Monday, December 18, 2023

Peter Williams: Te Papa protest illogical

And where was security?

Here’s the first thing that came to mind after the news that protestors had been abseiling inside Te Papa and defaced the Treaty of Waitangi exhibit.

How the hell can you walk into a place like Te Papa, home to millions of dollars of valuable exhibits, with abseiling equipment and start climbing down a wall?

Have Te Papa management not heard of a thing called security? And even if there were no security guards on the door, as there should be, then what about the people at reception? Did no one have the presence of mind to ask what the hell was going on?

I mean, it’s almost like the staff at Te Papa condoned the protest.

And then once the protest was underway, how long did it take for staff to call police and how long for police to get there?

You get the feeling that there was, and is, not much urgency. The boss of Museums Aotearoa Adele Fitzpatrick says she doesn’t favour increased spending on security at the country’s museums and art galleries.

It all seems a laissez faire attitude, one that she may well come to regret as Māori activism becomes more prevalent.

At least she has the good grace to acknowledge that the exhibit which was vandalized is important.

As Ms Fitzpatrick says “it’s a mistake to ignore parts of our history because we don’t like it now or because it’s painful now.”

But the protestors claims are utterly illogical. They say that just the te reo version, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is the only legal document and that The Treaty, as displayed at Te Papa, is not a translation of Te Tiriti.

But hang on. How could that be?

In February 1840, James Busby and William Hobson did not write a treaty in te reo. They wrote it in English. It was then translated by missionaries Henry Williams and his son Edward. Hobson, as the Queen’s representative, signed both the English and te reo versions.

Māori chiefs signed only the te reo version.

Hobson made a mistake in signing something he did not completely understand – the te reo version - but the point is there were two versions of the document in 1840, and one surely has as much validity as the other.

(Just what is the original English version of the Treaty remains debatable. A piece of paper with an 1833 watermark was discovered in Auckland in 1989. It may or not be the version that Busby wrote for Hobson to sign and Williams to translate. Many questions remain about copies of the Treaty written in freehand by Hobson’s secretary James Freeman. There is one school of thought that Freeman’s copies have emerged as the original English Treaty.)

But either way the claims of these protestors the other day are irrational.

The problem with the Treaty/Tiriti has always been the translation.

The Waitangi Tribunal even went so far as to get a distinguished Maori scholar of the time, Sir Hugh Kawaharu, to back-translate Te Tiriti from the reo in 1986.

He translated the preamble to say “chiefs will agree to the Queens’s Government being established over all parts of this land” and then in Article 1 “the chiefs give absolutely to the Queen of England forever the complete government over their land.”

If that’s not clear enough listen to the words of Tamati Waka Nene, a signatory at Waitangi in 1840, speaking at the Kohimarama Conference in 1860.

“Therefore, my friends, do I say, let this Governor be our Governor, and this Queen our Queen. Let us accept this Governor, as a Governor for the whole of us. Let me tell you, ye assembled tribes, I have but one Governor. Let this Governor be a King to us. Listen again, ye people! When the Governor came here, he brought with him the Word of God by which we live; and it is through the teaching of that Word that we are able to meet together this day, under one roof. Therefore, I say, I know no Sovereign but the Queen, and I never shall know any other. I am walking by the side of the Pakeha.”

The problem for revisionist historians at the Waitangi Tribunal and at universities is that there is ample evidence in the country’s archives to prove that Māori chiefs knew very well what they were signing in 1840, and what they confirmed twenty years later, and they did cede government of the country to the Queen of England.

There has been a long march through the educational institutions of the country for at least quarter of a century on matters pertaining to the Treaty of Waitangi. That’s why the protests the other day seemed to garner a certain level of public sympathy.

One wonders if that trend can ever be reversed.

It needs to, otherwise a 50 year old grievance industry will never end and the abseilers will come calling at Te Papa again.

Peter Williams was a writer and broadcaster for half a century. Now watching from the sidelines. Peter blogs regularly on Peter’s Substack - where this article was sourced.


Anonymous said...

