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Whare Runanga (incl. Bledisloe Prayer)

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 6 February 1934
Viscount Bledisloe, GCMG, KBE, PC

A House of Commemoration

Before responding to the friendly greetings of the Maori tribes here assembled and to the invitation which has been extended to me in such felicitous terms by Mr Tau Henare, M.P., in the name of the Ngapuhi Tribe, to perform the ceremony, I desire, on behalf of the Waitangi National Trust Board, to express our deep gratitude for the many valuable contributions which have been made by generous patriotic friends towards the restoration and equipment of this historic property. But for the money contributions of a little group of generous donors, conspicuous among whom was the late Sir Alfred Bankart, the old British Residency or Treaty House, which was in a sadly dilapidated condition up to a year ago could not have been restored to the condition in which you see it today - a condition resembling as near as possible what it was 100 years ago. To the abounding generosity of the Ngapuhi Tribe we owe not merely the project of the fine Whare Runanga, about to be erected on this site, but also the puriri fencing which for four miles forms the boundary of the Trust Estate, and other lesser gifts: the Maoris of the South Island have contributed this handsome carved totara "Coronation" Chair in which I am sitting and a beautiful block of tangi-wai greenstone to rest beneath it, and those of Taranaki have sent a painting depicting the signing of the Treaty. Other valuable and historic pictures have been received from Lady Pomare and the Royal Society of Tasmania. For other gifts, too numerous to specify, we are grateful to their kind donors. Invaluable services have moreover been willingly and gratuitously rendered by our various Honorary Advisory Architects, Messrs. Gummer and Page, who have devoted an immense amount of time and trouble to the difficult task of restoring the old Residency and improving its surroundings, and to Mr. Lindsay Buick, the eminent historian of the Treaty, both for organising the pictorial adornment of the museum and for his ever-ready expert advice. Mr. F. C. Goldie's generous gift to me of his recently painted picture of Tamati Waaka Nene has enabled the Treaty House to possess a striking portrait of that most valiant Maori warrior and champion of the Treaty and at the same time one of the finest works of art ever executed by that talented artist.

Finally, I should like to express our warm appreciation of the valuable assistance afforded by the Government in many directions, but especially in providing easy access to this estate from the south by bridging over the Waitangi River and by undertaking to construct over four miles of motor roads on the property, so as to enable all its more important features to be visited, including the hills in its rear which command such magnificent views over the Bay of Islands, with its numerous points of historical interest.

The loyal and eloquent addresses of the leading chiefs of all the more important Maori tribes in this Dominion, accompanied by appropriate and symbolical songs and dances, which have constituted the deeply impressive and picturesque programme this afternoon (following the unfurling of the Union Jack over the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi), have filled me with wonder and unspeakable delight. One tribe after another has, through its chiefly orator, testified with emphatic sincerity to the value to its members of the historic Treaty which was signed on this day and in this place 94 years ago. Many tribes have to-day re-affirmed their steadfast adherence to the compact with the British Crown, into which their chiefly forefathers entered in 1840, and other tribes which then stood aloof have to-day for the first time testified publicly by their loyal and outspoken endorsement of its provisions to its justification and its prescient wisdom. This must have delighted the hearts of all those assembled in their thousands here to-day who join with e in regarding the co-operation and unanimous fealty of the Maori people to the British Crown and the British connection as a basic condition of national welfare and progress in this Dominion. The fervent but much too laudatory expressions of appreciation of our gift to the nation of this estate and of friendliness and affection for ourselves we shall treasure as a most happy memory throughout our lives. All that I can say in reply -and I say from my heart - is that the longer that we reside in your midst the more deeply attached do we become to the staunch warm-hearted people belonging to both races in this Dominion.

I am pleased now to accede to your request to initiate the construction of your Commemorative Whare Runanga in accordance with the ancient and traditional ritual of our Maori people. To the ancient Maori the erection of a house, great or small, was an undertaking of high importance and special significance, for according to Maori tradition the art of building was brought down from heaven by his demi-god ancestors. Let its importance continue to be recognised and due ceremonial at its initiation be observed. The Maori Race need never be ashamed of their architecture and mural decoration if they conform to the old traditions. We, who have our roots in British soil, may have brought to this fair land, so abundantly beautified by nature, the blessings of civilisation and of the Christian faith, but who can truthfully say that our taste in buildings has exceeded that of the Native Race or that our structures have blended with the beauties of your mountains, your lakes and your incomparable native bush more fittingly than those of our dark-skinned compatriots? Let the Maori people learn more of the structural skill and the symbolical handicraft which distinguished their forefathers, and let us Europeans, too, as apt fellow-students, profit by such research and instruction as are now available for our guidance and enlightenment. In this connection let us, while deploring the passing from our midst of that eminent ethnologist, Mr. Elsdon Best, recognise with deep gratitude his monumental labours in the field of Maori mythology and Maori art.

The building of such a house of tribal assembly as is here contemplated would naturally in days of old be an enterprise of special importance, for it would become sacred as the repository of the knowledge of things spiritual and of the wisdom of the sages, which, through the devoted labours of the tohungas, was handed down from one generation to another without interpolation, omission or deterioration. Here also would be discussed by the elders in sequence the true import of passing events, and here would be reached decisions which would find their modern equivalent in the policies of parliamentarians. Perhaps the subject of debate would be the problem of building a great canoe, a marriage alliance, or even the alternatives of peace or war; but whatever its purport, it was invariably a matter of fateful import to the tribe. No trivialities would be introduced within the hallowed walls of an old-world Whare Runanga. It was deemed essential to begin such a building with precise accuracy and to finish it promptly. It was considered unlucky, I am told, to commence the erection of a building on one site and thereafter to transfer it to another. This was regarded as an unwarranted interference with Papa, the Earth Mother, and would in due course carry with it inevitable misfortune. It was equally imperative to success that the builders should work at their task industriously and consistently, being careful not to divide their attention between their building activities and other occupations. These two ancient rules I would now heartily commend to our Waitangi builders, for in all human enterprises it is always advisable to make a good beginning and never to grow weary in well doing.

