Waitangi Rua Rau Tau Lecture 2008

 Anne Salmond

Ko te wai e hora nei, te marae e takoto nei, koutou nga rangatira kua pae nei, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou. 

As Waitangi Day approaches, time spins around us.  As we gaze back into the past, we also look into the future.  It’s a time for celebrating our successes, and honouring our ancestors.  What were the dreams that drove them when they forged this nation, and what are the things that still bind us all together?  What kind of a future are we hoping to shape for our children and grandchildren? 

Let’s begin with the past. If one looks at those extraordinary images of the earth taken from outer space, the archipelago of New Zealand appears as a small green scatter of land in the midst of the world’s largest ocean.  People had to invent blue-water sailing to reach this remote, beautiful place; and in fact this was the last significant land-mass on earth to be found and settled by human beings. Long before the Vikings sailed out of Europe, the ancestors of Maori developed fast sailing canoes and learned to navigate by the stars, crossing the Pacific to the eastward, planting colonies and reaching South America by perhaps 1200AD – one of the great seafaring feats in human history. At about the same time, other Polynesian explorers arrived here in New Zealand after a wild, seaborne adventure. Astonished by this vast country, so different from their tropical homelands, they sailed home again to describe the new islands and pass on their sailing directions. By about 1300AD, Polynesian settlements were springing up around the coastline.  About a hundred years later, a new society – Te Ao Maori - was forming, distinct from anything in the island homelands. As the population expanded and kin groups jostled for mana, fortified pa began to be built and new art-forms and technologies were invented.  Only about two hundred and fifty years after that, in 1642, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in his two ships ricocheted off the coast of Golden Bay – the first contact between Maori and Europeans.   Our human history is recent, and it has happened very quickly.  

By the time that Captain Cook arrived at Turanganui (or Poverty Bay, as he called it) in October 1769, the Enlightenment was under way in Europe. This scientific expedition - another of the great voyages in human history - brought with it ideas of justice, the power of reason, and the rights of indigenous peoples. Before they sailed, the Earl of Morton, President of the Royal Society which sponsored the voyage, gave Cook a set of ‘Hints’ about how to treat the people he might meet during his travels, and these are worth quoting.  The Earl urged Cook

“To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.

To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature:-

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.

No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent.

They may naturally and justly attempt to repell intruders, whom they may apprehend are come to disturb them in the quiet possession of their country, whether that apprehension be well or ill founded.

Therefore should they in a hostile manner oppose a landing, and kill some men in the attempt, even this would hardly justify firing among them, ‘till every other gentle method had been tried.” 

Not a bad set of instructions for the first Europeans to set foot in New Zealand. In the Earl of Morton’s ‘Hints,’ you might say, with its sense of shared humanity, the Treaty of Waitangi had its beginnings.  

Despite their best intentions, however, as soon as Cook and his men stepped ashore, the encounters with local Maori turned violent.  A wero or challenge by four Hauiti warriors looked like an attack, and when one of these men was about to throw his spear, the coxswain shot him through the heart.  In the realpolitik of an confrontation with Maori warriors, the Earl of Morton’s instructions were forgotten. The following day when Cook and his sailors went out in the bay to capture some Maori fishermen, hoping to win their friendship, the fishermen resisted, hurling paddles, anchor stones and even fish at the sailors, and again there were shootings. As Cook wrote in his journal that night, ‘I am aware that most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will censure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat, and had I thought that they would have made the least resistance I would not have come near them, but as they did I was not to stand still and suffer either myself or those that were with me to be knocked on the head;’ while Joseph Banks, the wealthy young botanist who led the Royal Society party, wrote about the day, ‘Black be the mark for it, and heaven send that such may not return to embitter future reflection!’ 

Even amidst these violent clashes, however, there were moments of amity – for instance when Cook exchanged a hongi with a warrior on Te Toka-a-Taiau, a sacred rock in the Turanganui river. Later, this same man chased the Endeavour in his canoe and invited Cook and his men to come back to Gisborne. After experiencing the power of muskets, Maori generally established good working relationships with the strangers, bartering fish, crayfish, oysters, kumara, wood and fresh water for glass, red cloth, biscuits and iron. In places like Uawa on the East Coast, where the high priest Tupa’ia (who had accompanied Cook from Tahiti) talked with Hauiti people about life in the island homelands, the mood was affable, if cautious. Tupa’ia was welcomed and slept ashore in a cave just above Cook’s Cove, where he sketched a ship on the rock wall – the first early contact artwork in New Zealand. These early meetings were marked by curiosity and peaceful exchange as well episodic violence. There was also mutual respect - even after some of his men had been killed and eaten at Grass Cove in Totaranui during a later voyage to New Zealand, Captain Cook held a high opinion of Maori, saying that ‘They are a brave, noble and open people, incapable of treachery; but they will never forgive an insult if they have the opportunity to resent it.’ An astute judgement, that echoes down our history.  

As we all know, Captain Cook’s three voyages to New Zealand heralded the advent of the sealers, whalers and timber traders, and many young Maori men joined their ships and sailed to distant places – South America, America and Asia as well as Australia and Britain. By the 1790s the first Europeans were living ashore, joining local families and learning to speak Maori. For at least seventy years after Cook, New Zealand was still a Maori country where Europeans lived on sufferance, reliant upon the goodwill of the rangatira or chiefs.  It was not until the first missionaries arrived in 1814 that the first serious attempt was made to change the way in which this world operated. John Lidiard Nicholas, who accompanied Samuel Marsden on his first voyage to the Bay of Islands, explained the rationale when he wrote:

“Though the savage does possess all the passions of Nature, pure and unadulterated, and though he may in many instances feel strongly and more acutrely than the man of civilized habits, still is he inferior to him in every other respect: the former is a slave to the impulse of his will, the latter has learned to restrain his desires; the former stands enveloped in the dark clouds of ignorance, the latter goes forth in the bright sunshine of knowledge; the former views the works of his Creator through the medium of a blind superstition, the latter through the light of reason and of truth; the one beholds Nature and is bewildered, the other clearly ‘Looks through Nature up to Nature’s God.” 

From Thomas Kendall onwards, when a missionary wavered and began to think that Maori beliefs and knowledge might have real merit, he was regarded as a heretic and drummed out of the Society. At about this time, a more hard-edged sense of cultural superiority arrived in New Zealand.


Gazing back at this founding period in our history, one can see that the ancestors on both sides were explorers and travellers, bold enough to venture into unknown places.  Courage, a sense of adventure and a willingness to innovate are built into the DNA of our society.  At the same time, the settler heritage was based on ambivalent values – a desire for freedom and personal liberty on the one hand, so that many of the first European settlers in New Zealand risked everything to create new lives for themselves and their families. On the other hand, there was a sense of cultural superiority coupled with a will to impose that on others - what Jamie Belich has described as the ‘imperial mission;’ although this might be balanced by values of justice, honour and fair play. By the same token, the Maori heritage had its own contradictions – a desire for freedom and autonomy on the one hand, expressed in a willingness to migrate or fight to escape domination; while the values of tika and pono gave the rangatira or chiefs an unerring ability to detect deceit and hypocrisy. On the other hand, the values of mana and utu could also expressed as a will to dominate and control; althought this might be balanced by the principle of reciprocity and a powerful dislike of arrogance. 

 When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, all of these paradoxical values were in play. This is why the Treaty, for all its apparent simplicity, is such a complex agreement.  Ideas of justice and honour, as advocated by the Aboriginal Protection Society in London and many of the missionaries, meant that the British government was compelled to recognise Maori territorial rights and treat with the rangatira, even though many of the settlers were itching to simply assert British dominance. Worried about the uncontrolled violence of escaped convicts and other lawless new arrivals, and excited by many (if not all) aspects of the new world in Europe, Maori leaders could also see benefits in having a British governor in New Zealand. Because many of the rangatira or chiefs had travelled to Port Jackson, Britain and other places, however, they were concerned that a British governor might bring soldiers and take over their country; although they were assured that without British protection, the French would invade them in any case. The missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward, convinced that life for both Maori and the settlers would be better under British rule, translated the treaty from English into Maori, and urged the Northern chiefs who gathered at Waitangi to sign it.  There are thus two texts of the Treaty, the original in English and the Maori Treaty that was debated and signed at Waitangi (and a number of other locations).

 There can be little doubt that the Maori Treaty, the text debated and signed by the chiefs, is the more authoritative version.  The Maori Treaty is couched in the language of chiefly gift exchange, with gifts passing between the Queen and the rangatira or chiefs of the hapu or sub-tribes. In Article I of the Maori Treaty, the rangatira ceremonially gave to Queen Victoria absolutely and forever the  kawanatanga or governorship of their lands.  In Article II, the Queen agreed to uphold the tino rangatiratanga or absolute chieftainship of the rangatira over their lands, dwelling places and all of their treasures, while in return they gave her the right to control the sale of land where the sellers were willing. In Article III, in exchange for the gift of kawanatanga or governorship, the Queen promised to protect all Maori people and give them exactly the same tikanga, or rights and privileges as her people of England.  It was an agreement based on chiefly generosity on both sides, and a sense of mana and honour.

