Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.
History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.
Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.
Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.
The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.
Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.
Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.
In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.
Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.
The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.
Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.
A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.
Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.
As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:
Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.
Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.
Mikaere has argued that:
It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.
It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.
Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.
Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.
Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.
Commemorations of Captain James Cook’s 1769/70 Pacific voyage began late last year in New Zealand, marking the first encounters between Māori and Cook’s crew 250 years ago.
A flotilla of traditional twin-hulled ocean voyaging vessels and tall ships, including a replica of Cook’s Endeavour, sailed along the coast for more than two months as part of Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events framed around New Zealand’s voyaging heritage.
The events have polarised many communities. Māori in several areas protested, while others took part enthusiastically. The community to which I belong – Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne and Ngāti Apa – made up the latter.
For us, Tuia 250 was about many things, but least of all about James Cook. We inverted the “Cookfest” in the same way our ancestors took European technologies and put them to customary use.
Insight into our world
My ancestors were present in Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound, at the top of the South Island, when James Cook arrived in 1770. Fifty years later, the area was invaded by tribes from the north, armed with muskets.
The inter-tribal conflicts that occurred in New Zealand during the 1820s and 1830s are known as the “musket wars”. While the weapon technology was new, the causes for conflict between tribes were customary and many were settled in accordance with custom, primarily through marriage.
The musket wars led up to 1840, the year tribal chiefs and representatives of the Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi. By then, the geo-political situation in the northern South Island was quite different from 1770.
I mention these events – Cook’s expeditions, the musket wars and the treaty – because they have framed our historical experience and influence our contemporary response. When the government announced its plans for Tuia 250, we saw an opportunity to revisit the past, re-imagining it in order to create a new reality in the present.
We knew that our ancestors had met Cook, but more importantly, they had established a relationship with Tupaia, the Ra’iātean navigator who had joined the expedition in Tahiti. The intensity of that relationship is reflected in the lament composed by our ancestors when they heard of Tupaia’s death.
Custom goes to court
The muskets wars certainly influenced the history of the northern South Island. From that point on the area was occupied by new tribes whose “take whenua” (occupation rights) were based on “raupatu” (conquest). But my tribal community soon faced a far more formidable opponent – the Crown and British settlers.
Following the signing of the treaty, the Crown imposed its native policy. Fundamentally this meant relieving Māori of their “idle” lands. Through the Native Land Court system, judges were asked to determine who held rights to certain areas according to native custom. Despite having heard evidence from my tribes, the court decided that they had been conquered and had therefore lost their rights to land they claimed through “take tupuna” (ancestry).
These issues were revisited 110 years later. The Waitangi Tribunal, a specialist commission of inquiry, found that Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne and Ngāti Apa had retained rights following the invasion and that the Crown had failed them. The Crown subsequently apologised and compensated the tribes in 2014.
All of these factors influenced why and how my tribes engaged with Tuia 250. The fact that the flotilla included voyagers from East Polynesia reminded us of the relationship our ancestors forged with Tupaia 250 years earlier. Cultural imperatives demanded that our guests be received in an appropriate manner.
The events following Cook’s arrival and the musket wars were significant but did not constrain the aspirations of coming generations. The boundaries that were later imposed on us through Crown policy were both artificial and ultimately temporary.
Few people had the opportunity to witness the pōhiri (traditional welcome) for the flotilla at Meretoto/Ships Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound last November. It was an interesting example of custom whereby tribal leaders worked to accommodate each other’s cultural practices.
Despite a history of conflict and ongoing disputes, the pōhiri demonstrated that Māori are also pragmatic and search for solutions that maintain the mana (status, authority) of all – at least on this occasion.
Tuia 250 also showed that Māori history continues to unfold, both in relation to the Pākehā (non-Maori) world, and independent of it. With the government’s recent announcement that New Zealand history will be made compulsory in schools, it will be interesting to see how these diverse realities are incorporated into the curriculum.
Another theme of Tuia 250 is the notion of shared futures. The rekindling of a relationship that began 250 years ago was strengthened through the retelling of oral traditions, and the creation of new ones. This was a reminder that we are a Pacific island nation and our shared future is here, not in London or Whitby.
It was one of the most brutal events in New Zealand’s past. Government troops marched into Parihaka and took control of the settlement. They systematically destroyed the community’s ability to sustain itself, suspending the ordinary course of law and imprisoning people without trial for participating in what was a justified act of non-violent resistance.
While it is important that we apologise and reconcile, it is equally important that we learn from the experience so it is never repeated. This is why I have looked back at how law has been wrongfully applied as an instrument of power to crush non-violent dissent.
This story began in 1866 when Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi established a settlement at Parihaka on land confiscated by the government in the 1860s as a penalty against “rebels” in the Taranaki wars. Te Whiti and Tohu began to develop a community which adopted non-violent measures to resist further land loss. It quickly grew to more than 2,000 inhabitants.
