New Zealand is a “young” country as far as European culture is concerned. The first European to visit here was the Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642. It was not until 127 years later, that Captain Cook in the Endeavour arrived in what is now Poverty Bay. Cook’s “discovery” in 1769 was followed by the gradual settling of British and American seal fur traders and whalers along the coasts. By 1830 the settlement of Kororareka (now Russell in the Bay of Islands), was a well-established trading and whaling port. Sometimes a dozen or more ships might be at anchor, with several hundred men ashore. It was the “Hellhole of the South Pacific”. There were regular tensions between the visitors and the Mãori, often around the acquisition of land. Mãori wanted access to the benefits of trade, but also wanted the British Crown to control its lawless citizens. Trade was growing and fear that the French might colonise here led the British Government to abandon its non-colonisation policy and to plan for annexation.
The process had been going on since 1834, when the British resident James Busby gathered 25 Mãori chiefs at Waitangi to form the United Tribes of Aotearoa and to sign a Declaration of Independence – an attempt to develop a pan-Mãori Government for self-determination and protection. Busby saw this as a way of protecting New Zealand-made British ships flying a Mãori flag thus protecting British trade interests. Six years later, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson was given the task of establishing a Treaty with Mãori. In February 1840, also at Waitangi, Hobson and Busby, wrote a draft Treaty for tribal chiefs to sign. The Treaty was written very quickly. A Mãori draft was prepared by the missionary Henry Williams and his son on 4th February.
The meaning of the English and Mãori documents is not identical. Williams translated “Sovereignty” into Mãori as “Kawanatanga” (Kawana being a transliteration of the English word “Governor”) - meaning that Mãori would retain their sovereignty and be subject only to an administrative governorship. A more accurate (and truthful) translation would have been Rangatiratanga, (complete authority or chieftainship) which they all knew the chiefs would never agree to sign away. On the basis of the Mãori translation, the chiefs (and all subsequent generations) saw the Treaty not as a relinquishment of authority, but as a partnership. All historical accounts agree that Hobson, Busby and Williams played down the negative implications of the Treaty to the chiefs, and given the fluency of both Williams and Busby in the Mãori language, the differences between the two documents raises questions about their veracity. 500 Mãori debated the document for a day and a night before it was signed on 6 February. Following the initial signing (by 40 chiefs) copies were taken around the country to collect more signatures. Only 500 out of the 1500 sub-tribes signed the Treaty, and some influential chiefs refused to sign. The original ambiguity in the meaning of the Treaty was to have lasting repercussions for Mãori-Pakeha relations over the next 150 years.Originally published in Organic Explorer , 2011 (pp.20-29), his PDF interrogates the signing of the Treaty and its consequences for cultural relations in Aotearoa-New Zealand for the next 150 years.