39 Maori Chiefs from Waikato, signed one version of the Treaty written in English. All the rest signed copies translated into Maori. Hobson’s signatures on various copies were said to have been forged by someone else, or done using his left hand, after he suffered a stroke and lost use of his right arm. As far as Maori ceding governing to the Crown, I have never heard the role of the Sovereign’s representative called, The Co-Governor General, have you?

Anonymous said...

There are only 2 authentic ‘non biased’ documents available that allow us to know what was written into the ONLY Treaty (de facto the treaty) known as Te Tiriti o Waitangi signed and dated on the 6th February 1840.
1. James Busby’s Final English Draft written on the 4th February 1840 and
2. Mr T E Young’s official government 1869 back-translation of the Maori text into English.

Freeman had taken it upon himself to also forward over to Maunsell a ruined copy of one of his "Formal Royal Style" versions in English. Earmarked for overseas dispatch only, it had been ruined when Hobson had attempted a "left-handed" signature at the height of his stroke (between the 1st and 4th of March).

It was unprecedented to even suggest that an English-language version could ever be proffered to the chiefs to sign, as all treaty meetings were only ever conducted in the Maori language. This explains why an official, printed Maori-language text was sent at the same time. Sending Maunsell a printed Maori-language sheet worked as a stop-gap measure and, ultimately, a saving-grace when Maunsell's official, government-issued, hand-written, Maori-language sheet was delayed by 3-days in getting to him before his treaty assembly.

With Hobson being ill upon arrival in New Zealand and severely incapacitated by a paralytic stroke only 3-weeks after stepping ashore, many administrative blunders occurred in the first weeks or months. Not least amongst these displays of "functionary ineptitude or incompetence" was the careless production of many varied English renditions of the Treaty (Formal Royal Style versions, used only in overseas dispatches).

On April 11th, 1840, Maunsell stood before 1500 Maori gathered in for a business hui at Port Waikato and read the official and solitary, Maori-language treaty to the assembly. He was obliged to work from the "printed Maori-language sheet" produced on the CMS Mission press by Reverend William Colenso (mission printer) on the 17th of February 1840.

The chiefs were later invited to sign the treaty, so the most senior of them in the Port Waikato area came forward first and signed the printed-Maori sheet. However, there was only sufficient space at the bottom of the page for 5 signatures.

Whatever signatures would not fit onto the printed-Maori text document, were allowed to overflow onto the "Formal Royal Style" sheet Freeman had sent over to Maunsell (accompanied by the printed-Maori sheet) before HMS Herald set sail from the Waitemata after the March 4th meeting there.

Hobson later accepted Maunsell's, two-part, "make-do" document and acknowledged the wishes of the Waikato Chiefs, whom he knew had heard and understood the official Maori Treaty wording presented to them by Maunsell.

This same "make-do" document was used again by Symonds in his 26th of April meeting at Manukau Heads (his third attempt at getting signatures there). He had, by this time, forwarded the "official Maori-language, hand-written, document" that he was supposed to use at all of his treaty-assembly meetings on to Reverend John Whitely at Kawhia.

Despite deliberate attempts by the grievance-industry to give the wrong impression, all treaty meetings in the Manukau - Port Waikato areas were conducted correctly in the Maori language and the chiefs signed according to what they heard and understood in their own tongue. The Formal Royal Style, English version, placed on the table that day, was used only to catch overflow signatures that would not fit on the printed-Maori sheet. Nothing more. It was merely a surplus piece of paper with plenty of room on it to receive the overflow signatures.

Later, the printed Maori sheet, with the Formal Royal style version sitting behind it, were glued together with wax to become one document and Hobson added a waxen seal to render Maunsell's "make-do", Maori language treaty "official".

Anonymous said...

Good on Maunsell for managing an otherwise awkward situation where willing signatories may otherwise have been turned away.

In the days where paper was a restricted resource and there were no modern communications Maunsell faced a challenge and he overcame it.

How unpleasant that today activists say that the signing by the 39 in an exigency is now deemed supreme over the signings of all others.