Local Heart, Global Soul

June 2, 2012

A Treaty Ahead of It’s Time… But Still With Complications…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

There are two places here at Waitangi that I distinctly remember from the trip I made here as a teenager.

The flagpole is one of them and the Treaty House is the other.  I’m not of  Maori decent but in my opinion I consider all people born in New Zealand to be equal New Zealanders no matter what cultural liniage they have behind them.

We are one people and one nation and I believe that’s how things should be.

My personal opinion is that Nationhood in New Zealand evolved more over a series of  historical events rather than on any specific day but this place is one that has special significance because it is where one of these first events took place.

For once in the British Empire proposed an  official Treaty be made between native peoples and  white settlers that attempted to represent a more fair and balanced partnership than had ever taken place before or since.

I’m not saying it’s perfect, far from it… but it shows a level of understanding that was far ahead of it’s time considering the time in which it was written.

What helped this come to pass is the several pivotal people were involved in the making of the Treaty, one was Reverend Henry Williams who not only joined other missionaries who settled in the Bay of Islands but also was culturally open to learning the Maori language , and how the Maori community worked on a practical level and he advised James Busby who helped write the Treaty along with James Freeman.

The fact that Maori ways were mostly respected was also unusual for this time, and since Williams had a hand in the treaty as the translator, the finished document no doubt had his subtle influence embedded in it to a certain degree.

Some of the origonal text includes:

All dealings with the Aborigines for their Lands must be conducted on the same principles of sincerity, justice, and good faith as must govern your transactions with them for the recognition of Her Majesty’s Sovereignty in the Islands. 

Nor is this all. They must not be permitted to enter into any Contracts in which they might be ignorant and unintentional authors of injuries to themselves.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

You will not, for example, purchase from them any Territory the retention of which by them would be essential, or highly conducive, to their own comfort, safety or subsistence.

The acquisition of Land by the Crown for the future Settlement of British Subjects must be confined to such Districts as the Natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves.

To secure the observance of this rule will be one of the first duties of their official protector.

The main point of contention with regards to the Treaty comes from several major  errors, the biggest of course being that the Maori translation does not fully or in some part even partially match the English text, so the two parties naturally had a very different understanding of the agreement they were signing.

Some argue this happened only because the Maori translation was rushed (it was handed to Williams at 4.00 p.m. on the 4th of February to be translated and presented for signatures the next day on the 5th), some  argue it was intentionally misleading.

It was also come to  light that there are multiple drafts of the Treaty in existence, with additions and omissions as it took shape. James Stuart Freeman was responsible for much of this and it’s possible that the “certification of translation” that Williams wrote on the translation that was presented for signatures may actually have pertained to one of the draft documents and not the final version.

The website: http://www.treatyofwaitangi.net.nz/CertifiedTreaty.html tells us:

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

 There is a major problem with the general conclusion adhered to by establishment historians, as ‘A comparison of all five English versions with the Maori text makes it clear that the Maori text was not a translation of any one of these English versions’. Williams had used some other, now missing, final draft, handed to him on the 4th of February 1840 and with it had achieved ‘as Literal a translation of the Treaty of Waitangi as the idiom of Language will admit of’.

It’s unfortunate that Freeman did not have the foresight to write the qualifying statement: “I certify that the above is as Literal a translation of the Treaty of Waitangi as the idiom of Language will admit of” on either this handwritten Maori text sheet by Williams or onto the three printed Maori copies despatched on the 21st of February, rather than at the bottom of his own “Royal Style” English copy. In that age of innocence, no one could predict the machinations of a “grievance industry” 140-years into the future (see Volume G-30/1, pp. 25-27, National Archives of New Zealand, Wellington).

Some land settlements had by all accounts (of both parties) been fairly and amicably transacted but in some instances descendants of these people disagreed with the transaction in principle and wished to contest them, sometimes a century later, naturally leading to contention of sour grapes and allegations of greed  towards the Maori involved.

Other land transactions have been clearly been mishandled right from the beginning and I read somewhere years ago that (in East Cape I think)  there is one on-going unresolved case that’s been backwards and forwards before the courts for over 100  years … in this instance I think that the Maori involved have a clear case of injustice and the whole thing should be resolved in their favour since they have raised clear objections from the moment the “deal” was imposed on them.

Within Maoridom and within New Zealand today there are of course a few agitators who opinions are intolerant from one extreme to another but most New Zealanders I know (and the rest I hope) believe that we are all equal as  “Kiwi’s” and that we should stand and fall together for each other as a nation.

Waitangi represents  for me the place where people with great cultural differences at least tried to come together peacefully with good intentions.  In practice it’s far from perfect but considering human history in general and  the limits and failings of human nature, it could actually have been a document far far worse. It’s also  reminder that even with the best of intentions that when human beings are involved that things invariably get complicated and that the repercussions can be far reaching and contentious as they are still with the Treaty even today.

New Zealand might have had a few isolated Maori/settler skirmishes but avoided all out civil war in great part due to this Treaty so I personally am proud to be  a Kiwi standing here at Waitangi…

I can only hope that the spirit of good intention and forward thinking are a concept and tradition that the country carries on in centuries to come.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)


  1. We so enjoyed visiting here and learning more about the Maori culture about which I knew very little. We had a Maori descended guide during part of our trip to NZ, and he made the experience quite interesting.
    Kiwi, I can’t thank you enough for your comment a couple of days ago. I shared it with my daughter, and she said we should read it from time to time to remind ourselves that distance doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And, it isn’t considering they are not moving to the other side of the world!
    Hope all is well with you and yours.

    Comment by lulu — June 2, 2012 @ 1:28 am | Reply

    • How long did you have in New Zealand and where did you go to? Do you get to the South Island too? There is a LOT more Maori culture in the North Island (not surprisingly since on 5% of Maori traditionally lived in the South Island since it’s cooler in winder and of course more mountainous). For that reason, as a Mainlander,(= South Islander) I find that trips up north do a lot to “top up” my own Maori experiences as well.

      Glad you liked my comment on your leaving post… think of how my Oma felt when she waved goodbye to her Dutch sons going to New Zealand… it was a six week trip (one way) by ship via the Pananama Canal in those days and no one ever dreamed or expected plane fares to get cheap enough for her to see them again when they left (that only happened some 15 years later)… for her it must have been like a final goodbye. For many Dutch families it actually was because they never had the savings or time off for such a long trip.
      Technology allows us so many possibilities these days!

      Comment by kiwidutch — June 4, 2012 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

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