Why was the Treaty of Waitangi signed?

"The Treaty of Waitangi is an agreement made in 1840 between representatives of the British Crown and more than 500 Māori chiefs. It resulted in the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand by Lieutenant Governor William Hobson in May 1840. Most chiefs signed a Māori-language version of the treaty".

By Lachlan Nolan,

I will attempt to explain the reasoning behind the Treaty requirement for both parties, beginning with a comparative discussion on the social systems of Maori and British, then go in to further detail about their comparative ideologies, then the Maori responses following the Treaty signing, and then on to my own ideology and reflections on the Treaty of Waitangi.

The social systems of Maori and British colonists were vastly different.  Maori were part of a Tribe, and at a larger view, Sub-Tribes and Tangatawhenua (People of the land).  The tribe was largely a political unit in which the members believed themselves to share common descent, a lineal connection to the waka in which their ancestors arrived in New Zealand (McLintock, 2009).  Maori charged themselves with the guardianship of the land, the protection and balance upon which their society sat; from the land they drew strength, sustenance and daily needs.  There was an affinity with the land that seemed as if the land was a part of their family or whanau, a concept of huge importance to Maori (Pere, 2010).  Because of this affinity to the land, Maori were disgusted with the lawlessness of the British settlers in New Zealand and approached the Crown to intervene.

British settlers came from a country of independence, power and acquisition.  The primary concept of the British was the acquisition of power and wealth.  The early settlers in New Zealand sought to claim and acquire land, even by scrupulous methods (Land-Sharking: an act upon which land was advertised and sold to British citizens, even though the land being sold was never acquired legally, and then was usually acquired via scrupulous methods involving the misrepresentation of Maori, causing governmental interference (New Zealand Herald, n.d.).  With the amount of untamed and fertile land, British settlers and the British government saw an opportunity to take ownership of this new land and planned accordingly, setting up a British Government in New Zealand, hearing the pleas for help from Maori, and ultimately leading to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Tangatawhenua, as mentioned previously, held a great connection to the land, (Papatuanuku), as they believed that with the land guarded and protected, loved and cherished, they would survive with resources aplenty.  Ideologies in Maori society were guardianship (Kaitiakitanga), kinship and governance.  They were a spiritual people, believing that the spirits dwelled with them in the shared land.  The land itself was the body of Papatuanuku, the sky Ranginui, who in the creation myth, were separated by their children, who were subsequently lesser gods, Tanemahuta, Tangaroa, Rongo, etc (Family tree of Maori Gods, n.d.).  When Maori gather in numbers, one usually introduces themselves by means of a pepeha, which doesn’t just introduce who you are, but where you come from, your ancestors, and surprisingly, their connection to the land; they will state the nearest mountain (the highest physical connection to Ranginui) and the nearest river (often thought of as the tears of Ranginui upon Papatuanuku).

Whanau was of huge importance to Tangatawhenua, the family concept.  Family wasn’t just restricted to mother, father and children, but tended to include the community of closely related people.  There is strong evidence that suggested for social purposes in day to day life, the care of children was managed by the elementary family working as an operation group of these community members.  Members of a family exercised rights and obligations of a member of a village, whanau and hapu, rather than as discrete individuals.  (McLintock, 2009).

The spirituality of Maori is almost as diverse as their family units.  As mentioned previously, Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and Ranginui (Sky Father) were the progenitors of the Maori Gods.  From them came their children, Tanemahuta (God of the forest and birds), Tangaroa (God of the Sea), Rongo (God of Peace), Tawhirimatea (God of the Wind) and Tumatauenga (God of War) (Family tree of Maori Gods, n.d.).

The British social conditions and ideology in the 1800’s was born of necessity from the Industrial Revolution.  Their ideologies included ownership, independence, power, and control.  The English Class system held strong to economics, workforces, and at the time the country was undergoing a massive technological, economic and social change. (Gentry, 2002).  Classes included labourers, elite, royalty and more.

Compared to Maori, spirituality was of a religious branding, including multiple religions at the time, (Catholicism, Anglo-Saxon, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, etc.) which held that there was only one God, rather than the plethora of Gods in Maori spirituality.

The family unit in English society was traditional, by their standards; Father, mother, children.  The father of the family was the income earner, while the mother was considered a home-maker, spending her time at home, cooking, cleaning, and generally being seen and not heard (a social construction still identifiable in modern society).

English didn’t have such an important connection to the land, compared to Maori, as at the time in England during the Industrial revolution, most land was bought and sold rather frequently, stunting any connections made with the land.  This idea of buying and selling trickled through to the British settlers in the form that they could buy and sell land in New Zealand, much like they had in England.

