Translation of the te reo Māori text
The following translation of the te reo Māori version of the Treaty was done by former Tribunal member Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu. The translation sets out to show how Māori would have understood the meaning of the text they signed. It was published in the book Waitangi Revisited: Perspectives on the Treaty of Waitangi, edited by Michael Belgrave, Merata Kawharu and David Williams (Oxford University Press, 1989).
Victoria, the Queen of England, in her concern to protect the chiefs and the subtribes of New Zealand and in her desire to preserve their chieftainship1 and their lands to them and to maintain peace2 and good order considers it just to appoint an administrator3 one who will negotiate with the people of New Zealand to the end that their chiefs will agree to the Queen's Government being established over all parts of this land and (adjoining) islands4 and also because there are many of her subjects already living on this land and others yet to come. So the Queen desires to establish a government so that no evil will come to Māori and European living in a state of lawlessness. So the Queen has appointed 'me, William Hobson a Captain' in the Royal Navy to be Governor for all parts of New Zealand (both those) shortly to be received by the Queen and (those) to be received hereafter and presents5 to the chiefs of the Confederation chiefs of the subtribes of New Zealand and other chiefs these laws set out here.
The Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs who have not joined that Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the complete government6 over their land.
The Queen of England agrees to protect the chiefs, the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise7 of their chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures.8 But on the other hand the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs will sell9 land to the Queen at a price agreed to by the person owning it and by the person buying it (the latter being) appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent.
For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the Government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand and will give them the same rights and duties10 of citizenship as the people of England.11
[signed] William Hobson Consul & Lieut Governor
So we, the Chiefs of the Confederation of the subtribes of New Zealand meeting here at Waitangi having seen the shape of these words which we accept and agree to record our names and our marks thus.
Was done at Waitangi on the sixth of February in the year of our Lord 1840.
- 'Chieftainship': this concept has to be understood in the context of Māori social and political organisation as at 1840. The accepted approximation today is 'trusteeship'.
- 'Peace': Māori 'Rongo', seemingly a missionary usage (rongo — to hear: ie, hear the 'Word' — the 'message' of peace and goodwill, etc).
- Literally 'Chief' ('Rangatira') here is of course ambiguous. Clearly, a European could not be a Māori, but the word could well have implied a trustee-like role rather than that of a mere 'functionary'. Māori speeches at Waitangi in 1840 refer to Hobson being or becoming a 'father' for the Māori people. Certainly this attitude has been held towards the person of the Crown down to the present day — hence the continued expectations and commitments entailed in the Treaty.
- 'Islands': ie, coastal, not of the Pacific.
- Literally 'making': ie, 'offering' or 'saying' — but not 'inviting to concur'.
- 'Government': 'kawanatanga'. There could be no possibility of the Māori signatories having any understanding of government in the sense of 'sovereignty': ie, any understanding on the basis of experience or cultural precedent.
- 'Unqualified exercise' of the chieftainship — would emphasise to a chief the Queen's intention to give them complete control according to their customs. 'Tino' has the connotation of 'quintessential'.
- 'Treasures': 'taonga'. As submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal concerning the Māori language have made clear, 'taonga' refers to all dimensions of a tribal group's estate, material and non-material — heirlooms and wahi tapu (sacred places), ancestral lore and whakapapa (genealogies), etc.
- Māori 'hokonga', literally 'sale and purchase'. 'Hoko' means to buy or sell.
- 'Rights and duties': Māori at Waitangi in 1840 refer to Hobson being or becoming a 'father' for the Māori people. Certainly, this attitude has been held towards the person of the Crown down to the present day — hence the continued expectations and commitments entailed in the Treaty.
- There is, however, a more profound problem about 'tikanga'. There is a real sense here of the Queen 'protecting' (ie, allowing the preservation of) the Māori people's tikanga (ie, customs) since no Māori could have had any understanding whatever of British tikanga (ie, rights and duties of British subjects). This, then, reinforces the guarantees in article 2.
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