History books present the Treaty of Waitangi as the result of Pakeha settler initiative and English imperialist ambition.
This perspective takes no account of the perception contemporary Maori had of their vulnerability as the immigrants increased. Nor does it acknowledge the steps they took to secure their own interests.
Maori tradition sees the Treaty as the result of negotiations between the chiefs and four successive English Monarchs: George III, George IV, William IV and Victoria.
The Ngapuhi Hongi Hika was one of the earliest chiefs, though not the first, to visit England, where the missionary Thomas Kendall, along with the younger chief Waikato of Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands, took him in 1820.
They spent nearly five months there and Kendall, with the chief’s help and that of Professor Lee at Cambridge University, prepared the first Maori grammar.
This visit enabled Hongi to equip himself with the guns with which Ngapuhi killed thousands of his enemies and it is the acquisitive purpose of Hongi’s stay that Pakeha history emphasises. Hongi sold the gifts given to him in England when he called at Sydney on the way home, and bought his guns there.
Of this meeting with George IV, who gave him a suit of chain mail, Claudia Orange, in the Treaty of Waitangi says: “He also carried back the idea that he had come to some agreement with the King. It was based on no more than the exchange of pleasantries by the two men, but in the northern Maori tradition it was understood as a special bond.”
Eleven years later 13 major northern chiefs signed a petition to William IV requesting permission to hoist a British flag on the mission flagstaff at Paihia with the intention of subverting any attempt at annexing by the French.
The petition acknowledged the special contracts with England and requested that the King become a “friend and the guardian of these islands”. It also mentioned protection from the misconduct of unscrupulous English traders.
In 1832 a delegation of chiefs, led by Paratene Te Manu, visited England. Te Manu met William IV at Portsmouth and presented him with a dog skin cloak. The King granted the right to a flag that was to be recognised by all Far East naval establishments as the flag of a sovereign nation. James Busby arrived in Paihia in May 1833 as British Resident, bearing a letter that was considered the official response of William to the 1831 petition.
Contacts between Maori and Europeans multiplied during the 1830’s and the need for some regulation became increasingly apparent. Intertribal warfare continued and Busby made opportunities for chiefs to work together. The result was the selection and gazetting of a New Zealand flag in 1834 and the signing by the United Tribes of New Zealand of a “Declaration of Independence” in 1835.
The flag enabled ships built in New Zealand to be registered. But its significance to Maori was wider. They saw it as recognition of the mana of New Zealand.
The declaration grew out of another perceived annexation attempt by the French. The Colonial Office acknowledged the declaration and the King promised protection for the Maori people as long as it was consistent with a due regard to the just rights of others and to the interests of His Majesty’s subjects.
The declaration was initially signed by 34 northern chiefs and by July 1839 had 52 signatures.
Maori saw protection as a corner stone of the 1840 Treaty.
Clarification of its wider ramifications was achieved at the Government in 1860 and held at Kohimarama, attended by 200 chiefs. Historian Claudia Orange notes that among Maori “There was no unanimity in attitudes to the Waitangi Treaty” and the “the Kohimarama conference came to serve quite different functions for the officials and for the Maori People.”
The Government saw it as an important counter to the growing King movement; chiefs saw it as confirmation that under the Treaty their mana had been guaranteed.
Maori tradition, confirmed by the Taiopuru and kaumatua the late Maui Pomare, takes the story of negotiations between the chiefs and the British government even further back than Hongi’s visit to King George IV in 1820.
It is said that from about 1808 chiefs were talking to the governor of New South Wales about Maori ships and trade in British colonies and elsewhere. The chiefs who undertook the negotiations were Waikato Whare-here-here (great-great-grandfather of Taiopuru) from Hawkes Bay; Höhipera, from Northland; and Tikitiki (his other name was Te Horeta), from Kaipara. These negotiations were formalised in 1813 by a petition sent by Waikato, Tikitiki and another chief Tipuna (whose other name was Wiremu Pohepohe), to George III and an assurance was given that Maori-owned ships could trade under Crown rights.
William IV subsequently gave his consent to Acts of Parliament, in 1831 and in later years, which made these assurances legal provision. In return, British and other ships were given free landing rights.
Before 1835 tall poles decorated with feathers marked landing places. The feathers showed which chief guaranteed the safety of the chiefs. After the gazetting of the flag in 1835 both flag and feather poles stood on the beach; but with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi the Union Jack replaced the feather poles. The Customs Services collected dues previously paid to the chief.
When Hongi met George IV he spoke not only about landing rights and trade but also about the need for a Treaty to control Europeans taking land. The 1831 petition to William IV reinforced this; the 13 chiefs who signed it spoke not only for their own tribes but also for many tribes in other parts of the country.
In 1832 Pari Otene Te Manu (Paratene Te Manu) of Ngati Wai and Nga Titoki led a delegation to England to see William IV. A meeting with William IV took place in Portsmouth; Te Maru gave him a carved paddle and – after the granting of the flag – a dog skin cloak he wore as a chief.
Other matters discussed were the need for Maori education, health, welfare and the keeping of tribal land.
According to tradition, Patuone of Ngapuhi called a hui that preceded the presentation of the Declaration of Independence in 1835. This is why Busby, in three days, was able to get 34 northern chiefs to agree on the text.
The same is said for the Treaty, Hobson gave his draft to Busby who took it to the chiefs. Maori tradition is clear that the first version was written in Maori, on parchment made from dog skin. William Williams translated it into English, based on Hobson’s draft. Hemi Kepa Tupe, a young chief from Kerikeri, assisted him. Much later, tradition says Queen Victoria instructed Governor Gore-Browne to have the Treaty reaffirmed. This was done at a conference held at Kohimarama in 1860 that was attended by more than 200 chiefs.
The Treaty was then taken back to the Queen in 1863.
They sealed the contract on October 17, 1863 with the gift of a child who was born in England and who became her godson, Albert Victor (Pomare).
The chiefs accepted the English settlers as Victoria’s people. They were known as Ngati Wikitöria, a new tribe with the rights and obligations of any other tribe.
The laws affecting the conduct of tribes stipulated that:
1. At all times each shall respect the mana of all tribes. Failure to do so can be taken as a cause for war.
2. No tribe or individual shall enter the tribal territory of another tribe and remove taonga (treasures) without the permission of the chief or council of elders. The chief of the tribe of the offender shall have his carved house burned and he himself may have his title and right to chieftainship removed.
3. No tribe shall interfere with the burials of another tribe or in any way interfere with the tapu of burials. This was a cause for war.
4. The tapu and rahui (embargo) placed on any area shall be respected by all tribes. These include permanent tapu placed on a resource, replenishment areas set aside as genetic banks or for seasonal conservation, and areas set aside for future use.
5. A tribe or individual shall take only sufficient of a resource to fulfil present needs after observing the correct procedure and with the permission of the tribal elders.
6. Where possible replacement and replenishment is a principle governing use of a resource. If a tree is taken, then two trees of the same species must be planted. Shellfish or fish stocks must be replenished from reserves set aside as genetic banks.
7. No tribe shall denigrate another tribe or its chief. Such insults were often punished by payment of utu, by the custom of muru (confiscation) or by war. The principle still applies even if the action is now by words on the marae and payment.