New Zealanders acknowledge Waitangi Day in different ways. Some do nothing and are just glad to have a day off work. Some celebrate it, believing that the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi began the journey to this incredible nation we are privileged to live in today. Others protest it, knowing that The Treaty of Waitangi and Te Tiriti o Waitangi are two distinct documents and in ignoring this distinction, British colonisers established a system of governance that, to this day, marginalises, oppresses and casts out Māori from society.
And some, namely some of the thousands of New Zealand emigrants currently living in London, celebrate by dressing up in “Kiwiana” costumes, drinking, pissing, and vomiting in the street, and finishing the day with a group of drunk Pākehā men very poorly attempting a haka in public. It’s the infamous Waitangi Day Pub Crawl.
In London the New Zealand immigrant community is strong, thanks in large part to Kiwis In London, a Facebook page and website founded by former ACT foot soldier and self-proclaimed “pin-up boy for Latvia’s Blonde Festival”, Clint Heine.
Heine helps to promote the Waitangi Day Pub Crawl every year and the Kiwis in London twitter account is quick to mention that the local police are always happy with the behaviour of New Zealanders at the event. In fact, they said in response to Matthew Hooton comparing the behaviour of New Zealand immigrants in London to that of the ‘Unruly Tourists’ in New Zealand, it was “better behaviour than back home”. If you consider expressing a historical grievance through public protest to be poor behaviour, and public urination (as witnessed by more than one reporter on the day) to be good behaviour, then they’re absolutely right. And with that mindset, they managed to encompass the very essence of what I shudder at every time I see a group of young Pākehā in London dressed as ‘Cuntry’ wine and ‘celebrating’ Waitangi Day. It’s like walking down Courtenay Place during the Wellington Sevens (RIP) but with an added backdrop of racial disharmony.
No aspect of the event, on its own, is cause for concern. Having pride in being a New Zealander is great. Drinking heavily is, at this point, par for the course for New Zealanders overseas. Drinking on Waitangi Day is fine – it’s a public holiday after all. And performing a haka overseas is cool. But combining all of those things has created a Frankenstein’s Monster of cultural cringe and borderline – sometimes blatant – disrespect.
It’s fitting for New Zealand immigrants in Britain to joyfully celebrate the signing of a document that gave power to the very first British immigrants in New Zealand. And yes, it would be presumptive to think that every single person who got pissed on Sunday in London was actively endorsing the Treaty of Waitangi, but what an event of boozing and bad taste costumes highlights is the privilege that many New Zealanders, particularly those who can afford to live overseas, have: they don’t have to care about Waitangi Day.
The juxtaposition of footage from protests at Waitangi by Māori whose lives, to this day, have been negatively affected – physically, socially, criminally – by the Treaty versus footage from the 2017 Waitangi Pub Crawl showing a Pākehā man dressed as a member of the Mongrel Mob – with badly drawn on tā moko – and stumbling down a London street with beer in hand is jarring.
Even more jarring is knowing that some of the actions at the Waitangi Day Pub Crawl are those the perpetrators would never commit in New Zealand. Walking down the street with drawn-on tā moko and a Mongrel Mob jacket? Performing a haka in the middle of the street?
Sadly, the latter example has less to do with actually performing and more to do with being drunk. The haka can be an incredibly beautiful way of expressing cultural pride and appreciation, whatever your ethnicity. But drunkenly performing in a huddle and getting most, if not all, of the movements wrong (not to mention those who don’t even put down their beverage for the performance) isn’t pride or appreciation, it’s mockery.
Why not do it at the start of the day, when people are (more) sober? I know why not. Because a sober haka requires a level of knowledge and competence that many New Zealanders aren’t willing to work for. It requires an understanding of New Zealand history, good and bad, that would go against the very concept of boozing down the street, dressed as a lolly, to celebrate Waitangi Day. That’s not what the pub crawl is about.
Those so enthusiastically participating in the Waitangi Day pub crawl may simply be celebrating the New Zealand they themselves have experienced. A New Zealand known only for pineapple lumps, K-bars and Shortland St. Where history is in the past and why can’t we all just drink together and get along? Where Māori and their history of marginalisation exist only as an excuse to get drunk in public and wear costumes – so easy to disregard at the end of the day.