Tonight's docu-drama Waitangi - What Really Happened goes behind the scenes of the most talked-about document in our country's history. Story consultant Witi Ihimaera reveals how he got involved.
I have been thinking about "What Really Happened at Waitangi" all my life, and certainly since 1955 when Miss Hossack, our teacher at Te Hapara Primary School, got our class involved in putting on a re-creation of Waitangi Day as part of a school weekend fair. She based it on a famous illustration which, from memory, appeared on the cover of the New Zealand Free Lance magazine.
Waitangi - What Really Happened has given me the opportunity, 56 years later, to be involved in a similar re-creation for New Zealand television. I have gone through all the experiences I had growing up with the consequences of the decisions made at Waitangi itself. My own great-great grandfather, Wi Pere, was a Parliamentarian at the turn of the 20th Century, trying to maintain for Maori the balance of equity promised by it. I have in my whakapapa, also, Te Kooti Arikirangi, the famous rebel leader, who fought for Maori land during the Poverty Bay campaign. As a boy in the 1950s I watched with great admiration as my tribal leaders, including my grandmother Teria Pere and grandfather Perapunahamoa Ihimaera presided over late evening gatherings where they would prosecute the Treaty; Teria is the basis for the main character of my novel, The Matriarch.
And, of course, my father Te Haa o Ruhia and I presented a joint submission relating to the Te Whanau A Kai claim, put to the Waitangi Tribunal on Rongopai marae, Waituhi, in 2002.
Will the television docu-drama be the first major re-enactment of the events surrounding the February 6 events of 1840, since that very day they occurred? I think it is. All of us who have been involved have tried to ensure that all points of view are given. My own trail through the documentation and research has included respectful reading of Te Rangi Hiroa, Apirana Ngata, Pat Hohepa, Ranginui Walker, Keith Sinclair, Dick Scott, Ian Ward, Claudia Orange, James Belich, Michael King and, of course, the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal Commission.
Did I say respectful? Yes. But on the day the Treaty was signed, what we had was a group of - mainly - men who had a plan, or maybe they didn't, which they were trying to work out within certain time constraints, or maybe they weren't. I think, even as a young boy at Te Hapara Primary, I knew that there was much more of a story in the Treaty deliberations. It's been a pleasure to be a co-producer on this docu-drama and to play a part in bringing to life the human story behind the signing on February 6, 1840.
Waitangi - What Really Happened screens tonight on TV One at 8.30.
- Herald On Sunday / View