Travel Story 

Meeting the Maori challenge

Page 3 of 3

Feeling good after our previous days hike to Haruru Falls we took the ferry from Pahia across the bay and climbed to a lookout for a magnificent view across the Islands before stopping in the small town of Russell for a bite of lunch. With the story of Marion du Fresne still fresh in our minds we passed on the BBQ ribs.

The town of Russell, formerly known as Kororareka, was once the capital of New Zealand. Sitting with our fish and chips, looking out across this sleepy backwater town, it's hard to believe that it was once known at the "Hell hole of the Pacific." In the years following Cook's discovery of this great natural harbour the Bay of Islands became a destination for sealing and whaling vessels. Kororareka quickly grew into a sordid agglomeration of brothels and grog shops catering to a lawless gaggle of transient seamen. It was also the scene of early contact between Europeans and the Ngapuhi Maori.

Early whalers and sealers traded with the Maori and the Ngapuhi became the first tribe to acquire muskets. These were used to inflict enormous casualties on other tribes as the Ngapuhi sought to settle old grievances. Questionable land deals and other injustices toward the Maori sparked more discontent and the inter-tribal disputes spread to open conflict between Maori and European settlers in the Bay of Islands. The appointment of James Busby in 1832 and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Waitangi were designed to bring the violence and injustices to an end, but war between some of the Maori chiefs and the Europeans raged on until 1846, and disputes regarding the intent of the treaty are still being worked out.

During my brief stay in the Bay of Islands I was repeatedly drawn back to the Treaty Grounds. I got to know several of the Maori staff, some of them direct descendants of chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi. Above all they were dedicated to the preservation of their culture, concerned that their art remain true to its tradition and not be exploited by commercial interests. I sensed that the Treaty of Waitangi, 162 years old, flawed by questionable translation, and tarnished by perceived breaches of good faith, was only the beginning. Both the Maori and the New Zealand Government are continuing to strive for the truly equal and just partnership that Busby and the 46 Maori Chiefs attempted to achieve, here at Waitangi, a century and half ago.

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