Leading up to the creation and signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and comparing the ideologies of Maori and British settlers, we have Maori, the guardians of the land, the people of the land, an holistic people who govern with respect to all people, all genders and to each person.  And the British who seek ownership, independence, control and power.  Maori reached out to the British government asking them to control the settlers who were wreaking havoc with land sales, disreputable acquisition of land and general lawlessness.  The British government saw an opportunity to take ownership of a new, fertile land, to extend their power and sovereignty into the Pacific.

The Treaty of Waitangi, according to the Maori version, meant that the British government would control the lawlessness of the settlers, and extend partnership, protection and participation to the Maori people, offering Maori governance or kawantanga (participation), maintaining ownership of their land and taonga (protection) and true and shared equality (partnership).  Maori were to be treated like British citizens in the signing of the Treaty, given governance of their own land and taonga.  Instead, the British government took control of New Zealand, the signing of the treaty forced Maori to cede sovereignty to England and offered, but never acted upon, protection from the settlers (Pene. 2014).

The hopes of social advancement which the natives had formed when they first consented to share their country with the stranger, were disappointed.  The did not fail to contrast the rapid alienation of their land with the slow improvement of their condition, and they feared that at this rate their lands would be gone before they had attained the desired equality with their white neighbours.  Every function of Government seemed paralysed in comparison with the Land Purchasing Department.  They were willing to sell their land for civilization and equality, but at no other price.  (Sinclair, 1980 as cited in The Maori King, Gorst 1864).

Maori responses to the changes following the Treaty signing were the Maori Monarchy, the elevation of a mutually agreed upon representative of the Maori who took on the title of Maori King or Queen, established in 1858 with the first Maori King, Potatau Te Wherowhero, who reigned from 1858 to 1860 (Pene, 2014).

Another response was the Ratana Movement, one Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana claimed to have been visited and tested by the Holy Spirit and found worthy of the bestowment of knowledge, created the Ratana Movement in 1918, the first Ratana Church being established in 1925).

These were in response to laws being created to nullify and remove Maori privileges that the Treaty of Waitangi had established, the Tohunga Suppresion Act in 1907 being one of them.  The Tohunga Suppression Act intended to stop the practice of traditional Maori healing practices which, according to the outside viewer, had supernatural or spiritual elements.  (Norris, P. & Beresford, R., n.d.)

Identifying my own ideology is rather amusing, considering I am of the pagan belief spiritually, I can identify with the spirituality of Maori, in that I believe in many gods and spiritual influences on my world.  However, in regards to family, I am more similar to the British, in that I have a father, mother and my siblings.  My extended family aren’t a particularly strong component in our family.

With this connection to both signatories, I stand straddled between worlds.  One foot clumsily placed with Maori as I attempt to regain that part of my heritage, and the other flimsily entrenched in my British heritage.  I understand the hurt, pain and wrong done to Maori during the colonisation of New Zealand, the blood and carnage created by the introduction of settlers, the Musket Wars; Ngati Porou, my tribe, were slaughtered in the Ngapuhe massacres at Whetumatarau and Kokai in the 1820’s (Reedy, T.M. n.d.).

To me, the Treaty is a perfect example of the dominance of the western world and their unscrupulous mission of acquisition.  The offer of Protection, Partnership and Participation, the misdirected education of the “native”, the deception of a simple people.

However, I take from this a knowledge that when working with clients of a non-western civilisation, culture, heritage and respect is an absolute necessity to ensure this hurt is never repeated.



Family tree of Maori Gods. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_the_M%C4%81ori_gods

Family tree of Maori Gods. (n.d.). . Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_the_M%C4%81ori_gods

Gentry, K. (2002). Class Report. Class Report. Retrieved June 10, 2014, from http://staff.washington.edu/cgiacomi/courses/english200/historicalbriefs/class.html

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McLintock, A. (2009). TRADITIONAL SOCIAL STRUCTURE. – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/maori-social-structure/page-2

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Norris, P., & Beresford, R. (n.d.). Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Tohunga Suppression Act – Medicines and remedies –. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/document/28223/tohunga-suppression-act

Pere, R. (2010). YouTube. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HALJ9FjG_I0

Pene, H. (Lecturer) (2014, May 14). Te Pu: Foundations of Treaty Based Practice. Lecture conducted at Manukau Institute of Technology, East Tamaki, Auckland.

Pene, H. (Lecturer) (2014, May 21). Te Pu: Foundations of Treaty Based Practice. Lecture conducted at Manukau Institute of Technology, East Tamaki, Auckland.

Reedy, T. M. (n.d.). Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 4. Post-European conflicts and developments – Ngāti Porou –. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/ngati-porou/page-4

Reedy, T. M. (n.d.). Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 4. Image–. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from   http://www.teara.govt.nz/files/treaty-36349-na.jpg

Reedy, T. M. (n.d.). Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 1. What is the treaty of Waitangi . Retrieved October 13, 2014, from  http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/treaty-of-waitangi/page-1 

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