Story: Treaty of Waitangi
Page 2 – Interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi
Māori- and English-language versions
The meaning of the treaty in Māori differed from the meaning in English.
Māori: chiefs gave the queen ‘te Kawanatanga katoa’ – the governance or government over the land.
English: chiefs gave the queen ‘all the rights and powers of sovereignty’ over the land.
Māori: confirmed and guaranteed the chiefs ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ – the exercise of chieftainship – over their lands, villages and ‘taonga katoa’ – all treasured things. Māori agreed to give the Crown a right to deal with them over land transactions.
English: confirmed and guaranteed to the chiefs ‘exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries, and other properties’. The Crown sought an exclusive right to deal with Māori over land transactions.
Māori: The Crown gave an assurance that Māori would have the queen’s protection and all rights – ‘tikanga’ – accorded British subjects. This was close to an accurate translation of the English text.
Reasons for signing
In 1840 Māori leaders decided for or against signing the treaty on the basis of its Māori text and after weighing various considerations. They wanted regulated settlement and support in controlling settlers and land sales. Trade and a cash income from employment opportunities would bring benefits to Māori communities. The new relationship would also enable them to avoid the intertribal warfare that had escalated in previous decades.
Although the chiefs were aware that a colonial administration would require some concessions to allow it to exercise power, they were assured by officials that their own authority was left in place by Article Two of the treaty (in the Maori-language version). This suggested that authority would be shared between the government and the chiefs. This shared authority would be enhanced by the other treaty articles, to Māori advantage.
Reasons for not signing
Some chiefs had no opportunity to sign the treaty as there were apparently no treaty meetings in regions such as Taranaki and Wairarapa, and almost none in other areas such as Hawke’s Bay. Sometimes chiefs were absent from meetings, and negotiators were too impatient to await their return.
Although a copy of the treaty went into the central North Island, Te Arawa and Ngāti Tuwharetoa chiefs refused to sign it. The impact of the European world on these inland tribes was less than on coastal iwi. Chiefs valued their independence and were not prepared to place their mana under that of the British queen. The powerful Waikato chief Te Wherowhero also refused to sign for this reason.
In districts where intertribal disputes were in progress, chiefs were not prepared to allow British interference. Tāraia of Thames and Tūpaea of Tauranga refused to sign the treaty because they wanted to retain full control over their affairs, and settle their own disputes.
Although several powerful chiefs did not sign the treaty, the British Crown was given a considerable mandate for its colonisation plans. However, it was not an overwhelming mandate and was therefore likely to be challenged in the future.