Some 80 people gathered in the warm evening light of Hastings’ Civic Square for the opening of the exhibition Everything You Treasure – A World Free from Nuclear Weapons at 5.30 pm on Tuesday 18 February 2014.
Proceedings kicked off with a speech from Lawrence Yule, Mayor of Hastings District Council. A sound system malfunction was addressed by removing microphones and speaking from the heart across the still Square. Mayor Yule mentioned his memories of the anti-nuclear struggle of the 1980s, and Prime Minister David Lange’s famous quip to his opponent at the Oxford Union Debate: “I can smell the uranium on your breath.” This, he noted, was an example of the courage New Zealand had to stand up to world powers and declare itself nuclear free.
Mayor Yule then talked about the First Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and the Aoteaeroa New Zealand ambassador Dell Higgie’s delivery of the Conference Joint Statement to the Economic and Social Committee of the United Nations. He finished by quoting Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell’s call for us to: “Remember our humanity and forget the rest.”
A group of 25 Vanuatuan men, who live seven months of the year in Hastings as part of the Registered Seasonal Employers Scheme, performed traditional dance in acknowledgement of the mayor’s speech. They were delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the Aotearoa New Zealand community, and showcase their culture through traditional drumming and dance, resplendent in leafy headdresses and body paint.
Reverend Numia Tomoana, a local Māori community leader, then rose to speak on the meaning of peace across different religious traditions. She quoted Nichiren Daishonin’s letter about the three kinds of treasure to draw the audience’s attention to the importance of ‘treasures of the heart.’ Her speech was followed by waiata of peace led by Deanne Kireka from Te Rau Aroha weaving group.
Penny Ehrhardt then spoke on behalf of SGI. She thanked all involved in supporting the exhibition and spoke about the impact of nuclear weapons and the power of ordinary people. She finished by calling for a peace monument in the Civic Square as a fitting counterpoint to the war memorial theme of the library. The Vanuatuan men rose to support her with a hymn of peace.
The youngest member of SGINZ’s Hawke’s Bay Group, Conrad, then accompanied the mayor to cut the ribbon—or in this case harakeke taura (woven flax rope)—to officially open the exhibition.
Deanne Kireka called us into the library with a karanga, answered by a karanga from Reverend Tomoana. The gathering followed them as they moved through the Hall of Remembrance into the main library blessing the panels with a traditional chant.
The Vanuatuan group continued to entertain with singing from the mezzanine, providing a joyful atmosphere for everyone to mingle, dialogue and view the panels. Library patrons who had not been part of the opening were drawn into the festivities and expressed interest in the exhibition’s theme.
The exhibition ran until 11 March.