Accordingly, after surveyors failed to mark out reserves promised to Māori in southern Taranaki, in March 1879 Te Whiti ordered the surveyors to be peacefully evicted. In May of the same year, followers of Te Whiti and Tohu began to plough land across the disputed areas, as an assertion of their rights to it. By the end of July, 182 ploughmen had been arrested.
Worst land laws in NZ’s history
The government responded in early August with the Māori Prisoner Trials Acts. This enabled their continued imprisonment “for offences against public order” until a date was set for their trial.
The crime of removing survey pegs or ploughing was liable for a penalty of up to two years in jail. The date for trial was continually postponed and the numbers continued to build up. Between July and September 1880, 223 more Māori were arrested for placing fences across the road in an attempt to protect their cultivations.
Only 59 fencers received a trial, but all were sent hundreds of kilometres away to prisons in the South Island. In late July, a new Māori Prisoners Act of 1880 deemed it lawful to hold people in custody. To avoid any confusion (or questioning of what was going on), a text was added that said:
All the said Natives so committed for and waiting trial … shall be deemed and taken to have been lawfully arrested and to be in lawful custody, and may be lawfully detained.
The West Coast Settlement Act 1880 allowed any armed constable to arrest without warrant anyone interfering with surveys, engaged in unlawful ploughing or fencing, or obstructing a road.
In 1881, a commission set up to examine the matter concluded that the Crown had failed to fulfil promises about Māori reserves. It recommended some be granted. The government started creating new reserves by late September 1881, but these were not returned to Māori outright and instead placed under the administration of a public trustee. Many were sold or leased in perpetuity by European farmers.
The new law did not resolve the situation. People in Parihaka continued to erect fences around traditional cultivation sites. The government decided to use direct action.
Fearing that the non-violent resistance was a prelude to armed conflict, the government called up 31 units of the volunteer militia and five companies of the armed constabulary and a naval brigade (655 troops and nearly 1,000 settler volunteers). They entered the site on November 5 1881.
The troops found the road blocked by 200 children singing songs. The troops carried groups of older girls off the road and finally met residents sitting in the centre of the marae (meeting area). After reading out the Riot Act and telling those gathered to disperse, some 1,600 Parihaka inhabitants were expelled and dispersed throughout Taranaki without food or shelter.
The remaining 600 residents were issued with government passes to control their movement. Soldiers then destroyed most of the buildings at Parihaka. The government issued an indemnity order for all of those acting on behalf of the Crown at Parihaka.
Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and charged with sedition for saying that “the land belongs to me”. They were held without trial for 16 months. With the West Coast Peace Preservation Act of 1882, the Crown decided not to prosecute the case, but the governor was given the right to retain them in custody, or free them with, or without, conditions if deemed necessary.
Local Māori were also prohibited from gathering in groups of more than 50. Anyone threatening to breach the peace could be jailed for 12 months.
In the heart of Takapuna, north-central Auckland, is a natural lake – Pupuke – while a little way offshore lies the volcanic Rangitoto Island. Long ago, a family of giants lived at Takapuna until one day, ill-advisedly, they insulted the irascible fire goddess Mahuika. Enraged, Mahuika tore a hole in the land where the giants lived, creating what became Lake Pupuke, dumping the material offshore to form Rangitoto Island.
Similar to other Maori stories about volcanic activity in New Zealand, this one is consistent with memories of the formation of Lake Pupuke and that of Rangitoto Island, the latter erupting into existence about AD 1312, perhaps just decades after people arrived in NZ.
Lake Pupuke formed far earlier, through a singular process involving liquid rock (magma) rising up through fissures in the earth’s crust until – close to the surface – it encountered bodies of cold groundwater. The juxtaposition of the cold and the extremely hot resulted in a spectacular explosion, splattering solidifying rock fragments into the air that settled to produce a ring of rock enclosing a crater.
These types of volcanoes are known as maars, after a German name given them in the Eifel Mountains where they are especially abundant. After maar craters form, most become filled with water, forming lakes like Lake Pupuke.
Many maars are polygenetic – they are sites of periodic volcanic activity – and it may well be that Lake Pupuke showed signs of activity at the same time as Rangitoto Island formed, leading Maori observers of the events to link them.
Since people arrived in Australia, maar volcanoes have erupted in both the southeast and the northeast of the country. Stories of these eruptions have been told, so convincingly that it is difficult to suppose they are not eyewitness accounts. As an example, the Dyirbal story of the formation of the Lake Eacham maar in Queensland recalls
The camping-place began to change, the earth under the camp roaring like thunder. The wind started to blow down, as if a cyclone were coming. The camping-place began to twist and crack. While this was happening there was in the sky a red cloud, of a hue never seen before. The people tried to run from side to side but were swallowed by a crack which opened in the ground.