It was, I am informed, one of the ancient building rules that no woman was permitted to enter, or even to wander near, an edifice in course of construction. Such an indiscretion would, it is said, result in a falling off in energy, in a growing listlessness on the part of the workmen, and if persisted in might even result in the house never being completed. Needless to say in the present case, such a termination to our high hopes would be disastrous, and if such beliefs still prevail, I would beg the ladies of Ngapuhi to refrain from distracting by their charms the builders of this Meeting House while their task is still in progress. Ladies of all nations are credited, rightly or wrongly, with inquisitiveness, or the possession of an enquiring mind of special alertness. But, in view of this fateful tradition I would venture to suggest that the centre post be reared, the ridge-pole be raised, the carved pillars be placed in position, the panels be woven, and the purifying ceremonies be performed 'ere the ladies of this locality venture to pass the portals of the Whare Runanga, into which no doubt later on they will be most warmly welcomed when the prescribed rites have been performed.

There was also in olden times, I am told, a curious reluctance to repair any part of an existing building, especially its roof, and that a new house would often be built in preference to repairing an old one. A man is said to have excused himself from the task of repair by saying that it was impossible to mend a hole in the roof of his house when it was raining, and that there was no need to do so when the weather was fine. I trust, however, that no such dilatoriness will ever characterise the leaders of Ngapuhi in the erection of this stately edifice. Much as we may revere the past, with its quaint traditions and prejudices, experience teaches us that procrastination is the thief of time and that undue delay is not true economy. It is, moreover, sincerely to be hoped that those responsible for the upkeep of this building, when it is erected, will have outlived that spirit of neglect and indifference which so frequently allows noble and classic structures of this description to fall into disrepair and premature decay. Nothing so loudly proclaims the decadence or deterioration of any community as the shabby and neglected condition of its buildings. If they are nation buildings - such as this will be - so much more significant is the tale that they tell. As this is to be a Whare Runanga in a sense typical of the finest Maori traditions let the Maori people make it their corporate responsibility, when it has passed out of the builders' hands, that those in whose custody it is placed do not allow decay to obtain the mastery thought subsequent neglect. Let them take vigilant care lest that which will without doubt be the pride of its public-spirited donors, its designers and its craftsmen, and which should be the admiration of visitors from all parts of the world, become ultimately derelict or dilapidated. I sincerely hope that the public sentiment and generous enthusiasm which have called this project into being will be sufficiently strong to maintain the house when finished in a state of beauty and efficiency, and that it will for many years to come remain a centre of peace, unity and concord to a warm-hearted sympathetic people who in the past have suffered materially through lack of harmony and mutual co-operation.

This is destined to be an historic structure. Let those whose brilliant conception it is endeavour to typify in it the nobility of the Maori Race, enshrining within its walls all that is best and loftiest in their ideals and thus provide a fitting rendezvous to which their people can resort on occasions of national rejoicing or national mourning. It will, let us hope, provide a common meeting ground where old feuds will be forgotten and new friendships will be forged, where national issues can be debated, and where national problems can be approached from the Maori standpoint and explored in such a way as to assist the Pakeha in fully understanding and appreciating the Maori mind. Above all, let it be a centre where pride of race will be fostered and expanded, where Maori culture will be developed, where the Maori language in all its soft and melodious beauty will be perpetuated, and where a definite impetus will be given to the characteristic Maori arts and crafts. In fine, let it be a building worthy of its great purpose, a noble structure, essentially and exclusively Maori, faithfully wrought, carefully preserved and nationally honoured as a fitting and dignified memorial to the Treaty of Waitangi - the Treaty which still stands inviolate as the Magna Carta of Maori rights, the historic compact which save the Maori people their much-prized freedom, and preserved for them their no less cherished national prestige.

Henceforward there will stand in close proximity, looking out over this lovely bay the old British Residency, restored by the skill of our Honorary Architects to its pristine condition and appearance, this Meeting House with its carved faade, exemplifying modern Maori art and symbolising the fraternal reunion of the Maori people in this territory, and yonder flagstaff carrying at its summit the honoured emblem of British sovereignty. May not this triple association of significant structures on this hallowed spot be deemed, at this crisis in the history of the world, to typify the determination of our two Races, whose joint heritage in this highly favoured Dominion, to cultivate harmony and mutual understanding both among themselves and with each other, and as trustful comrades to march forward together with confidence and hope, with the standard of imperial freedom floating overhead, to an assured future of unbroken prosperity, contentment and peace, such as our predecessors who met on this Marae 94 years ago could not in their wildest dreams have foreseen. At least, such is my fervent hope and prayer, as I proceed now to carry out the task which you have invited me to undertake, and formally to declare the foundations of this Meeting House to be well and truly laid, and to express the hope that peace, harmony and righteousness may always reign within its walls.

After the ceremony surrounding the laying of the foundation stone, the following prayer, composed by Lord Bledisloe, was read by the Bishop of Aotearoa:

For the faithful observance of the Treaty of Waitangi

O God, who in Thy beneficent wisdom 94 years ago ordained that strife and bloodshed between races and tribes in this territory should cease, and that the inhabitants of these islands should thenceforward be knit together as one people under the British Crown, grant that the sacred compact then made in these waters may be faithfully and honourably kept for all time to come, to the glory of Thy Holy Name, and the peace, contentment and ordered progress of a united nation, for the sake of Him Who brought peace and goodwill upon earth, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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