Opinion: Decoding Waitangi

Signing of The Treaty of Waitangi. Photo: Filckr.com
Signing of The Treaty of Waitangi. Photo: Filckr.com

“…by twice visiting the Pacific Tropical Sea, I had not only settled the situation of some old discoveries but made there many new ones and left, I conceive, very little more to be done.” – Capt. James Cook, The Journals (excerpt).

Last week it was discovered that the vessel Capt. James Cook used to sail to Australia and New Zealand in the late 1700s may lie at the bottom of Newport Harbour, Rhode Island in the U.S.A.

The HMS Endeavour, later called the Lord Sandwich, is believed to be among a group of ships hurried there to use as a blockade during the American Revolution.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project says there is an 80 to 100 percent chance the Endeavour is still in the port.

Cook, of course, plays an integral role in the foundation of what is now New Zealand. Many artefacts throughout his lifetime have surfaced over the years and none more telling than his logs. Delving into the journals his words are telling and indicative of a time so enthralled in colonial conquest.

Every year New Zealand honours its history, remembering it, commemorating it and some commiserate it. Few things are as fraught today as the relationship between Maori and the Pakeha of New Zealand.

In Cook’s journals, he says that it would not seem to be difficult for strangers to form a settlement with the indigenous people of New Zealand, remarking that they already seemed so divided among themselves, those being Maori.

What wasn’t known to Cook then, however, was the cultural significance of Maori dividing themselves into tribes. It warrants the feeling that he was alluding to this separation as an advantage.

We found, thrown upon the Shore in several places in this bay, a quantity of Iron Sand.  This proves that there must be that of Ore not far inland. Neither of the Inhabitants of this place, nor any other where we have been, know the use of Iron or set the least Value upon it, preferring the most trifling thing we could give them to a Nail, or any sort of Iron Tools. – Capt. James Cook. Journals (excerpt).

Today Maori leaders and protesters alike have not let that aspect pass from the national psyche. It’s the backbone of what seems to be the case every year in regards to the treaty being designed as a fraud to specifically deprive the Maori of their land, and it’s resources.

Analysts argue much of the Treaty’s true agenda was very much lost in the transliteration process, as the “Maori Version” (a version of the treaty written entirely separately to the English version) heavily reinforces the notion of “protection” and that all is in the Queen’s favour to ensure a safe environment and protection of their lands. Essentially, Maori were told they were agreeing to allow the Crown the authority to protect their lands. Seemingly seduced into believing they were doing their land a service by allowing these men – this foreign nation – to essentially guard this place for them.

But as the treaty states: The selling of land would be agreed upon at a price decided by both parties. If Maori did, in fact, understand the Treaty version they were given, surely that would have been something they didn’t consider lightly, unless they believed they were to be paid in treasures equal to that of the precious land here which as has been argued today, wasn’t and still isn’t exactly the case.

It becomes clear that the differences between the lengthy English version and the Maori version differ significantly in expressing the true intents of the British colonials, and this has always been the at the core of every protest.

“The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.” – The Treaty of Waitangi (excerpt).

Being fluent in their language, Cook and his advocates of the time would have been well aware of the implied and many underlying meanings of the words, sentences and technicalities used in the Treaty. It doesn’t hesitate to make sure they are thorough in their good intentions emphasising that nothing shall be taken without being asked for as long as they are allowed to govern this place. However, so much of this sentiment is lost in the transcribed version.

Waitangi every year generates conflicting feelings among New Zealanders. Without it, many would not be able to enjoy the liberties and luxuries that New Zealand has to offer. But as fierce debate erupts and resentment grows, a cultural divide is threatened, and a deeper understanding of history is needed.

Suddenly the prospective thoughts of a man on an imperial conquest suggest that the Treaty set out to do more for the people who came here after him, rather than those before him as was promised in its first instance.

Daniel Gada
Latest posts by Daniel Gada (see all)