Science shows us that Lake Eacham formed more than 9,000 years ago, meaning that the Dyirbal story is probably at least this old. Perhaps even older stories may apply to the formation of nearby Lakes Barrine and Euramoo.
Recent research has focused on ancient “maar stories” worldwide, highlighting their similarities but, most importantly, using these memorable events to illustrate the extraordinary longevity of human memories. Many maar stories must have endured for thousands of years, passed orally across hundreds of generations.
Some of the best-documented are those from the Lago Albano maar that towers above the Ciampino Plain, southeast of Rome (Italy). Formed maybe as recently as 8,000 years ago, stories about the Albano maar that were first written down about 2,000 years ago originated as oral traditions many millennia earlier.
Periodically, the Albano maar gurgles and moans as liquid rock and superheated water is shunted around within the Colli Albani volcano, of which it is part. Sometimes this causes the form of the maar crater to abruptly change shape, leading the lake to spill over its rim, events that flood the plains below.
About 2,400 years ago (in 398 BC), during a prolonged drought, there are records showing that the lake level rose slowly and calmly up to the crater rim. According to the account of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the pressure “carved out the gap between the mountains and poured a mighty river down over the plains lying below”.
To prevent such events reoccurring, the Romans built a tunnel through the Lago Albano crater wall, an incredible 70 metres below the rim, that can still be seen today. No-one seems entirely clear how this engineering feat was accomplished or whether, as some accounts hint, the tunnel simply re-excavated an Etruscan tunnel built centuries earlier!
And so to Mexico, the eastern part of which is bisected by the active Trans-Mexican Neovolcanic Belt, parts of which are peppered with maars. Of one, Aljojuca, the story goes that countless years ago during a prolonged drought, a cow belonging to a poor family went off wandering and, some days later returned home, its feet wet.
Following the cow’s footprints, the family located a “puddle” where today lies a maar crater with a lake (axalapaxco). The story may recall the formation of Aljojuca Maar more than seven millennia ago.
How many more ancient stories might there be hidden under our noses, within tales we have hitherto dismissed as myth? Should we continue to conveniently dismiss all these stories or would we gain something from treating them as accounts of memorable events, conveyed in the language of science as it was known thousands of years ago?
Patrick Nunn acknowledges his collaborators, Loredana Lancini and Rita Compatangelo-Soussignan (Le Mans Université, France) and Leigh Franks and Adrian McCallum (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia).
This week, New Zealand marked Waitangi Day, which commemorates the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The treaty allowed Britain to establish government over its settlers (Article One), guaranteed ongoing Māori authority over their own affairs (Article Two) and gave Māori the rights and privileges of British subjecthood, which over time has become New Zealand citizenship (Article Three).
The debate about the treaty’s precise meaning continues to this day. For some, it is a blueprint for constitutional order and justice. For others, a path to ethnic privilege – a Māori “birth right to the upper hand”. There are many interpretations in between and the treaty has important public policy significance.
Treaty debate focuses mostly on the agreement’s first two articles, and I argue that its third promise, of citizenship, is not getting enough attention. Discussions tend to place Māori and the Crown in a “them” and “us” binary, but citizenship means that Māori are also the Crown.
From subject to citizen
In 1840, British subjecthood was a limited promise. It contained few “rights and privileges”. There was certainly no right to participate in government. No expectation that one’s voice mattered.
But subjecthood evolved. In 1949, New Zealand citizenship became a legal category.
Citizenship is much more than the right to vote, receive a welfare benefit or go to school. It is a body of political capacities – the capacity to have a meaningful say in how society works. Not just in the decisions that governments make, but in working out the values that inform decision making.
In 2019, it competes with alternative possibilities for self-determination. For example, several iwi (Māori tribes) have received financial and land settlements in compensation for confiscations that breached the treaty’s promises. Māori language and culture are continuing to grow in strength. A better educated population and the continuation of intermarriage mean that this kind of biculturalism – a “them” and “us” worldview – provides an increasingly limited way of thinking about political possibilities. It stops people thinking about what it means to be a Māori citizen – what it means to help determine the ways in which the state works.
From biculturalism to binationalism
While the English version of the treaty’s first article surrendered Māori sovereignty to the British Crown, the Māori text (which was the signed document), used the term kāwanatanga (governorship). In 2014, the Waitangi Tribunal, the body that deals with alleged breaches of the treaty, accepted Ngā Puhi’s argument (widely shared among Māori) that the treaty did not cede sovereignty.
