The Treaty of Waitangi - Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Hobson arrived in New Zealand on 30 January 1840 and asked to meet the missionary Henry Williams and later on 4 February met with him again to seek a translation of the treaty which he had drafted. Read Williams account of this and the meeting at Waitangi.

Over 400 Māori and a few dozen British settlers gathered at Waitangi for the signing of the Treaty. Debate lasted all day on 5 February and it was proposed that the meeting be reconvened on 7 February, but surprisingly the chiefs had made their decision by the morning of the following day and sought an early conclusion so that they might return home.

Read the English version of the Treaty and try to answer the following question.

Why would Māori chiefs so readily cede sovereignty to the British Crown when only 5 years earlier they had stated:

All sovereign power and authority within the territories of the United Tribes of New Zealand is hereby declared to reside entirely and exclusively in the hereditary chiefs and heads of tribes in their collective capacity, who also declare that they will not permit any legislative authority separate from themselves in their collective capacity to exist, nor any function of government to be exercised within the said territories, unless by persons appointed by them, and acting under the authority of laws regularly enacted by them in Congress assembled?

Remember that European settlers at this time numbered only about 2000. Does something seem not quite right about this?

Read the Māori version of te Tiriti and consider the following.

Some differences between the two versions of the treaty should be noted:

  • Article 1 
    The Treaty:
    Māori chiefs gave the Queen all the rights and powers of sovereignty over their land. 
    Te Tiriti: They gave the Queen te kawanatanga katoa, the complete government over their land.
  • Article 2 
    The Treaty:
    Māori chiefs and people, collectively and individually, were confirmed in and guaranteed full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries, and other properties. 
    Te Tiriti: They were guaranteed te tino rangatiratanga, the unqualified chieftainship over their lands, villages, and all their taonga, treasures (everything of value).

What's the Difference?

So what is the difference between sovereignty and governorship?

It is likely that Māori would have encountered these terms in a biblical context - King Herod was sovereign ruler of Judea, while Pontius Pilate was the governor (the procurator of the Roman Empire in Judea). Pilate was responsible for Roman law while Herod remained ruler of the Jewish people. Governorship in this sense is a more custodial role, with the sovereign ruler still holding the real power for their people.

Williams might have better translated sovereignty as mana or even tino rangatiratanga (absolute chieftainship) rather than kawanatanga. It is likely that this choice of words was deliberate on Williams' part since he had earlier translated the Declaration more appropriately. He may have felt that Māori would benefit so much from this agreement that he phrased it in terms which would be more acceptable, or maybe he thought there was no difference between sovereignty and governorship. Read his understanding of the treaty and how he explained it to Māori.

The Treaty or Te Tiriti?

Which version do you think should be the official one? Vote by checking one of the boxes below.


Q: Which version should be the official one?