Saturday, April 28, 2012

Denis Hampton: Treaty Myth Persists

In December 2010 the Government confirmed that it would conduct a wide-ranging review of New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.  An advisory panel co-chaired by Emeritus Professor John Burrows and Sir Tipene O'Regan of Ngai Tahu has since been appointed.  The panel will consider a wide range of topics including whether New Zealand should have a written constitution and the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.

In recent years there has been considerable debate – often heated – on what the principles of the Treaty are.  Little thought, however, has been given to what the words of the Treaty actually mean, or more to the point, what the good folk of 1840 had in mind when they put their marks on those early documents.

In its second article, the Treaty guarantees “... the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties … “  In its Maori version the word 'properties' becomes 'taonga'. Today this word has come to mean treasures, both tangible and intangible, including language and culture.

This would no doubt be a surprise to Sir Apirana Ngata – the fellow on our 50 dollar note.  In his 1922 explanation of the Treaty he talked of “this canoe, that taiaha (combination spear and club), that kumara (sweet potato) pit, that cultivation.”  Not once did he hint that taonga included the intangibles claimed by recent opportunists.

Admittedly Ngata was not of the Treaty era.  He was, however, fluent in the Maori language and his explanation was consistent with the Williams 1844 Dictionary where taonga is simply “property”.

Another writer of interest certainly was here in 1840.  F.E.(Frederick) Maning settled in Northland in 1833.  He had four children to the sister of a chief and later became a Judge of the Native Land Court.  In his much published account Old New Zealand Maning gave the meaning of taonga as “Goods; property”.  He also gave an insight as to why they were treasured, i.e. because of the great labour and time spent in their manufacture.

Some years ago I wrote to Professor Andrew Sharp of Auckland University.  In his book Justice and the Maori he observed that in 1840 the Maori language “was clearly not under threat, so how could it have been in anyone's mind as a thing needing protection?”  He expressed even greater doubt re 'Maori cultural values'.

In his reply to my letter, Professor Sharp said “But even if taonga could mean things such as language and culture, it was not being used that way in 1840.  I entirely agree with you that what was being thought of was property, and the kind of property that could be held exclusively.”

It is not known when the taonga myth began, but it certainly gained traction in Waitangi Tribunal hearings.  In the Kaituna River Report (1984) it stated that the meaning of the words 'ratou taonga katoa' was “all things highly prized.”  In its Manukau Report the following year the Tribunal noted that it heard several submissions on the meaning of the Treaty.

Among these was one from an ordination candidate for the Anglican Ministry.  He was said to have explained the missionary use of Maori words in the Treaty by reference to scripture.

In its report, the Tribunal concluded that 'Taonga' means more than objects of tangible value.  A river may be a taonga as a valuable resource.  Its 'mauri' of 'life-force' is another taonga.

And so the die was cast, and it didn't take long for the word to spread.  In 1987 Parliament passed the Maori Language Act.  Its preamble stated: “Whereas in the Treaty of Waitangi the Crown confirmed and guaranteed to the Maori people, among other things, all their taonga: And whereas the Maori language is one such taonga:”

Over the years the taonga/intangibles myth has appeared in a number of law reports, e.g. in a 1994 case, NZ Maori Council v Attorney-General, it was stated that the Maori language is “a highly prized property or treasure (taonga) of Maori.”

Of even greater concern is that the myth has spread to government departments and local authorities.  In the Ministry of Education, Statement of Intent, 2008 – 2013 we read: “The Government recognises the Maori language as a taonga guaranteed to Maori by the Treaty of Waitangi.”  In its sustainability policy, the Christchurch City Council talks of responsibilities “to take care of places, natural resources and other taonga (both tangible and intangible).”

For me the biggest worry is the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia's definition.  It says: “A taonga in Maori culture is a treasured thing, whether tangible or intangible. … Intangible examples may include language, spiritual beliefs and radio frequencies.”  It is of note that Wikipedia have drawn heavily on Waitangi Tribunal reports.