Nevertheless, then minister of Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, Chris Finlayson, argued that:
There is no question that the Crown has sovereignty in New Zealand. This report doesn’t change that fact … The tribunal doesn’t reach any conclusion regarding the sovereignty the Crown exercises in New Zealand. Nor does it address the other events considered part of the Crown’s acquisition of sovereignty or how the treaty relationship should operate today.
But what is the Crown, what is sovereignty and how do these relate to citizenship as it has developed from the British subjecthood that the treaty promised?
Sovereignty is not an absolute and indivisible power, exercised over subjects by an all-powerful Crown, as it was in 1840. It is a collective political authority in which all citizens participate. Helping to shape public sovereignty is an essential part of what it means to be a citizen.
At the same time, citizenship is not a panacea for creating just political relationships between Māori and others. Nor does it guarantee the political space for Māori to exercise rangatiratanga (authority) over their own affairs. But it does mean that sovereignty belongs to Māori as much as it belongs to anybody else. At least theoretically, it is not an oppressive force.
Bringing that theory into practical politics requires that article three receive much greater attention in treaty discourse. Guaranteed Māori representation in parliament is an example of Māori exercising the right to citizenship in a distinctive way, but sovereignty is not found in parliament alone.
Questions of where else Māori might exercise their citizenship and what it means to do so in authentically Māori ways are not thought about as widely as their importance justifies. This is because the Crown/Māori bicultural binary continues to separate Māori from the collective authority of national citizenship.
Globally, there has been a crisis of confidence in the promises of liberal democracy in recent years. In the United States, the president wants to build a border wall. The United Kingdom is agonising over Brexit. The leaders of the Philippines and Brazil proclaim a willingness to flout rule by law, and strike terror into “undesirables”. Authoritarian rule has not decreased in China, despite rising GDP.
I argue that the Treaty of Waitangi, whose 1840 signing New Zealand marks today, has endowed New Zealanders with a convention for working through issues of equality and inequality, inclusion and exclusion; where some commitment to cultural diversity is threaded through the processes for constructing national identity.
The visibility of culture and ethnicity at the heart of this foundational document of New Zealand sovereignty provides its people with a degree of inoculation against the worst of race-based nationalism.
The 1840 signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi between Māori chieftains and the British crown is today regarded as the single most important event in New Zealand’s history. It ceded rights of governorship (but not sovereignty) to the Crown, guaranteed continuity of property rights for Māori (and exclusive rights to purchase these from Māori by the Crown), as well as rights to British citizenship for Māori.
It provided a framework for colonial settlement. But this deteriorated into warfare as the legality of land sales was questioned amid debate about who was actually sovereign. At its peak in the 1860s, the New Zealand wars required 10,000 British regulars to subdue skilled and innovative Māori warriors (who established the world’s first artillery bunkers to resist cannon fire). But by 1877, a judge had declared the treaty a “simple nullity”, in line with accelerating settler demands for farmland and reduced Māori capacity for resistance.
Even as land was alienated from Māori at an accelerating rate in the late 1800s, New Zealand governors’ talk about the two groups remained civil. There has not been an expression of biological superiority or inferiority regarding Māori in any speech from the throne (signalling an incoming government’s legislative intent) in New Zealand history.
Cooperative relationships between white and Māori elites were common (also, designated seats for Māori have been established in parliament since 1867). Thus, Māori and Pākehā (New Zealander Europeans) have had a lot of practice in managing their differences through negotiation as well as conflict.
Despite symbolic inclusion and some good intercultural practices, disease and land alienation took its toll. By 1890, Māori were considered a “dying race”. To counter this, key Māori leaders had little choice but to encourage assimilation.
In the mid-20th century, Māori began a semi-forced migration to the cities, where traditional cultural practices had to change. The 1970s were the critical decade in which contemporary bicultural New Zealand identity politics began taking shape, a hundred years after the issue of who would control material resources and sovereignty was decided. Capitalising on anti-establishment feelings triggered by the Vietnam War, Māori across the spectrum mobilised Pākehā allies and engaged in protest movements that revitalised Māori identity and gave rise to 1975 treaty legislation that allowed fiscal settlements for colonial-era injustices through a tribunal.
Treaty-based legislation has evolved continually since then. Today most public institutions are required to honour the principles of the treaty (partnership, participation and protection). New Zealanders accept that colonial injustices were done to Māori, and NZ$2.2 billion of reparations have been made.
After Britain joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s, and excluded New Zealanders from British citizenship, New Zealanders of European origins began to articulate their relationship with Māori as part of their own identity. Not only are Māori symbolically included within the nation, the nation as a whole also draws symbolic resources from Māori and from the treaty.
Foreign dignitaries are welcomed by a Māori ceremony (a powhiri), the nation’s sports team (the All-Blacks) precedes its contests with a haka, and the country’s coat of arms is bicultural. Te Papa, the nation’s museum is structured biculturally, with the Treaty at its symbolic centre.
Recognising Māori as the people of the land
The discourse that “we are all immigrants” rings truer in New Zealand than in other English-speaking post-colonial societies (except maybe Canada). The current status of the treaty reminds citizens of the central position of Māori as tangata whenua (people of the land). This puts anti-immigrant rhetoric from New Zealand Europeans on shaky ground. The major anti-immigration politician in recent decades, Winston Peters, has Māori ancestry, and he is able to work with politicians who do not share his views.
Māori mostly have had bigger political fish to fry than roasting immigration. Having been colonised and dispossessed, improving collective well-being, as the Labour Party’s well-being budget declares, might be more important than guarding watery borders or aerial frontiers.
Democracy rose with enlightened leaders in Europe and the United States around two hundred some years ago, premised on the notion that individuals are capable of rational choice. The problem is, group-based politics is frequently far from rational, and is vulnerable to rabble-rousing. Leaders like Trump and the Brexiters represent sub-groups within their nations that are vociferously opposed by other groups. As the differences between them and their opponents involve identity politics that are group- and values-based, compromise is hard.
Group-based rationality works in New Zealand because it is treaty-based and has evolved stable and mutually acceptable platforms for dialogue. It is acceptable for Māori to filter their political views through the lens of culture. No matter how dominant the largest group (NZ Europeans), no matter if they are liberal or conservative, on Waitangi Day, any immigrant of any ethnicity becomes tangata tiriti (people of the treaty) in relationship with Māori as tangata whenua.
This pattern of cross-cutting allegiances is good medicine for facing the challenges to liberal democracy today.
The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s foundation document. On February 6, 1840, the treaty was signed by representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs who acted on behalf of their hapū (sub-tribes).
Māori are indigenous to New Zealand, with historical ties and common narratives extending to Polynesia. The signing of the treaty confirmed formal European settlement in New Zealand. But debate and confusion have continued ever since regarding the exact meaning of the treaty text.
The debate stems from the fact that the parties involved in its signing, namely the rangatira (chiefs) and New Zealand’s first governor William Hobson on behalf of the British Crown, had different understandings and expectations as to what they had signed and what authority they would exercise.
There are two accepted versions of the Treaty of Waitangi: a Māori text known as Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the English version hereon called the Treaty of Waitangi. Under law both are accepted as the Treaty of Waitangi, but they are significantly different in meaning.
Te Tiriti speaks of the chiefs maintaining their tino rangatiratanga (authority) over their taonga (all that they hold precious, including the Māori language). The chiefs allow the Queen to have kāwanatanga, a nominal and delegated authority so that she can control her people. On the other hand, the treaty in English tells us that the chiefs ceded their sovereignty to the crown while retaining full, exclusive and undisturbed possession over their lands, estates, forests and fisheries.
A matter of interpretation
Given that at the time of the signing, the dominant language was Te Reo Māori and the majority of the discussions would have been conducted orally, the Māori text of Te Tiriti reflects the intentions of the chiefs. It is a critical reference point in informing our understandings, reinforced by the international convention of contra proferentem in relation to treaty making. This rule in contract law states that any clause considered to be ambiguous should be interpreted against the interests of the party that requested the clause to be included.
The treaty was presented in a manner calculated to secure Māori agreement. The transfer of power to the Crown was thus played down.
Bear in mind also that the Declaration of Independence, the forerunner to Te Tiriti/Treaty, signed in 1835, had affirmed the authority chiefs already had. This meant they held mana and rangatiratanga (all power and sovereign authority). This system of political authority had been in place for many centuries.
Legal status of the treaty
Fast forward to 2019 and what has been happening in the landscape of treaty jurisdiction. During and after the cumulative impact of introduced legislation and policies which led to systemic colonisation, consistent and unwavering Māori protests at violations of both treaties eventually led to the introduction of the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act and its 1985 amendment.
This gave us the Waitangi Tribunal, which allows for a process to hear claims about breaches of the treaty, typically the taking of land and resources from Māori. The tribunal found in 2014 that Maori did not cede their sovereignty in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It also introduced a set of principles which embodied the intention of both treaties in an attempt to mediate the differences in the two versions.
The Waitangi Tribunal developed the core of an interpretation of the meaning of the treaty that could and should be applied in contemporary New Zealand. This was a forward-looking constructive approach to enhancing relationships between the Crown and Māori.
The Waitangi Tribunal has heard and settled 54 treaty claims since 1989, including financial redress of more than NZ$1.5 billion. The first settlement, in respect of the Waitomo Caves, involved the transfer of land and a loan. Settlements since then have included several elements of redress: a formal apology by the crown, financial and cultural redress, the transfer of or the option to purchase significant properties, and restoration of traditional geographical names.
Since the identity of hapū is rooted in their physical and spiritual relationship with the environment over hundreds of years, these forms of cultural redress acknowledge the tribe as the rightful guardians and their deep association with place. The process seeks to restore the sacred relationships compromised by colonisation.
The treaty settlement process has been the catalyst for significant economic growth for iwi (tribe) controlled assets and Māori enterprise. This naturally brings positive development to the New Zealand economy, encouraging iwi and Māori to continue to progress their advancement not only economically but socially, culturally and environmentally.
Two hundred and fifty years ago this year, James Cook’s ship the Endeavourarrived off the eastern coast of New Zealand. The following circumnavigation marked the beginning of ongoing European contact with the indigenous population, and eventually mass British immigration from 1840.
One important question historians are trying to answer is how many Māori lived in Aotearoa at the time of Cook’s arrival. This question goes to the heart of the negative impacts of European contact on the size and health of the 19th-century Māori population, which subsequently bottomed out in the 1890s at just over 40,000 people.
The conventional wisdom is that there were about 100,000 Māori alive in 1769, living on 268,000 square kilometres of temperate Aotearoa. This is a much lower population density (0.37 people per square kilometre) than densities achieved on tropical and much smaller Pacific Islands.
Examples of order-of-magnitude higher density Pacific populations in the contact-era include:
Hawai’i where 200,000 to 800,000 people lived on 28,000 square kilometres (7 to 29 people per square kilometre)
In conjunction with later 19th-century census figures, the conventional wisdom implies that European contact and colonisation following Cook’s arrival was much less devastating for the indigenous population of Aotearoa than for many other Pacific islands.
Three approaches have been used to support the estimate of 100,000 Māori. Unfortunately, none bears any serious weight.
The 100,000-strong estimate of the contact-era Māori population is often attributed to Cook. However, it never received his seal of approval, and it was not made in 1769.
It was published in a 1778 book written by Johann Forster, the naturalist on Cook’s second expedition of 1772-1775. Forster’s estimate is a guess, innocent of method. He suggests 100,000 Māori as a round figure at the lower end of likelihood. His direct observation of Māori was brief, in the lightly populated South Island, far from major northern Māori population centres.
Later visitors had greater direct knowledge of the populous coastal northern parts of New Zealand. They also made population estimates. Some were guesses like Forster’s. Others were based on a rough method. Their estimates range from 130,000 (by early British trader Joel Polack) to over 500,000 Māori (by French explorer Dumont D’Urville), both referring to the 1820s. The wide range further emphasises the lack of information in Forster’s guess.
Working backwards from the 1858 census
A second method takes the figure from the first New Zealand-wide Māori population census of 1858, of about 60,000 people. It works this number backwards over 89 years to 1769, making assumptions about the rate of annual population decline between 1769 and 1858.
There is a good quantitative estimate for the rate of decline back from 1858 to 1844, taken from a Waikato longitudinal census. But there is nothing solid for the period before 1844.
To overcome the absence of numbers, an apparently better documented and very low average annual rate of decline of the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands of 0.4% between 1791 and 1835 has been applied to New Zealand. However, the estimated rate is calculated from wrong numbers for both the 1791 and 1835 Moriori populations. In fact, there is no contemporary 1791 estimate of the Moriori population from which to calculate a meaningful rate of quantitative decline to 1835.
The qualitative conclusion of low population decline is based on two propositions. The first is that prior to the 1850s, imported European diseases were localised to a few coastal areas. The second is that the impact of warfare on populations over the first half of the 19th century was minimal. What is the evidence for these propositions? The answer is not much in either case.
Historical evidence suggests that there were indeed widespread epidemics in New Zealand prior to the 1850s. For example, there is evidence of a great epidemic around 1808, possibly some form of enteric fever or influenza, which killed many people across the North Island and the top of the South Island. Other high-mortality diseases known to be present in New Zealand pre-1840 and readily transmittable internally include syphilis and tuberculosis.
The estimates of how many Māori died directly and indirectly on account of warfare over the 1769 to 1840 period lack a coherent method. They are weak on definitions of what they count. They cover varying or indeterminate periods. Where they can be made roughly comparable, the numbers arrived at are wildly different, with estimates of deaths ranging from 300 to 2000 people on average annually. In other words, the impact of warfare on population decline could have been quite small or quite large. We simply don’t know.
Overall, Hawaiian archaeologist Patrick Kirch’s conclusion on the validity of this method for estimating other contact-era Pacific populations is also applicable to New Zealand. It is a largely circular exercise in assuming what needs to be proven.
Predicting population from settlement
The third method used to estimate 100,000 Māori predicts the population forward from first arrival in New Zealand. Prediction requires a minimum of three parameters. These are the arrival date of Māori in New Zealand, the size of the founding population and the prehistoric population growth rate to 1769.
