Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Clive Bibby: A "Sestercentennial" experience

When some pointy headed colleague dropped this little beauty into the discussion some years ago, I thought he was just trying to demonstrate to the gathering that he was indeed worthy of sharing the air with female knights of the realm (we still call them Dames over here) and other high flyers ranging downwards to lesser mortals like myself.

Actually, I knew instinctively that he wasn't interested in impressing me but it none-the-less caused a few eyeballs to roll amongst those of us who didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

For all our faults, my kind are still able to recognize someone with a dodgy agenda. We have learned our trade in the "School of Hard Knocks" where there is no place for those who feel just that little bit superior.

Anyway, we soon found out that this long winded utterance was being put forward as the perfect sixteen letter word to describe the 2019 commemoration of the 250th anniversary of James Cook's first meeting with local Iwi on the shore of Poverty Bay in 1769.

I need to mention that the inaugural committee also sensibly included an aspect of our multi cultural heritage by adding an appropriate bit of Te Reo to round off the title.

Preceded by much fanfare, we announced to the world that the name of these New Zealand wide celebrations would be "The Te Ha Sestercentennial Commemorations".

For those of you who don't already know, the words "Te Ha" is Maori for "the sharing of breath" which in turn is more commonly referred to as a "hongi".

So, having got that out of the way, as a forty year resident of the East Coast, I can proceed by giving readers my take on the value of these events, particularly for all those Kiwis who aren't really sure what this iconic part of our heritage should mean for us all. In my opinion, they have had good reason to be confused about this most important month from the timeline of our nation's history. There has been so much misinformation masquerading as fact out there, it has been difficult to know what to believe.

I must say that the accuracy of the recordings of Cook's first landing and the subsequent encounters with Iwi groups at other meetings around the nation's coastline  will depend on the source of the information being presented.

 Because there has been so much deliberate distortion of the truth related to this initial engagement between Maori and those of European decent, I was initially skeptical as to the worth of staging the celebrations at all.

I have since changed my mind and am now a somewhat reluctant supporter of the exercise but my support is a qualified one.

I now see it as an opportunity to take back our heritage from the revisionists and set the record straight once and for all. Although I originally had misgivings about the personal agendas of some of those charged with organizing the event, I have now seen enough evidence to suggest that most of us are on the same page regarding the script of the story we want to tell. And boy is it an amazing tale. You couldn't make it up.

You see, I am of the opinion that in a world aflame with problems associated with race relations in just about every country you care to name, our formula for settling our differences stands out like a beacon and is light years ahead of any other country's efforts trying to achieve the same results. Therefore it should come as no surprise to find that our country is and will be a huge attraction for all those struggling to find answers to their own difficulties.

It follows that, if our international marketing of this event is as good as the early indications suggest, we should be inundated with inquisitive visitors salivating at the prospect of learning how we have progressed and succeeded this far.

However, in the end, proof of how well we have done will be in the success of the multi faceted displays and commemorative sites in providing an accurate account of this incredible tale of betrayal, wars between the indigenous people and the colonial forces, land confiscation, unauthorised land purchases, legitimate crown acquisition of large tracts of Maori owned land, legitimate grievances, acknowledgement of the Crown's breaches of its Treaty of Waitangi commitments, forgiveness, reconciliation and compensation. 

It is a remarkable story that is without parallel anywhere in the world.

It is also a record of unequalled cooperation between two races who have worked, fought and died together in pursuit of a common goal.

There is really only one responsibility left for this and future generations to fulfil.

It is simply to honour the memory of our tupuna who left us such a wonderful legacy.

We can only do that by building on the contributions our ancestors made in pursuit of a nation of equal opportunity for all.

Surely, we are up to that challenge.

The visitors to this country for the commemorations next year will be watching us long after returning home to see if our commitments made to a shared future are real or just so much hot air.
I'd like to think that they will not be disappointed. The ball is in our court.

Clive Bibby is a commentator, consultant, farmer and community leader, who lives in Tolaga Bay.

No comments: