How the Maori lost their land
New Zealand in focus ⬿

How the Maori lost their land

Support our journalism. Become a Patron!
March 12, 2007

How the Maori lost their land
Kalisto Vunidilo,
March 12, 2007

The first two articles (FT 30/01 and 10/02) provided enough footing and directions into the subject of indigenous issues, specifically on the fate of indigenous people in developed and developing countries. This article will outline some background into the challenges and frustrations facing native people in developed nations with the case study of the Maori

Oral history and legends explain how the Land of the Long White Clouds’ Aotearoa was first inhabited by seafaring Polynesians from Hawaiki (Hawaii) who later called themselves as Maoriori.

Later, a second and third wave of migration to Aotearoa were by the more aggressive tribe (Maori) who later arrived by their waka, and inhabited the main North and South Island now called New Zealand.

These native people thrive by subsistence economies like fishing, hunting, gathering and collecting from the available resources from the environment.

Even before Captain James Cook declared Aotearoa under the dominion of Britain, explorers from Spain, France and Portugal had already traded goods with the native Maori in the early 18th Century.

Later, as a result of Captain Cook’s positive report about New Zealand and the abundance of resources, there was an exponential increase in migration and permanent settlement by British people.

Apart from the economic recession in Europe at the time, Britain was at its prime as the imperial world power, imposing its foreign policy throughout the Pacific to acquire resources and control.

The Treaty of Waitangi, which was equivalent to the Deed of Cession in Fiji, was forcefully signed by just a handful of Maori chiefs in 1840 and by British subjects, the representatives of the Queen, including missionaries.

The treaty was very deceptive to all Maori chiefs as they were translated by foreigners with contrasting values and cultures.

The indigenous people believed that in good faith they were locked up in an arrangement governed and legally politicised by State apparatus making them prisoners in their own country.

In Maoridom, most believed that the missionaries who should defend the poor and the weak failed to translate the legal implications and meaning of the Treaty articles.

Since missionaries were trusted by the local Maori chiefs as mediators and were fluent in both languages, they messed up the arrangements by not alerting them in advance of its implications.

However, one has to understand that there was an increase in lawlessness and horrendous killings by both parties in those early days and everyone was hoping to get the treaty signed so as to provide an amicable and peaceful solution.

Let me shed some insight into the content of the Treaty of Waitangi. There were many theories and interpretations of the treaty by Maori tribes and Pakeha alike. However, the most common knowledge was that the Treaty of Waitangi was divided into three articles.

The Maori translation of the first article states that “the chiefs, including those who had not joined the confederation, gave absolutely to the Queen of England forever the complete government of their land”.

However the English version states that “the confederation of Maori chiefs, including those who had not joined the confederation, ceded to her majesty absolute and without reservation all rights and power of sovereignty, which the said confederation of chiefs respectively exercised or possessed over their respective territories as the sole sovereign thereof”.

The Maori version of the treaty recognises the Queen as the sovereign head of the State in terms of governance and protection of their land and resources under the law but not as the English interpretation of the first article.

In the Fijian case, the Native Land Trust Act set up by Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna and the Fijian chiefs have some similar characteristics in providing protection, governance and guardianship of indigenous native land and resources but not as legal owners of these territorial possessions.

The English translation provides a contrasting perception and has detrimental legal implications to Maoridom today.

Their translation clearly says that sovereignty, including all the rights and powers over their respective territories, was reserved for the Queen of England.

It simply means that ownership and power of possession over all Maori chiefs, their people and territory “belongs to the sovereign Queen of England who over-rules the British Empire”.

It seems that the chiefs signed because they believed the treaty would help them keep their mana and the British Crown would have the power of governorship.

However, they did not realise that once Aotearoa became a colony, it automatically became a British subject or possession and British law and order would simultaneously apply to all Maori as well as Europeans.

The Maori translation of the second article clarified that “the chiefs, sub-tribes and all the people of New Zealand (including European settlers) will be provided unqualified protection by Her Majesty the Queen over their land, villages and their treasures”.

But, on the other hand, the confederation of chiefs will sell land to the Queen at a price agreed to by the person owning it and by the agent of the Queen.

The English version uses some very deceptive phrases such as “exclusive rights of pre-emption”, which meant that the crown had the sole right to buy any land the Maori wanted to sell. The third article of the treaty gave consideration for the British crown to provide protection to Maori and the same rights as duties of citizenship as the people of England.

The European interpretation meant that the crown would enforce its traditional social systems of law and order onto the new colony. On the other hand, the Maori thought the British law would settle conflicts and lawlessness of British settlers.

Since very few Maori understood the wording of the treaty and its interpretation, the missionaries were used in the wording of the Waitangi Treaty, which will provide some very interesting case studies and its long-term implications in my next article.

THE opinion is the personal view of Kali Vunidilo, who completed a Masters degree at Waikato University last year, specialising in indigenous research and sustainable development. He is a landowner of Namosi.


We're fighting for our lives

Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.

independent uncompromising indigenous
Except where otherwise noted, articles on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons License