Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Bruce Moon: A Tale of Two Words

“When I use a word”,  Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less” ... “The question is ... which is to be master – that’s all.”
-Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”, 27.12.1871 

Well, let us move back just forty years to the petition of thirteen Ngapuhi chiefs to King William IV: “we pray thee to become our friend and the guardian of these islands.”

 And so, nine years later, Captain William Hobson arrived in these islands with the Queen’s commission to do so, providing that “the free intelligent consent of the natives, expressed according to their established usages, shall first be obtained.”[i]

In due course, on 5th February 1840, at Waitangi, Hobson presented his proposal to a great assembly of chiefs and others, saying: “Her Majesty ... wishing to do good to the chiefs and people of New Zealand ... has sent me to this place as governor.  But, as the law of England gives no civil powers to Her Majesty out of her dominions, her efforts to do you good  will be futile unless you consent.”[ii]  His words were translated to the Ngapuhi dialect of Maori by missionary Henry Williams, a veteran of seventeen years as a missionary.  In short – it was all or nothing.

Now clearly something more permanent than verbal consent was necessary and so on the preceding day Hobson had drafted a written agreement in English with the assistance of James Busby as his scribe and James Clendon who provided paper, ink and a suitable place to work at his spacious home at Point Omata.  At four o’clock that afternoon Hobson took this draft in English across the water to Williams at Paihia, requesting him to provide a written translation to Maori for discussion at the meeting organized for the next morning.  Williams, assisted by his son Edward, a scholar without peer[iii] in the Maori language, set to work. Now herein lies the problem so well stated by E.J. Wakefield.  “[The chiefs] own language wanted the most important words expressive of its purpose, such as ‘independence’, ‘sovereignty’, ... and even a name for the country.”[iv]

So for “sovereignty” the Williams composed “kawanatanga” which to even the most ignorant  comprises a maorification of “governor” with the suffix meaning “-ship” and that was what the chiefs ceded completely and forever to the Queen by Article first of the agreement which they signed.  All well and good and it is absolutely clear that in their words on the day and in their stated assurances at Kohimarama some years later, they ceded to her such sovereignty as each possessed and they knew it.  Then how come that today’s pseudo-scholars and less than objective bodies such as the Waitangi Tribunal flatly deny it?  Because, gentle reader, they fail to understand that derivation is not the same as translation and I could provide dozens of examples from many languages to show it.

But pressing on, as they do from their false claims about Article first, our pseudo-scholars spot “tino rangatiratanga” in Article second, but they fail to spot that to which none are so blind as those who do not want to see!  Whatever Article second promised, it promised to all the people of New Zealand – “tangata katoa o Nu Tirani” – and “all” means “all” despite the claims of Paul Moon, (not a relation) that the phrase “all the people of New Zealand – in the setting of 1840, would simply be another way of referring to Maori ... It does not apply to Europeans”.  Now, in view of the impending arrival of considerable numbers of European settlers under the auspices of the New Zealand Company,[v] what Moon says[vi] is simply nonsense.

But that does not stop our latter day brown revisionists and their white fellow-travellers!  For a start, we had Hugh Kawharu proclaiming that “tino rangatiratanga” means “highest chieftainship”.[vii] Now the rangatiras were simply not the highest level of chiefs, probably just one level above the common people, the “ariki” ranking considerably higher. Perhaps they approximated to the squires in an old English setting.[viii] As has been said: “we find three orders who rise in graduated distinction above the common people.  These orders are, beginning with the lowest,[ix] rungateedas, ...”[x]

To Wikipedia: “Tino rangatiratanga  is often translated as "absolute sovereignty".

To the Maori Dictionary: it is: “self-determination, sovereignty, autonomy, self-government, domination, rule, control, power.”

To Joshua Hitchcock in “Spinoff”: how is tino rangatiratanga, guaranteed to us under article two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, being practiced by Māori as a means of expressing our inherent sovereignty over our whenua, kainga, and taonga?  The idea of tino rangatiratanga is that as Māori we are in charge of our land, our resources, and our aspirations. It is about Māori acting with authority and independence over our own affairs. Tino rangatiratanga is a practice: living according to our tikanga, and striving wherever possible to ensure that the homes, land, and resources guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi are protected for the use and enjoyment of future generations. It is about ensuring that our communities are healthy, well-educated, and can live a good life. Prior to British settlement, rangatiratanga was all encompassing. Rangatira were responsible for the health and wellbeing of their hapū, and had abundant resources to provide this.