 During the debates before the Treaty was signed, the chiefs argued about whether or not to have a governor and how he might treat them; while the prospective Governor, William Hobson, promised that if they signed the Treaty, all those lands unfairly claimed by the settlers would be given back to them. In the end, the overwhelming majority of the chiefs signed (but not some of the highest chiefs in the land, including Te Heuheu of Tuwharetoa, Potatau te Wherowhero of Waikato and Te Kani a Takirau of the East Coast, who were unwilling to yield any of their mana to Queen Victoria). Without doubt, what was ceded to the Queen in the Maori version of the Treaty was less than the ‘sovereignty’ spoken of in the English text; although the gift of kawanatanga in exchange for exactly the same rights and privileges as British subjects was a fundamental concession, changing the Maori world forever. 

While the values of honour and justice, and tika and pono may have prevailed in the Treaty itself, there have been debates about whether the language of the Maori text was softened to ensure that the rangatira would sign it.  Very likely it was, given the the sincere belief of the translators that British rule would benefit Maori as well as the settlers. Within a month, however, the ‘imperial mission’ had taken over, initiating a long period of disillusionment and fighting. A Land Claims Bill was introduced in New South Wales which threatened to take away all Maori lands over 2500 acres said to have been sold to Europeans, contrary to the Governor’s promises; and shortly afterwards a Legislative Council was set up in New Zealand without Maori representation, contrary to Article III of the Treaty. While some Northern chiefs vowed to stop all land sales, others vowed to resist the presence of British soldiers who were threatening to overturn their mana. Hone Heke chopped down the flagpole at Kororareka, and in the Northern War that followed, the British forces were unable to decisively defeat him and his allies. As Henry Williams observed in 1845, ‘The Flagstaff in the Bay is still prostrate, and the natives here rule.  These are humiliating facts to the proud Englishman, many of whom thought that they could govern by a mere name.’ 

Over the years since the Waitangi Tribunal was established, an army of researchers have documented successive breaches of the Treaty, to the benefit of the nation. As an American philosopher, George Santayana has said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it;” and there are parts of our story that would not bear repeating. Even in our darkest days, however, there have been those among the settlers who upheld the values of honour and justice. When the Land Wars broke out in 1860, for instance, the former Chief Justice of New Zealand, Sir William Martin, wrote a pamphlet arguing that since the Queen had guaranteed the tino rangatiratanga of the chiefs, the forced land sale which sparked off the war was a betrayal of the Treaty of Waitangi:

“Here in New Zealand our nation has engaged in an enterprise most difficult, yet also most noble and worthy of England.  We have undertaken to acquire these islands for the Crown and for our race, without violence and without fraud, and so that the Native people, instead of being destroyed, should be protected and civilised.  We have covenanted with these people, and assured to them the full privileges of subjects of the Crown. The compact is binding irrevocably.  We cannot repudiate it so long as we retain the benefit which we obtained by it.” 

Like the Earl of Morton’s Hints and Captain Cook’s evaluation of Maori, these words echo down our history. In a series of brilliant letters to the local Superintendant, Renata Tamakihikurangi of Hawkes Bay offered a similar view of the conflict: 

When you speak of the [Maori] King. Sir, cease to cite this as a cause of quarreling. For behold, the Treaty of Waitangi has been broken. It was said that the Treaty was to protect the Maoris from foreign invasion.  But those bad nations never came to attack us; the blow fell from you, the nation who made that same Treaty.  Sir, it is you alone who have broken your numerous promises. 

You say, the Maories are not able to fight against the Queen of England and prevail against her.’  Who will throw himself away in fighting for such a cause?  No, it is for the land; for land has been the prime cause of war among the Maoris down to the arrival of the Pakeha in this island.  The Maori will not be daunted by his weakness, or the smallness of his tribe.  He sees his land going, and will he sit still?  No, but he will take himself off to resist.. 

On this occasion, however, the voices of reason were drowned out by greed and the will to domination.  In the conflicts that followed, many lives were lost on both sides, and the wars ended in mutual exhaustion.  Those Maori who fought against the Crown adapted their pa or fortifications to fight soldiers armed with artillery, and proved extremely difficult to conquer, although unlike the British, they were unable to sustain a full-time army.  Those Maori who fought with the Crown did so for their own reasons - mana and the preservation of their own land and resources. By the end of the Land Wars, sections of almost all Maori groups were in sympathy with the Maori King, supporting him as they were able. These long, destructive campaigns ended in the splitting of many hapu, the confiscation of millions of acres of Maori land and a deep and abiding sense of grievance. 

