New Zealand to Sell Sacred Land
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ A wind-blown corner of New Zealand’s wild east coast is to the indigenous Maori people what Plymouth Rock is to Americans _ revered as the place their ancestors first came ashore.
On Friday, the government ignored protests and approved its sale to a wealthy New York financier who immediately announced he would donate some sections of the grassy headland to the government in an attempt to ease tribal sensitivities
``It is a living being for us Maori people. It has a lot of soul for us as Maori. It shines like a beacon,″ said Tutekawa Wyllie, who led the campaign to keep the spot out of foreign hands.
Identified on most maps as Young Nick’s Head, it juts into the South Pacific Ocean, 310 miles north of the capital, Wellington, and is populated only by sheep and cattle. To the Maori people, it is Te Kuri a Paoa, and contains 15 sacred sites, including tribal graves and remnants of historic villages.
``It is a beautiful, beautiful place ... a living being for us Maori, as we see it as our ancestor,″ Wyllie said.
New York financier John Griffin bought the headland, as part of a 1,500-acre farm for which he paid $1.8 million, from a New Zealander who lives in Sydney in neighboring Australia.
The fight over the sale has reopened old wounds over the theft of Maori land by European settlers _ and jolted many New Zealanders into realizing there is no law preventing such landmarks from being sold to foreigners.
Members of the Ngai Tamanuhiri tribe, who claim their ancestors were the first to set foot on New Zealand many hundreds of years ago, have camped out on the cape to protest the sale. Others marched to parliament in Wellington in an attempt to pressure the government into blocking the sale.
But they all packed up Friday after Finance Minister Michael Cullen announced that Griffin had agreed to donate the headland’s cliffs, the site of an historic village and a hill to the government, and to place the rest of the 500-acre site under a special covenant to prevent it from being developed.
``The key historic, iconic and culturally significant sites of Young Nick’s Head will remain in New Zealand hands in perpetuity,″ Cullen said in a statement.
``At least it’s better than nothing,″ Wyllie said of the deal. ``I’m happy that we at least haven’t walked away with nothing.″
He said once the tribe had full details of the sale agreement, it would meet over the weekend ``and decide where to (go) from here″ with its campaign to put the whole headland in tribal ownership.
The tribe says the land is of historical significance not just to Maori, but also to white settlers.
``This is the place where my tribe first touched the earth when we migrated across the Pacific ... hundreds of years ago,″ Wyllie said.
It is also a link between Maori and Europeans because it was the first land sighted in 1769 by British explorer Capt. James Cook, widely credited as the first European to set foot on New Zealand _ although he did so decades after it was discovered by Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642.
``Like Plymouth Rock, the spiritual and cultural significance of that touchstone, of (our) nationhood, is what is encapsulated in Young Nick’s Head,″ Wyllie said.
Rising some 600 feet out of the sea, high white cliffs jut from much of its three-mile shoreline. Six ancient Maori fishing grounds surround the headland and fishing rocks used by the tribe centuries ago dot the shoreline, along with lobster holes, seaweed and beds of black abalone, whose shells are used as fishing lures by the traditional Maori.
In a statement, Griffin paid tribute to the tribe’s peaceful protest. ``I have been mindful of the commitment Ngai Tamanuhiri have shown in protecting their ancestral land and I’m delighted that we have reached agreement,″ Griffin said.