It is a pretty obvious fact that the meanings of words may change over time – even if we discount the argot of the young – you know - “a cool chick”, “a joint”. New ideas, new technology, need words to describe them. So picture the Maoris of New Zealand, eastern Polynesians isolated for millennia in a Stone Age culture, when they observed the diversity of material wealth of the Europeans who came to our shores. They needed words for it. And so: Taonga:
In 1820: “property procured by the spear” - Hongi Hika in Lee and Kendall’s Maori dictionary – from “tao” - a spear.
In 1831: “possessions/property” - “nothing but timber, flax, pork and potatoes”[i] - 13 Ngapuhi chiefs writing to King William.
About 1840: “goods, property” - Frederick E Maning[ii].
In 1844: “property” - William Williams - “A dictionary of the Language of New Zealand”[iii].
!n 1957: Williams’ dictionary, 6th edition: “property; anything highly prized”.
In 1992: “the Maori language (te reo Maori) was a ... treasure (taonga) - Robin Cooke, Court of Appeal judgment. Cooke also said the Crown [guaranteed] undisturbed possession of the language to Maori” (!!)[iv]
In 1994: “the treaty word taonga meant ‘treasures’, that the Maori language was one such treasure” - Privy Council[v].
In 1997: Hugh Kawharu: “As submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal concerning the Maori language have made clear, ‘taonga’ refers to all dimensions of a tribal group’s estate, material and non-material – heirlooms and wahi tapu (sacred places), ancestral lore and whakapapa (genealogies) etc.”[vi]
Note the remorseless widening of meaning over the years – but only its 1840 meaning applies in the Treaty. As Wikipedia states: “The current definition differs from the historical definition.”
It was an entirely natural extension of the meaning of “taonga” in the few years before 1840 to include European material goods such as blankets, iron cooking pots and steel knives, collectively chattels or ordinary property as indeed recorded by Williams in 1844. It was certainly not before 1852 that any extension of its meaning was recorded and even one hundred years later it did not include “treasure”. That has not stopped all manner of people claiming in the free-for-all since the Waitangi Tribunal was set up that its meaning is “treasure”, including within that everything “material and non-material” for which they might claim some financial benefit or other advantage. When they succeed, the taxpayers of New Zealand are defrauded.
A flagrant case was when a sick old Maori man was declined an organ transplant on medical grounds since his feeble state of general health made it unlikely that he would get any benefit from it. His family and associates thereupon jumped up and down, claiming that he was a “taonga” which the treaty promised to protect and therefore that it was obligatory upon the hospital to make the transplant. Weakly the authorities caved in, he received the transplant and within a few months he was dead of other causes. Of course, the consequence was that another patient to whom the transplant would have given a real benefit was denied it.
Another demand was for a share of the electromagnetic spectrum – and Maori broadcasting rights – notwithstanding that it had not even been discovered in 1840. It was asserted that as Polynesian navigators had found their way using the stars which did indeed emit rays from a section of the spectrum, it was indeed a prized possession – a “taonga”. Whether any 1840 Maori could have used stellar navigation was beside the point.
One Ngahiwi Apanui of the Maori Language Commission claims[vii] that: “In fact, [the Maori language] is a taonga protected by article two of the Treaty of Waitangi because that is exactly what the Maori Language Act 2016 (section 8 (g)) says it is.” This is a flagrant example of retrospective legislation which grossly distorts the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Examples such as these would be laughable in any society except the bemused state of New Zealand today, with greedy opportunists capitalizing on Government weakness and ignorance and taxpayer apathy. This pantomime continues with noisy claims to water. Rebuffed on that one, tribal activists have now got a share in water management through the flagrantly racist provisions of the amended Resource Management Act with, no doubt, handsome emoluments for self-appointed tribal bigwigs.
The presence of the magical word “taonga” in the Treaty of Waitangi is immediately chanted to justify any claim and it almost always works. This is flagrant abuse of the provision of the Treaty in which Article second assured rights to property to “tangata katoa o Nu Tirani”, that is “all the people of New Zealand”, without distinction.
In its report on Wai262, the Tribunal said: “A list of taonga species was prepared, but this did no more than record all of the species for which claims of special relationship were made. We accepted for the purposes of our inquiry that taonga species are what claimant communities say they are.”[viii] Well, the Tribunal can prepare any list of “taonga species” it likes but this has nothing to do with the Treaty.
There is a fundamental flaw. The only valid interpretation of any aged document is that made using the meaning of words at the time it was executed. Any claim to alleged “taonga” except one based on its 1840 meaning of ordinary domestic property is false, often fraudulent.
When visiting the south, Sonny Tau, Ngapuhi runanga chairman, obtained five corpses of our beautiful native pigeons and decided to take them home for an illicit feast. Unluckily for him, he was detected with this pitiable cargo on the way and duly appeared in court. Very properly the law which gives absolute protection to our pigeons overrode his bogus defence that they were “taonga” to which he was guaranteed by the Treaty and he was duly convicted and his booty confiscated.
Demands to “harvest” our pigeons seem to be never-ceasing, while illicit poaching in Northland has led to the deduction that they will be extinct there within a decade or two. As a couple usually rear only one chick a year, this is entirely credible. To I who have seen a magical flock of eight or nine (as they rarely flock) flying over Banks Peninsula or a couple performing aerobatics in my own garden, or their antics when intoxicated on fermented berries in Stewart Island, this would be tragic indeed.
Thus we have the claim of that notably extreme racist, Margaret Mutu who describes anybody who is not Maori, including presumably her own Scottish forebears, as “guests” here: “To deny a Maori [a pigeon] is no different from denying Pakeha bread. [Pigeons] are part of the staple diet. They are what I expect to see on the table when I go to the local marae.”[ix]
That this supposedly educated woman should spout such corrupt nonsense is hard to believe. Is there never a loaf of bread on her own table?