Wow!  That lot would certainly have surprised Hobson, given his celebrated remark “He iwi tahi tatou” - “We are one people now!”

Hitchcock is right about just one thing: that by Article second, “homes, land, and resources [are] guaranteed to us under Te Tiriti o Waitangi” but “us” means all of us, “tangata katoa o Nu Tirani”.  Get that Mr Hitchcock and your buddies?

To summarise: “tino rangatiratanga” says simply nothing about sovereignty which was treated in Article first.  It is about ordinary possession of property by individuals, a concept quite foreign to Maori tribal practice as anybody who has read F.E.Maning’s book[xi] would surely know. 

We may note even further that while it may serve to give emphasis, Article second was virtually redundant, save for its provision for the sale of Maori land included for their protection.  Existing British subjects had the stated rights already and all Maoris, including their many slaves were granted them by Article third.

The later fate of “tino rangatiratanga”.

Well, by May 1840, when Hobson formally proclaimed British sovereignty over the islands of New Zealand with the ardent support of the vast majority of Maori chiefs, the “Treaty of Waitangi” had done its job.  At that stage it could and indeed should have become a simple footnote to history.  But no!  There has arisen a multitude of latter-day revisionists both white and brown, prepared to continue milking it for all it is alleged to be worth.

So what about “tino rangatiratanga”?  Well, it fell almost completely out of use!!! 

It was Parkinson[xii] who noted that: “Kawharu’s mistranslation of ‘tino rangatiratanga’ as ‘the unqualified exercise of chieftainship’[xiii] is not merely erroneous but preposterous.  It was made explicit from the start of the Governorship that chieftainship ‑ or ‘the power of the chiefs’ ­‑ was qualified, to prohibit certain traditional usages (slavery, cannibalism, etc.) which were deemed intolerable by the Crown.”  Parkinson observed further that the phrase “tino rangatira” never really became common usage, “a single late and remarkable exception” being its use amongst many others as a title for Queen Victoria in a petition by some Rotorua residents. ... That the Queen herself could be addressed as ‘the tino rangatira’ by Maori tends to show that activist appropriation of the term in the 1980s and following rests on unstable ground.”  Durie (quoted by Parkinson) also acknowledged that “there is, then, no single definition of tino rangatiratanga and little comfort can be derived from linguistic origins or simplistic notions about an 1840 understanding of sovereignty.”  We may thus dismiss completely today’s many strident claims that “tino rangatiratanga” means “Maori sovereignty” or anything like it.

Anyway, three bright women proceeded to design a “tino rangatiratanga” or “absolute sovereignty” flag.  And John Key who sneakily sent Pita Sharples to sign the UN “Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People”, which Helen Clark has refused to do, also authorised the flying of this flag from Auckland Harbour Bridge and his official residence on Waitangi Day, 2009.  And all these modern Humpty Dumptys continue to shout “Maori sovereignty” and wave their flag whenever they get a chance.  It is high time surely that every single one of them “had a great fall”.


[i]Lord Normanby’s written instructions to Hobson, 14 August 1839.

[ii]    W.Colenso,

[iii]facile princeps” according to his brother-in law, H. F. Carleton

[iv]Wakefield referred to the earlier so-called “Declaration of Independence”. His observation was still valid in 1840!

[v]Indeed the first contingent of New Zealand Company settlers had arrived in Wellington a week before Hobson’s arrival in the Bay of Islands though he was probably unaware of it. (Hence Wellington Anniversary Day precedes that of Auckland by one week!)

[vi]Quoted by Doutré, “The Littlewood Treaty”, ISBN 0-473-10140-8, 2005, p.147.

[vii]H. Kawharu, 1989.  It is Kawharu’s translation with its many flaws (e.g. its grossly false definition of “taonga”), which is used today for “Cabinet guidance”.

[viii]To F.E.Maning a “rangatira”  was “a chief, a gentleman, a warrior”. “Old New Zealand” (1863), p.236.

[ix]Emphasis in the original.

[x]J.Laurie, J.Polynesian Soc., iii, No.3, 2002, quoting J.L.Nicholas, “Narrative of a voyage to New Zealand”, 1817

[xi]F.E.Maning, op.cit

[xii]P.Parkinson, ‘“Preserved in the Archives of the Colony”: the English drafts of the Treaty of Waitangi’.

[xiii]H. Kawharu, op.cit.

Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote "Real Treaty; False Treaty - The True Waitangi Story".

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