As February dawns, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are bathed in the golden light of anticipation, marking the 4th and 6th of the month in 2024 as significant milestones in their shared journey. Beyond the surface of these dates’ ceremonial significance lies a deeper resonance, woven from the threads of intertwined histories, unwavering identities, and a collective vision for the future. These dates aren’t mere placeholders on the calendar; rather, they serve as anchors in the narrative of human progress, diversity, and collective aspirations.
Kindred Stories of Liberation
Sri Lanka National Independence Day
On February 4th, Sri Lanka observes its 76th National Independence Day, a commemoration and celebration. The theme “Let’s build a new country” resonates with a call to action, urging collaboration for a future defined by progress and unity. This journey from colonial rule to a democratic republic echoes the struggles, sacrifices, and dreams of a people’s desire for autonomy.
Sri Lanka’s historical narrative spans centuries, unfolding from the Portuguese colonization in 1505 to subsequent periods of Dutch and British influence. A significant turning point occurred in 1815 with the Kandyan Convention, a pivotal agreement between the United Kingdom and the leaders of Kandy in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). This treaty resulted in the absorption of Kandy into British territories, cementing complete British control over the entire island. Consequently, the South Indian king of Kandy was deposed, and his sovereignty transitioned to the British crown.
The 19th century witnessed notable developments, including the emergence of an educated middle class and the establishment of the Ceylon National Congress in 1884. These milestones reflected the evolving political and social landscape of the island. Importantly, this era also saw the adoption of non-violent resistance as a strategic means to pursue political autonomy.
New Zealand – Waitangi Day
Similarly, New Zealand joyously observes the 184th Waitangi Day on February 6th, 2024, commemorating the historic signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Each year on this date, the nation reflects on the pivotal moment when representatives of the British Crown and more than 500 Māori chiefs formalised the treaty, considered New Zealand’s foundational document.
The backdrop to the treaty involves increasing European immigration and the desire to formalise relationships between the British settlers and the indigenous Māori people. The agreement, signed at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, aimed to provide a framework for cooperation, focusing on principles of mutual respect, cultural preservation, and inclusivity.
It was drafted in both Māori and English and solidified New Zealand’s integration into the British Empire while safeguarding Māori land rights and granting Māori the privileges of British citizenship. However, interpretations of the treaty have been subject to historical debates, with varying perspectives on its implementation and impact.
The tradition of honouring Waitangi Day was officially established in 1934, eventually becoming a public holiday in 1974. The celebration revolves around the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in Manukau, symbolising the enduring commitment to cooperation and understanding between the British Crown and the Māori people.
Beyond the festive atmosphere, Waitangi Day prompts introspection among New Zealanders. It serves as an opportunity to reflect on the shared history, acknowledging both challenges and successes in the ongoing journey towards unity in diversity. The day symbolises a commitment to maintaining positive relations between the Crown and Māori, emphasising the enduring importance of the principles enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi.
The celebrations in both nations go beyond ritual; they breathe life into cultural narratives. Galle Face Green transforms into a vibrant canvas adorned with traditional dances, music, and rituals. The military parade, flag hoisting, and speeches echo the rhythm of Sri Lanka’s ironic identity, a tapestry woven with threads of diversity.
In New Zealand, the Waitangi Day Festival at the Treaty Grounds is a symphony of cultural performances, speeches, and a naval salute. The dawn service, in its quiet solemnity, serves as a poignant reminder of the nation’s commitment to cultural preservation and the celebration of diversity. Te Whare Runanga, a Māori meeting house, and Ngatokimatawhaorua, a significant Māori waka, stand tall, embodying the spirit of cultural unity.
Distinguished Guests and Global Connections
The presence of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin of Thailand at Sri Lanka’s independence celebration underscores the international ties that bind nations. It’s a diplomatic acknowledgement of shared values and mutual respect transcending geographical boundaries. Similarly, New Zealand’s inclusivity is reflected in the diverse voices joining the chorus of Waitangi Day, creating a space for global understanding and cooperation.
Public Engagement and Reflection
These celebrations extend beyond mere festivities; they serve as meaningful platforms for engagement and reflection. The chosen theme, “Let’s build a new country,” encourages active participation from Sri Lankans in envisioning a shared future. Waitangi Day in New Zealand initiates conversations about national identity and multiculturalism, fostering a dialogue that enhances understanding and mutual respect.
Public engagement holds more than symbolic significance; it signifies a collective acknowledgement that the way forward involves the active participation of everyone. These occasions are not merely dates on the calendar; instead, they present opportunities for nations to collectively pause, reflect, and strategically plan for the future.
A Tapestry of Unity
As we witness Sri Lanka’s Independence Day and New Zealand’s Waitangi Day, parallel narratives become threads in a tapestry that transcends borders. Resilience, diversity, and shared aspirations aren’t confined to nations; they become part of a global narrative.
In Sri Lanka and New Zealand, the human spirit’s enduring quest for liberty and identity is evident. The celebrations aren’t just national; they’re universal, inviting reflection on personal stories and the shared human experience.
The essence of these celebrations lies in acknowledging that individual narratives contribute to a larger, collective story. Raising a collective toast to Sri Lanka and New Zealand recognises the beauty of diversity, the strength in unity, and the indomitable spirit propelling nations forward.
By Dilhan Athapaththu – Wellington