So where to from here?  The Constitutional Advisory Panel will, according to Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, lead a forum for New Zealanders to develop and share ideas on constitutional issues.

I say that the panel should look beyond Waitangi Tribunal reports and find out what the 1840 signatories were really thinking.  The writings of Ngata and Maning would be a good start. Wishful thinking can be no foundation for a content and prosperous nation.

Denis Hampton is a researcher with a long-standing interest in Treaty of Waitangi issues. 


Ray S said...

You can bet your boots the wishes of the originators of the treaty were nothing like the wants of todays maori and other liberals. Things claimed today were not even invented in 1840. Its all laughable and sad at the same time.

Helen said...

Excellent article by Denis Hampton but unfortunately he is using the draft English version erroneously put into legislation, saying “... the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties … “. Nowhere in the Maori version signed by the chiefs is mention made of 'forests and fisheries'. The actual words used were (in English) 'the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property'. This is very important

Bill M said...

No wonder the Maori are changing the meaning of words to suit themselves, they are also changing the pronunciation (apparently the early colonials did not have a letter "F" and had to write "WH") and hiding the real history of NZ to make themselves out to be the first people here despite the 2000 yr old ruins etc.

Anonymous said...

In Ian Wishart's latest book, an early Maori - English dictionary is shown to list the meaning of "Taonga" as "property of the SPEAR". (Tao means spear). That is, property that is taken in conquest or held safe by strength and might.

Te Rauparaha is quoted by Wishart, as saying at the 1860 Kohimarama Conference, that the Crown system of property rights was for the benefit of "the weak man". Te Rauparaha implied that Maori custom was based on conquest and strength, and that anyone wishing for a reversion to Maori Custom was inviting a return to constant tribal warfare.

Amazing that Te Rauparaha would be so much clearer in his thinking than many of our so called brightest people today.

- PhilBest

1stNationz said...

What if what the chiefs really meant in 1840 was that complete sovereign power and authority (rangatiratanga, mana, kingitanga) was to remain with them and rights of governance granted to the Queen over lands in European ownership and Europeans in NZ? (kawanatanga o o ratou wenua / the 1831 petition of the chiefs / 1835 DOI) Would you prefer the Tribunal interpretation then? In 1840 British were also ignorant of radio spectrums so why then does the Crown assume the right to trade the NZ spectrum or airspace (nga rangi) or water (wai) which were not expressly mentioned (or assumed to be transferred) in the Treaty? Because the world changes and nobody (incl Maori) is required to exist in a time capsule, but we are all still supposed to recognise people's proprietary rights are we not? or should Maori not have these right? (because that's what numerous Govt. raupatu laws seem to think). Its this typical flawed thinking which is only ever applied to Maori that speaks volumes of the colonialist rhetoric which paints Maori as eternal savages and the Pakeha as the timeless originators (and even owners) of everything in existence; this same rhetoric is still subscribed to whether knowingly or not by Pakeha today. So my question is where on Te Tiriti did it say that Europeans had to remain in this time capsule of ignorance and denial? It doesn't so look at how we may all progress into the future, not how to remain frozen in the long debunked, one-sided (racist) version of NZ history.

mike said...

Understand the meaning of any word requires a goo grasp of the language from which it comes. Those whose first language is Te Reo Maori are in the best position to define the meaning of 'Taonga'. As with many maori words, it has a variety of meanings in different contexts, and amongst different iwi.

As for Bill M's point about changing meanings and pronunciation - he perpetrates a myth himself. Of course Te REo Maori was not a uniformly structured language in pre-Pakeha times. Differnet dialects had variations of pronunciation for some sounds - the 'wh' one being one of them. For some iwi it was very similar to the Samoan 'f' (think of whare -fale), for others it was closer to the 'wh' of 'what'.

It seems reasonable to suspect that the changes refered to are more about pakeha understanding than about maori deceit.