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Gerry Webb 

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Waitangi Day, 2010


On  black sand Te Tii beach
and chunky breakwater rocks
and on the road above
a laid-back crowd
watches waka action.
This morning Maori are in charge -
on the foreshore
and on the water.

At full stretch in the morning breeze
two flags
sinuous tino rangatiratanga
and the red-crossed
squared-off  
white-starred flag
of the United Tribes
of  New Zealand
(1834).

Several waka are held by hand
at the water’s edge
circlets of white feathers
make eyes for the prow
young crews chanting
but the big one
the one called
Ngatokimatawhaorua
long as its name
glides from the river mouth
a giant centipede
and noses its way
low in the choppy water
towards this beach
white paddles dip together
brown backs and shoulders flexing
in time to the man standing aft
in black rugby shorts
marking stroke
by sliding a paddle up and down
through his closed hand.

Foot traffic crowds the bridge
that arches over Waitangi river.
On the Waitangi side
it’s a carnival,
more brown action
as touch teams face off
with girls on the team too
fun in the sun
a people that embraces its own.

Join the crowd doing poi
as led by the group on stage
score a black polythene number
not a pretty white one
but it does the trick
whirls with the rest
makes cushioned thumps against the body
and the song
from the heart of Oceania
moves the heart
as ever.

At the stalls
no shortage of big-noting t-shirts
and greasy barbecued food
‘fry bread’, sausages, eggs, ‘steak’
no sign of anything leafy or grainy
even a salad bun.

Give the formal treaty grounds a swerve
re-cross the bridge.
Behind me a confident voice:
‘They preached the gospel
while stealing the land
out from under us’…
Aptly said, lady,
that will stick.

And then:
‘They wouldn’t know
what we’re on about
even if it was standing
right in front of them.’
Now hang on,
I’m me, not ‘they’ -
and I’m not sounding off
about you or your lot
within earshot.
‘The white man…’
Her voice fades to nothing -
and that’s enough.


The day here at Waitangi
is more mono-cultural
than bi
Maori nation out in the sun
Aotearoa North…
but without respect for each other
the future looks scary.

Drive away
towards Paihia
booooom
booooom etc
smoke from a 21 gun salute
rolls across the green headland
where Te Tiriti was signed.
Such a show of force
feels out of place
conjuring wrongs
old and new,
artillery, muskets,
land confiscations for resisting invasion,
the visionaries hobbled
Te Whiti and Tohu
exiled in the cold South
Rua Kenana in irons
his brother shot dead…
the Pakeha State
trampling the rights
of its Treaty partner,
arrests in the Urewera
on bogus charges,
the beaches ‘taken
out from under’
Tangata Whenua
in defiance of the Treaty.

Lady
no wonder
you have no respect.
No wonder I felt insulted.
Where does it end?


©Gerry Webb