Our two months in the Far North was a visual AND educational gift. I’ve walked on “first landing” beaches, climbed hills, and gazed at the 144 islands in the Bay of Islands, as did Māori and European explorers.
1000 years ago, Polynesian explorers inhabited Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. Dutch explorers mapped it as Nieu Zeeland in 1642, but they didn’t stick around. 127 years later (1769) British explorer James Cook appeared and over the next 60 years contact between the tribes and Europeans grew.
Until the Europeans arrived the term ‘Māori’ did not exist. It was taken from “tangata māori – “ordinary person” to distinguish themselves from fair-skinned European settlers – ‘Pakeha.’
Land Grab and the First European Settlement
The Marsden Track leads to the site of the first Christian mission and a story of two cultures emerges.
European settlers pressured Māori to sell their land. In 1814 Reverend Samuel Marsden began constructing a mission on 80 hectares that belonged to two chiefs. When told he must pay for its use, a “Transfer of Use” deed was signed, Marsden’s payment being 12 axes. The definition of “ownership” differed, ultimately leading to conflict and large-scale land confiscations.
European View: Land is property to buy and sell. Purchase means ownership.
Māori View: Land is not a tradable commodity, one can only agree to “transfer of land’s use”. Land cannot be transferred to others without Māori say-so.
The Mission – Then and Now
The settlement was the site of NZ’s first Christian Service, December 25, 1814.
The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi)
A must do is a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a stunning historic landmark that presents the transformation of New Zealand from exclusively Māori to events after the signing of the treaty.
Initially, in 1835, a Declaration of Independence of the UNITED TRIBES OF NEW ZEALAND was recognized by King William IV as the Constitution for the Sovereign Māori State of New Zealand. This opened the door for the British to negotiate a treaty with the new nation.
The treaty was drawn up in English, translated into Māori, and despite warnings against a British alliance, by Nantucket, Massachusetts whalers, was signed in 1840.
After the signing, many of the rights guaranteed to Māori in the Treaty of Waitangi were ignored. The British government asserted rules that restricted Māori life and imposed taxes, and replaced the Tribal flag (Te Kara) with the Union Jack.
- The Treaty of Waitangi was intended to govern and protect the rights of Māori and Pakeha
- Māori have the right to organize themselves, protect their way of life, and control the resources they own.
- The Government must act reasonably and in good faith towards Māori.
- The Government is responsible for helping to address grievances.
- Established equality and the principle that all New Zealanders are equal under the law.
Differences between the English- and Māori-language versions of the Treaty are controversial; however, it is regarded as New Zealand’s founding document. (nzhistory.net/politics/treaty)
The Carved Māori Meeting House, built in 1940, commemorates the signing.
Ngātokimatawhaorua – a 37.5m ceremonial war canoe (waka) carries up to 150 paddlers, carved in 1949 from three giant kauri trees.
Then and Now
Because of translation problems, successive governments believed the Treaty enabled complete sovereignty over Māori, their lands and resources. Māori believed that they were merely giving permission for the British to use their land. Disputes over ownership involved violent conflicts between 1840-1860.
The Waitangi Tribunal, set up in 1975, has ruled on a number of claims brought by Māori iwi and in many cases, granted compensation.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located in Northland, near Paihia. Plan on three hours to visit the site and museums.
References: NewZealand.com; NZhistory.govt