The current consensus is that voyagers from Eastern Polynesia arrived in New Zealand between 1230 and 1280 AD and then became known as Māori. However, even a 50-year difference in arrival dates can make large differences to an end population prediction.
Geneticists have estimated the plausible size of the Māori female founding population as between 50 to 230 women. The high population estimate which would result from using these numbers is therefore nearly five times the size of the low estimate. Such a broad range is meaningless.
The third big unknown of the prediction method is the growth rate. Minimalists have employed low rates, based on prehistoric Eurasian populations, where humans had lived for tens of thousands of years. This perspective of low Māori prehistoric growth rates is problematic. Humans did not live in New Zealand prior to Māori. The population density faced by newly arriving people was zero.
Also, New Zealand’s flora and fauna had evolved without people. Once people arrived, they would have found more niches of exploitable nutrients than in regions where plants and animals had long co-evolved with people as apex predators. Such circumstances allowed for a potentially rapid Māori population expansion.
Indeed, historically recorded population growth rates for Pacific islands with small founding populations could be exceptionally high. For example, on tiny, resource-constrained Pitcairn Island, population growth averaged an astounding 3% annually over 66 years between 1790 and 1856.
Arguments for rapid prehistoric population growth run up against other problems. Skeletal evidence seems to show that prehistoric Māori female fertility rates were too low; and mortality, indicated by a low average adult age at death, was too high to generate rapid population growth.
This low-fertility finding has always been puzzling, given high Māori fertility rates in the latter 19th century. Equally, archaeological findings of a low average adult age at death have been difficult to reconcile with numbers of elderly Māori observed in accounts of early explorers.
However, recent literature on using skeletal remains to estimate either female fertility or adult age at death is sceptical that this evidence can determine either variable in a manner approaching acceptable reliability. So high growth paths cannot be ruled out.
Because of resulting uncertainties in the three key parameters and the 500-year-plus forecast horizon, the plausible population range around 100,000 Māori in 1769 is so broad as to make any prediction estimate meaningless. Virtually any contact-era population can be illustrated by someone with a modicum of numerical nous.
In the 2017 New Zealand Journal of History, New Zealand archaeologist Atholl Anderson argues that medieval population density on the large (about 103,000 square kilometres, slightly smaller than the North Island), isolated and sub-arctic island of Iceland is a much better analogy for likely contact-era Māori density than those of smaller tropical Pacific islands.
He uses Icelandic population density from the year 1800, over 900 years into the settlement sequence. If Icelandic population numbers closest to 500 years into the settlement sequence were used, they would provide a more direct temporal analogy for 500 years of Māori settlement in 1769.
Iceland was settled circa 870 AD. The best estimates of the pre-industrial Icelandic population closest to 500 years post-settlement are from 1311. They are based on farm numbers counted for tax purposes. This method gives 72,000 to 95,000 Icelanders. So, in its medieval period, sub-arctic Iceland achieved population densities of 0.70 to 0.92 people per square km. Applying these densities to contact-era temperate New Zealand gives a Māori population of between 190,000 to 250,000 people when Cook arrived.
In terms of a New Zealand-related density analogy, there is good 1835 population data from the temperate Chatham Islands (about 970 square kilometres in area), giving a Moriori population density exceeding two people per square kilometre. It was measured after decades of likely population decline from contact with European sealers and whalers, as well as after at least one serious epidemic. Applying this density figure to the North Island alone, which the Chatham Islands climatically best resembles, gives 230,000 people when Cook arrived.
Using analogies from Iceland and the Chatham Islands suggests that post-Cook European contact may have been more devastating for Māori than conventional wisdom acknowledges. There may have been 200,000 or more Māori in 1769, falling to about 40,000 in the 1890s. Additionally, a figure of 200,000 or more Māori implies that much post-contact population decline occurred prior to mass British immigration.
As elsewhere in the Americas and the Pacific, perhaps European germs, not mass immigration, were the primary driver of indigenous population decline. But 250 years on from Cook, more work and different methods are needed to answer this question.
Soon after it became a British colony, New Zealand began shipping the worst of its offenders across the Tasman Sea. Between 1843 and 1853, an eclectic mix of more than 110 soldiers, sailors, Māori, civilians and convict absconders from the Australian penal colonies were transported from New Zealand to Van Diemen’s Land.
This little-known chapter of history happened for several reasons. The colonists wanted to cleanse their land of thieves, vagrants and murderers and deal with Māori opposition to colonisation. Transporting fighting men like Hōhepa Te Umuroa, Te Kūmete, Te Waretiti, Matiu Tikiahi and Te Rāhui for life to Van Diemen’s Land was meant to subdue Māori resistance.
