Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins: The day Maori first said, Haere mai, Pakeha

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It is 200 years ago this year since the first permanent European settlers arrived, at Maori invitation, in this country, write Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins.

Youngsters (from left) Piripi Huia, 7, Kaipo Brown, 14, Daniel Wells, 17, and Patrick Paparoa, 13, get in the mood for the celebrations at Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell
Youngsters (from left) Piripi Huia, 7, Kaipo Brown, 14, Daniel Wells, 17, and Patrick Paparoa, 13, get in the mood for the celebrations at Waitangi. Photo / Dean Purcell

To those on shore, it must have made an astonishing, even frightening sight. The animals that clambered onto the small stony beach in the northern Bay of Islands were like pigs but much bigger. A man sat astride one and was carried along.

The watchers had been told about this; Ruatara, who had lived in Australia, had come home with stories of animals on which a person could ride, but none of them had believed such things could exist.

So, in late December 1814, a crowd had gathered to watch these new Pakeha arrivals unpack their ship. There was much novelty on show: not only were the animals weird, but no one had seen European women or children before.

These seven men, four women and five children were not the first white people local Maori had seen. But they were the first to come to these islands to live. They had been invited by Ruatara to settle near his people's village at Rangihoua.

The previous morning, two days after the settlers' ship from Sydney sailed into the bay, about 400 warriors (200 on land, and 200 who had paddled in huge waka from the other end of the bay) had staged a dramatic welcome for the newcomers.

Men covered in red ochre, their hair decorated with feathers and pulled into knots high on their heads, performed a spectacular waka taki, a sort of powhiri from land to sea, which expressed the intense significance of the day. Uncomprehending, the settlers recorded that they had been entertained by a "sham fight" performed in their honour.

It is 200 years since this magnificent event, which heralded the start of permanent Pakeha settlement. Yet few people, Maori or non-Maori, are aware of the anniversary. Members of the Anglican Church celebrate 2014 as the bicentenary of the first sermon preached on these shores, but the significance of the year is much broader.

The famous sermon was delivered on Christmas Day, the day after the powhiri, while all the warriors were still in the area. Obviously, they would not have understood the preacher Samuel Marsden's words. Ruatara spoke too. There is no record of what he said, but it is fanciful to imagine that he explained to the audience the peculiar European metaphysical beliefs expressed by Marsden ("For unto you is born this day a Saviour ..."). Rather, Ruatara would have made the political speech of his life, explaining that these newcomers were his friends, that they had come for good, and that they were to be looked after so they would not be tempted to stray.

We do know that Ruatara was intensely ambivalent about having Pakeha come and live in New Zealand. Someone in Sydney had warned him about the possibility of a takeover if Maori allowed European settlement. But Ruatara had no choice. If he did not get these Pakeha with their skills and resources to join his own people, some other iwi would nab them.

Ruatara was particularly interested in getting a teacher, so the children would learn to read and write.

He had already planted wheat-fields at Rangihoua after learning about the crop in Sydney, and he had grand plans for European-style houses and streets on his land. He was given a plot of land in Australia by Marsden, who had shown himself a fine host to visiting Maori. It was important to repay some of that kindness.

And so it was that in December 1814, the first permanent Pakeha settlers arrived at Rangihoua. Ruatara and his uncle, Hongi Hika of Ngapuhi, had agreed to their coming to New Zealand on condition they live exactly where Ruatara specified: below his pa, within his sight and on poor land (this would reduce their independence). Ruatara ordered his people to set about building houses there.

In these moments of arrival are the roots of the Treaty that would be signed 26 years later. In 1814, a quasi-legal arrangement was already being formed between Maori and Pakeha leaders. In Sydney, Ruatara, Hongi Hika, and Korokoro had complained to the NSW Governor about European sailors kidnapping Maori people and stealing from Maori gardens.

On November 12, 1814, the Sydney Gazette announced that these three "chiefs of New Zealand" were invested with the Governor's "power and authority" to rule on disputes between European ships' captains and Maori. The two power structures were becoming officially intertwined. These are the first echoes of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The first settlers, we know, were mostly missionaries. However, for Maori, these friendly Pakeha were not missionaries. They were allies, to be integrated into the iwi. Maori would marry them, so as to bind them into the whakapapa, and the two parties would share their skills and resources. Guns, reading and writing, and Pakeha, would become "maori" (that is, ordinary). The second New Zealand book, the 1820 Grammar, reminds us of this Maori plan in its question: "Ka maoritia te pakeha?" - Are the Pakeha now one of us?

This year, it is time to remember and celebrate that Pakeha came to New Zealand under Maori protection and at Maori invitation, and to reflect on what that invitation might mean 200 years later. Many Pakeha today do not forget Maori generosity, or the optimism felt in those earliest years by two peoples seeking something new through their relationship.

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