This darkness deepened when after the Land Wars, the Maori population plummeted.  This decline was already underway, sparked by epidemics of introduced diseases, the destructive effects of the Musket Wars, and shifts from a traditional diet and lifestyle. During the 1880s and 1890s, however, the collapse became cataclysmic.  Like others, Maori thought that they were a dying race, and while they turned to prophetic healers for consolation, the settlers took more of their land through the Native Land Court. By 1896, the Maori population, which had dropped to just 42,000 people, was said to be vanishing like the moa.  Out of this catastrophe came a new kind of Maori leadership - the Young Maori Party led by Sir Apirana Ngata, which tackled the decline by improving sanitation in Maori communities, fostering a new love of Maori arts and culture, actively engaging in Parliamentary politics and trying to hold onto Maori land through incorporation and consolidation schemes based on sheepfarming and dairying. 

As it happened, the Maori renaissance initiated by Ngata and others shaped race relations through the twentieth century. It was based on strategies for survival - economic recovery, pride in Maori language and culture and an active engagement with the wider society. As these new leaders emerged, some armed with advanced university qualifications, Maori grievances were made articulated through the media and Parliament.  Two generations of young Maori went off to fight in European wars, winning the respect of their comrades – although too many future leaders, Maori and others, died in these conflicts. After World War II many rural families, including many Maori, flooded into the cities, creating new challenges to cultural survival. The Land March, Bastion Point, and a series of other protests about the loss of Maori land and language soon followed. With the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975, a generation of legal successors to Sir William Martin – Paul Temm, David Baragwanath, Dame Sian Elias, Sir Robin Cook and many others, began to re-shape New Zealand jurisprudence, along with a new generation of Maori lawyers. Maori advocates including Patu Hohepa, Ranginui Walker, Syd and Hana Jackson, Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia, Tame Iti and many others provoked shifts in public opinion, sometimes affronting the wider public and sometimes winning their sympathy.  To their eternal credit, many other New Zealanders listened, and a huge effort was made to address Maori grievances. As the light of honour and justice shone on those dark moments in our history, there was a sense of hope and purpose in the land. 

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, this mood seemed to be changing. While some New Zealanders still found these debates exciting, many others seemed to wish that the Maori challenge would simply vanish. The population was increasingly diverse, with extensive intermarriage and new migrants from the Pacific, Asia and Europe -  and for all of these reasons, the bi-cultural philosophies forged by Sir Apirana Ngata came under fire. The 2004 speech by Don Brash at Orewa, which portrayed Maori as privileged despite a myriad of statistics demonstrating their health, wealth and educational disadvantage, had an extraordinary impact on non-Maori New Zealanders. A mood of popular resentment against Maori claims led to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that Maori might still have rights to these places (without touching other private rights to the foreshore and seabed); which in turn sparked the creation of the Maori Party. Last year this mood culminated in the so-called ‘terrorism’ raids in the Ureweras and elsewhere, which uniquely in the world targeted domestic protestors and an indigenous community under anti-terror legislation. At that moment, Maori opinion converged in near-unanimity, very like that seen at the end of the Land Wars and in diametrical opposition to majority opinion among non-Maori New Zealanders. Just as we seemed to be heading back towards the abyss, the law, in the shape of the Solicitor-General, hauled us all back from collective hysteria. These recent events make early 2008 a challenging time to be asked to deliver an address on how we can all ensure that in 2040, the bicentennial of the Treaty is a happy and positive occasion. 

Fortunately, New Zealanders have a powerful sense of fair play; and we all have a great deal at stake in these matters. Furthermore, there are grave risks in allowing the divisions between Maori and other New Zealanders to deepen. While at present, many New Zealanders may be tempted to set the Treaty aside as an historical irrelevance, I think that they are mistaken.  There is little chance that most Maori, an increasing proportion of the national population, will join them. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand is increasing faster than in most OECD countries, and many Maori families sit on the negative side of those statistics. Add ethnicity to disadvantage to grievance, and you have an inflammable combination. Look around the world, and you will see many countries - Bosnia, Ireland, Fiji, Pakistan and Kenya, to name just a few -  that have torn themselves apart over ethnic and/or religious divisions. From the international literature, it is clear that no contemporary society is immune to such tensions.  Much depends on the wisdom of leaders, who have the power either to draw people together or set them at eachother’s throats over real or imagined injustices. If such conflicts spiral out of control, no-one emerges a winner.  Families are divided, friendships and communities shattered, economies destroyed and nations destabilised.  The costs of such conflicts are so severe that the costs involved in settling historic grievances and building a fair and good-humoured society seem trivial by comparison. 

