Understanding The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi has often been a subject of debate between Māori and the Crown. Walker considers the incomplete Māori translation of the Treaty to be reason for such debate. It is important to note that while sharing conceptual similarities, words used in the English version of the Treaty do not hold the same meaning as those used in the Māori version. Citing Ross, Walker points out the translation in Article 1 of the word “sovereignty” to “kawanatanga” (governance) as an example of how incorrect usage of words led to misunderstanding between the two parties. (Walker 93). Kawharu also makes note of this incongruence in his footnotes of the Māori text stating that Māori could not have understood the term government in the sense of sovereignty due to lack of experience or cultural precedent with the term (Kawharu 2). As understood by Māori, governance was allowed to the Crown while supreme rule remained in the hands of Māori. It was these discrepancies, as Walker points out, that subsequently resulted in Pakeha acting on the assumption that they held sovereignty, with Māori holding the belief that they had never surrendered it. Had a more comprehensive term been used, perhaps Māori would have better understood what they were being asked to concede.


Works Cited:

Kawharu, H. “The Treaty of Waitangi translated from Māori into modern English with notes”. Waitangi – Maori Pakeha Perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi. Ed. Kawharu. 1989, Appendix, pp 319-321

Walker, Ranginui. “Tauiwi”. Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou. Auckland: Penguin. 1990, pp. 78-97.


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