Section 3: The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi

The British Government decided that Hobson would ask Māori rangatira to sign a treaty with Queen Victoria. Hobson would act on the Queen's behalf because she was in England. A treaty is an agreement or contract between two or more people, groups, or countries. Britain recognised New Zealand as a separate country because they accepted the Declaration of Independence that had been signed five years before. Busby and Hobson together wrote a draft treaty. A missionary, Henry Williams, and his son, Edward, translated it into Māori.

Treaty signingThe fifth day of February 1840 was a very important day. Rangatira were invited to a hui to talk about the treaty and decide whether they wanted to sign it. A large tent was put up on the lawn in front of Busby's house. A crowd started to gather outside, including many Māori (some of whom had travelled a long way), settlers, traders, sailors, and missionaries. Everybody was interested to find out what was in the treaty and to hear the debate.

Everyone moved into the tent. Hobson explained that the Queen was concerned for both Māori and Pakeha in Aotearoa because of the lack of law and order. She was asking the rangatira if they agreed to Hobson becoming the Governor of Aotearoa. Hobson would then be able to control the British settlers. Busby said to the Māori rangatira that Hobson was not going to take away their land. Instead, he was going to make sure that Māori land was safe from settlers. Missionary Williams read out the Treaty in Māori.

What the Treaty said

The Treaty said that:

  • Māori would have rangatiratanga (total control) over all their lands and taonga (everything important to them) for as long as they wished.
  • If Māori wanted to sell land they must sell it to the Governor, who would then sell it to settlers.
  • The Queen would make sure that there would be law and order for all people in the country. She would make sure that Māori rangatiratanga and property would be protected. (Queen Victoria was in England. The Governor was the Queen's representative in Aotearoa.)

The Treaty said that this agreement was necessary because so many non-Māori were now living in Aotearoa.

Difference Between the Māori and English Versions

There were two versions of the Treaty. One was in Māori, the other was written in English.

William Hobson signed for Queen Victoria, the Queen of England. He signed the English and Māori versions. He did not know te reo Māori.

Māori signed the Māori version.

In the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi, Māori give sovereignty to the British Queen. Sovereignty means absolute and total control of everything. So, in the English version, Māori gave the British total control of the country.

The Māori word 'rangatiratanga' is similar to 'sovereignty'.

The Māori version of the Treaty did not say that Māori would give 'rangatiratanga' to the British. And it must be remembered that Māori signed the Māori version, not the English version.

The Māori version of the Treaty says that Māori give 'kawanatanga' to the British. This word in English means 'governance'. The Māori who agreed to sign did so because they wanted the British to govern, which means to make laws about behaviour. Many people today believe that most Māori would not have signed the Treaty if the Māori version had used 'rangatiratanga' for 'sovereignty'.

The Treaty promises that Māori would keep their rangatiratanga over their lands and everything else. The Māori who signed did so because this meant iwi would keep control over their land and everything else important to them.

The Great Debate

The debate amongst the rangatira went on for five hours. Williams translated what the rangatira said for Hobson and Busby, who did not understand te reo Māori. He also translated what Hobson said because not all Māori understood English.

Some rangatira thought the Treaty was a good idea and others did not. Their main concerns were about their authority (power and control), their land, and trade dealings.

Te Kemara of Ngapuhi was the first to speak. He said, 'No! No! No! I shall never say "yes" to your staying. Were all to be equal then perhaps Te Kemara would say "yes". But for the Governor to be up and Te Kemara to be down ... No! No! No! O Governor, my land is gone, gone, all gone.'

Te Ruki Kawiti, also of Ngapuhi said, 'No. No. Go back, what do you want here? We native men do not wish you to stay. We do not want to be tied up and trodden down. We are free!'

Tamati Waka Nene of Ngapuhi spoke for the Treaty. He said to the other rangatira, 'Is the land not already gone? Is it not covered, all covered with people, with strangers, foreigners - even as the grass and herbage - over whom we have no power?' Nene said that it was now too late to tell the Pakeha to go back. 'Many of his children are also our tamariki. He makes no slaves.' He said Pakeha would bring plenty of trade and that it would be best if Māori and Pakeha could be friends together.

Language Problems

At one point, a Pakeha, Trader Jack, interrupted. 'Begging your pardon, Sir,' he said to Hobson, 'but it's that Mr Williams. He's not translating a good half of what the Māori say. He's not translating half of what you say either.' Another Pakeha, Johnson, who understood Māori language said that the Māori were saying a lot about the missionaries taking their land and that Williams was not translating it. The rangatira who spoke at the end of the day were in favour of signing the Treaty. They persuaded most of the other rangatira to sign.

6 February 1840

The next day, 6 February, the rangatira gathered again, this time to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. Hone Heke was the first to sign. That day at Waitangi, about 40 rangatira signed the Treaty. The Treaty was then taken around the country by British officials and missionaries to collect more signatures. Most rangatira who signed drew their moko as their signature.

Women Who Signed the Treaty

Thirteen Māori women have so far been identified as signing the Treaty.

In Britain at that time, women did not vote or have any say in important issues. However, three women signed at Waitangi on 6 February.

Many Māori women were very important. They were rangatira or ariki. Henry Williams knew this. He was one of the people who took the Treaty around the country. He collected the signatures of women at Kapiti, Wellington and Wanganui.

Another person who was collecting signatures around the country refused to allow the daughter of Te Pehi, a famous Ngati Toa rangatira, to sign. That signature collector thought women were not important enough to sign the Treaty. Te Pehi's daughter was angry and her husband refused to sign, probably because of the insult to his wife. Misunderstandings like this can happen very easily between two different cultures.

The Long Journey: Collecting Signatures Around the Country

Few rangatira signed at Waitangi on 6 February but more signed when the Treaty was taken around the north.

The main argument the British used to try to get signatures was that the Treaty would protect Māori from Pakeha gaining control of their land.

Not All Rangatira Signed the Treaty

Several rangatira in the Waikato signed the Treaty, but Potatau Te Wherowhero refused even though he was asked again and again. He was an important man, and the British knew that if he signed, others would sign too.

Missionaries influenced some Māori to sign the Treaty because many Māori had become Christians and believed that what the missionaries said was right. Not as many Māori signed who lived in areas where there had been few missionaries or none at all. This was the case for the Arawa and Tuwharetoa tribes in the central North Island. No attempt to get signatures was made in south Taranaki, where a vessel, the Alligator, had sailed along the coast in 1834 firing cannons on coastal kainga. It took four months to collect over 500 signatures. Hobson declared British sovereignty over Aotearoa-New Zealand on 21 May 1840. He did this before consulting the British Government. Hobson then told the British Government that all the rangatira in the North Island agreed to the Treaty. This was not true. Hobson said that the South Island could be included because the British had 'discovered' the South Island. This was not true either. Hobson sent Māori and English copies of the Treaty to England. Henry Williams had written on the bottom of the English version that it was a literal translation of the Māori version. This was not true. Many of the rangatira that did not sign the Treaty, and some who did, continued to protest against Pakeha settlement for years to come. Many settlers were against the Treaty as well.

The Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi : Questions and Activities

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