there is a bit more to it than that, involving miss-translations in the treaty where a lot of Maori land was lost to The Crown, among other things. You can read more about it in our article: What is Waitangi Day?
The Powhiri welcoming ceremony
The public holiday in New Zealand mainly celebrates the coming together of cultures and, as we are about to see today, it’s an amazing insight into Maori traditions. The first of which that we are about to see is the “Powhiri” – a traditional Maori welcome onto the grounds of the Okains Bay Museum from the Te Runanga o Kouourata/Ngati Huikai iwi (tribe).
Everyone gathers around the gate entrance of the museum, nattering away in anticipation of the Powhiri. A deep loud shout silence the crowd and the Powhiri begins. It’s a compelling performance from one man clad in Maori tattoos, holding a pouwhenua (a pointed weapon), making rigid movements with the weapon as he shouts and chants in the Maori language. He is gradually making his way toward a group of New Zealand Navy representatives, putting a fern at the feet of the New Zealand Navy’s leader to see whether they are friend or foe. Picking the fern up, the Navy leader shows that all event attendees are friend. Then we are lead into the grounds of the museum.