Transportation was also used to punish redcoats (the British soldiers sent to guard the colony and fight opposing Māori), who deserted their regiments or otherwise misbehaved. Some soldiers were so terrified of Māori warriors that they took off when faced with the enemy.
Early colonial New Zealand had no room for reprobates. Idealised as a new sort of colony for gentlefolk and free labourers, New Zealanders aspired towards creating a utopia by brutally suppressing challenges to that dream. On 4 November 1841, the colony’s first governor, William Hobson, named Van Diemen’s Land as the site to which its prisoners would be sent. The first boatload arrived in Hobart in 1843 and included William Phelps Pickering, one of the few white-collar criminals transported across the Tasman. Pickering later lived as a gentleman after returning home.
In 1840s Van Diemen’s Land, convict labourers were sent to probation stations before being hired out. Many men transported from New Zealand were sent down the Tasman Peninsula, where labourers were needed at the time.
Ironically, those eventually allocated to masters or mistresses in larger centres like Hobart or Launceston would have enjoyed more developed living conditions than New Zealand’s fledgling townships. In those days, Auckland’s main street was rather muddy. Early colonial buildings were often constructed by Māori from local materials.
At least 51 redcoats were shipped to the penal island. Some committed crimes after being discharged from the military. But many faced charges related to desertion. Four of the six soldier convicts who arrived Van Diemen’s Land in June 1847 were court-martialled in Auckland the previous winter for “deserting in the vicinity of hostile natives”.
As Irish soldier convict Michael Tobin explained, the deserters had been returned to the colonists by “friendly natives”; that is, Māori who were loyal to the Crown during the New Zealand Wars. Perhaps as a form of insurance, Tobin had also struck Captain Armstrong, his superior. Several other soldiers also used violence against a superior – it was bound to ensure a sentence of transportation, removing them from the theatre of war.
Irish Catholic soldier Richard Shea, for instance, was a private in the 99th Regiment who used his firelock to strike his lieutenant while on parade. This earned him a passage on the Castor to Van Diemen’s Land. His three military companions on the vessel, William Lane, George Morris and John Bailey, all claimed to have been taken by Maori north of Auckland and kept prisoner for four months. But surviving records reveal that their military overlords thought that the three had instead deserted to join the ranks of a rebel chief.
In 1846, NZ governor George Grey proclaimed martial law across the Wellington region. When several Māori fighters were eventually captured and handed over to colonists by the Crown’s Indigenous allies, they were tried by court martial at Porirua, north of Wellington.
After being found guilty of charges that included being in open rebellion against Queen and country, five were sentenced to transportation for life in Van Diemen’s Land. The traditionally-clothed Māori attracted a lot of attention in Hobart, where colonists loudly disapproved of their New Zealand neighbours’ treatment of Indigenous people. This is ironic given the Tasmanians’ own near-genocidal war against Aboriginal people.
Grey had wanted the Māori warriors sent to Norfolk Island or Port Arthur and hoped they would write letters to their allies at home describing how harshly they were being treated. Instead, they were initially held in Hobart, where they were visited by media and other well-wishers. Colonial artist John Skinner Prout painted translucent watercolour portraits of them. Each of the fighters used pencil to sign his name to his likeness. William Duke created a portrait of Te Umuroa in oils.
Hobartians were worried that the Māori could become contaminated through contact with other convicts. Arrangements were made to send them to Maria Island off the island’s east coast, where they could live separately from the other convicts.
John Jennings Imrie, a man who previously lived in New Zealand and knew some Māori language, became their overseer. Their lives in captivity were as gentle as possible and involved Bible study, vegetable gardening, nature walks and hunting.
Following lobbying from Tasmanian colonists and a pardon from Britain, four of the men, Te Kūmete, Te Waretiti, Matiu Tikiahi, Te Rāhui, were sent home in 1848. Te Umuroa died in custody at the Maria Island probation station in July 1847. It was not until 1988 that his remains were repatriated to New Zealand.
Reducing crime through imposing exemplary sentences saw dozens of working-class men transported to Van Diemen’s Land. One such fellow was James Beckett, a sausage-seller transported for theft for seven years. The only woman sent from New Zealand, Margaret Reardon, was sentenced to seven years’ transportation for perjuring herself trying to protect her partner (and possibly herself) from murder charges. After being found guilty of murdering Lieutenant Robert Snow on Auckland’s North Shore in 1847, the following year Reardon’s former lover Joseph Burns became the first white man judicially executed in New Zealand.
At one stage, Reardon was sent to the Female Factory at Cascades on Hobart’s outskirts to be punished for a transgression. Eventually, she remarried and moved to Victoria where she died in old age.
In 1853, transportation to Van Diemen’s Land formally ended. New Zealand then had to upgrade its flimsy gaols so criminals could be punished within its own borders.