Fortunately, however, leaders can and do surmount such historic divisions. It happened in South Africa with the leadership of Nelson Mandela; more recently in Ireland; and in New Zealand during the 1980s and 90s, when bipartisan support emerged for the Waitangi Tribunal, with Matiu Rata and Sir Douglas Graham both playing pivotal roles in its shaping.  Although it’s true that our history in New Zealand presents us with challenges, its also true that we like to tackle the high mountains.  For heritage is not just a matter of history; it is also a question of choice – what we decide to take from the past into the future.  There is a kind of Orcs’ song (remember the Lord of the Rings?), for instance, that runs through our history, at least from the Land Wars - a chant of grumbling and grinding hostility towards the tangata whenua that should cease to be sung in the caverns. Instead, as we forge new philosophies for the twenty-first century, I hope that we will hold fast to that sense of mutual respect between Maori and other New Zealanders which goes back to the beginning, and a certain generosity of spirit - remember Captain Cook’s judgement -  They are a brave, noble and open people, incapable of treachery; but they will never forgive an insult if they have the opportunity to resent it.’ The Maori heritage with its beautiful language, its knowledge systems and philosophies, its art forms and principles of balance, has riches to offer the future.  In my experience, it is those who know least about it who are most apt to dismiss this tradition, which is tragic, because if it is lost here in New Zealand, it is lost on the planet. 

At the same time, let’s consign all cultural cringes to the dustbin of history. The heritages from Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and the settler traditions have their own riches to offer, which must also be celebrated. Our artists, singers, composers, dancers, writers, film-makers and designers have shown how glorious it can be, weaving these cultural strands together. We should honour the Treaty of Waitangi, one of the finer moments in our history, preferably out of a sense of justice; but at the very least because if its promises are ignored, the risks to our society may prove intolerable. Remember Sir William Martin - “We have covenanted with these people. The compact is binding irrevocably.  We cannot repudiate it so long as we retain the benefit which we obtained by it.”  Our greatest heroes exemplify this same sense of honour – for instance, Sir Ed Hilary, who after winning world fame with the help of a Sherpa, dedicated the rest of his life to those people. And when the current round of Treaty settlements are over, we must look to the future, although this will require robust debate, because the balances to be struck in a changing world between the various agreements in the Treaty are by no means obvious. In all of this, we should bless our ancestors for their curiosity and courage, and recall the dreams that brought them across a wild ocean – of freedom, autonomy, opportunity and prosperity for their children and grandchildren. As they have taught us, in a new land, anything is possible.

 As we gaze into the future,  I hope that our leaders will seek to heal our divisions and bind us together. It will be wonderful if our children and grandchildren are culturally as well as economically rich, with a relaxed appreciation of other cultural traditions. From what I have seen of Auckland schools - which often remind me of the United Nations - that is already happening. It is also vital to find ways of ensuring that the gaps between rich and poor do not become impassable in New Zealand - not only  because if poverty becomes entrenched among particular ethnic groups (Maori and Pasifika, for instance), it will be dangerous; but also to prevent our finest values –justice, generosity of spirit; the idea of a fair go - from dying. For these reasons, disparities in educational achievement must be decisively tackled, once and for all.  Educational success is the best key to social freedom, and every child in New Zealand deserves a fair chance to make a good life for themselves and their families – its their birthright – its why their ancestors came here.  I hope that we will hold fast to our sense of adventure, boldly taking on the world and its challenges; and take care of these beautiful islands, passing them in great shape to future generations. Then when we come together to celebrate the bicentennary of the Treaty in 2040, I am sure that it will be a genial, luminous and marvellous occasion.   

At the end of this 2008 Waitangi Rua Rau Tau Lecture, I’d like to quote from two poems – well, one’s a line from a poem by Allen Curnow, and the second is a favorite chant from my kaumatua and teacher, Eruera Stirling:.  

Not I, some child in a marvellous year,

Will learn the trick of standing upright here…




Whakarongo! Whakarongo! Whakarongo! Listen! Listen! Listen!

Ki te tangi a te manu e karanga nei To the cry of the bird calling

Tui, tui, tuituiaa! Bind, join, be one!

Tuia i runga, tuia i raro, Bind above, bind below

Tuia i roto, tuia i waho, Bind within, bind without

Tuia i te here tangata Tie the knot of humankind

Ka rongo te poo, ka rongo te poo The night hears, the night hears

Tuia i te kaawai tangata i heke mai Bind the lines of people coming down

I Hawaiki nui, I Hawaiki roa, From great Hawaiki, from long Hawaiki

I Hawaiki paamamao From Hawaiki far away

I hono ki te wairua, ki te whai ao Bind to the spirit, to the day light

Ki te Ao Maarama! To the World of Light!

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