It was another academic, Len Gillman of the Auckland University of Technology who said in the “NZ Herald”: “as a taonga (cultural treasure), tangata whenua are guaranteed full possession of kereru under the Treaty of Waitangi. Full possession implies ongoing rights of harvest, and so many assert that the Treaty imparts a right to harvest the bird in spite of legislation to the contrary.”[x]
It would be hard to find a more brazen distortion of what the Treaty actually said than this and that a national newspaper publishes it uncritically says something of concern about the press in this country.
I wrote to Gillman and the “Herald” the same day to say: "Nowhere does the Treaty of Waitangi mention "tangata whenua" and in 1840, "taonga" meant blankets and cooking pots, not our beautiful kereru. So a claim that anybody is entitled to "harvest" them (Herald, 16/8/16) is a blatant falsehood. I weep for these beautiful and innocent birds." This was ignored.
I copied my letter to John Maasland, chancellor of the university, Derek McCormack, vice-chancellor and Paul Moon, (no relation), a professor of history in the university. Maasland and McCormack also ignored me – twice – presumably in the belief that a nobody like me would duly go away. Well this nobody won’t. Their lack of concern about a gross falsehood spouted by a senior staff member, presumably under the umbrella of “academic freedom”, tells its own story.
Paul Moon did reply, even calling Gillman “prescient”[xi] and dismissing my observation that “tangata whenua” are not mentioned in the Treaty. [Not even “whenua” is mentioned – only “wenua” - so much for “Whanganui”!]
He went on “ As for the definition of ‘taonga’, this encompasses much more than possessions or property. However, notwithstanding your knowledge of Te Reo Maori in 1840, the text of the Treaty itself annuls your argument. Article the Second guarantees to Maori ‘the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties [taonga]’. If fisheries are a class of taonga, then there is no logical basis to exclude birds as a similar class of taonga. Moreover, there are centuries-old traditions in Maori society which reveal kereru were regarded at times as a form of property or possession, and as a cultural treasure, as Professor Gillman rightly points out. Articles 31 to 33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties are instructive on general matters of interpretation such as this.
Hopefully this offers some clarification, and disabuses you of the notion that you have encountered a ‘wall of silence’ or a ‘conspiracy of silence’ as you put it.
Now learned discourse this may be but though he claims to do so, he does not quote the Treaty but the pompous English version concocted by Freeman to send to worthies overseas and only used as the second page of the agreement signed at Waikato Heads for an overflow of chiefs’ signatures. Paul Moon knows all this, because Martin Doutré who did brilliant forensic work to determine it, certainly explained it to him in detail, so why did he write as he did? “Forests and Fisheries” occurs nowhere in the Treaty and neither “Maori” nor any synonym for it occurs in Article second..[xiii] Moreover there is not a whiff of “centuries-old traditions in Maori society” in the Treaty nor any recorded discussion at the time. Treaties are not about “traditions” or “cultural treasure”.
Does Paul Moon imagine that I would fall for his twisted tale? Readers may form their own conclusions.
Moon replied finally on 7th September: “this argument has probably run its course”
Well, it hasn’t. Such manipulation of the truth by Cooke and incompetence of the Privy Council in failing to do the requisite research before pronouncing judgment are a disgrace. So is Kawharus’s “presentism” in pretending that “taonga” meant “all dimensions of a tribal group’s estate, material and non-material – heirlooms and wahi tapu (sacred places), ancestral lore and whakapapa (genealogies) etc.” in the Treaty. His gross distortion of what was agreed in it was a confidence trick imposed upon “tangata katoa o Nu Tirani” - all the people of New Zealand. As Hampton commented “the fact is that the taonga industry was founded on myth”.[xiv]
Post Script: And the treaty-twisters carry on apace. This, we have this rubbish from Victor Goldsmith, a spokesman for Miere Working Group, which looks out for Maori rights: “the change also breached article two of the Treaty because the manuka flower was a taonga to Maori.”[xv] Now whatever the opinion of any Maori, then or now, the manuka flower was not a taonga in 1840, since taonga included then little more than property procured by the spear, as Hongi had made clear not long before and that is all that counts.(23/1/18)
[i] John Ansell, “New Zealand Voice”, February 2017, p. 24
[ii] Quoted by Denis Hampton, “The Rev. Williams got it right back in 1844”, Otago Daily Times, 7th May 2004
[iii] Successive editions were in 1852, 1871, 1892, 1915, 1957 and 2003. The sixth edition, (1957) initiated by Sir Apirana Ngata before his death gives for “taonga” : “property; anything highly prized”
[iv] Denis Hampton, op.cit,
[v] Denis Hampton, op.cit,
[vi] Ian Hugh Kawharu, “Kāwanatanga – Māori engagement with the state”, J Polynesian Society, 101,2, (1992), P.112
[vii] Ngahiwi Apanui, Letter, “Dominion Post”, 18th February 2017
[viii] Te Taumata Tuaroa Volume 1 (Wai 262) page 114):
[ix] Margaret Mutu, “Forest and Bird”, November 1995, quoted by David Round, “Truth or Treaty?”, Canterbury UP, 1998
[x] Len Gillman, “NZ Herald”, 16th August 2016
[xi] Concise O.E.D.:”Having foreknowledge or foresight”
[xii] Paul Moon, email to me, 27th August 2106
[xiii] William Hobson, final draft of the treaty, 4th February 1840, Article second: “The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the chiefs & tribes and to all the people of New Zealand the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property”, translated that night by Henry and Edward Williams to: “Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangatira ki nga hapu ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa.”.
[xiv] Denis Hampton, op.cit,
[xv] Brittany Baker, “Waikato Times”, 25/1/18