Treaty or Tiriti?
We learn more about the Māori at the Waitangi treaty grounds. It is a historic site where a treaty was signed between the British Crown and Māori chiefs in 1840. In the marea, the Māori’s cultural meeting place, decorated with beautiful carvings, we get a haka, or welcome ceremony, followed by traditional song and dance.
In the museum, we get a history lesson. When Captain Cook arrived in 1769, more than 100,000 Māori were estimated to have lived in Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, as they called the land. Things were not always peaceful between the 160 different tribes, which partly explains why the Māori had excellent weapons and were not afraid to use them against foreign invaders. From 1790 onwards, the waters around New Zealand were visited by British, French and American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They came for whale oil, seal fur, water, and food. Trading in timber and flax started to grow. With the increasing economic importance of Aotearoa, a treaty became interesting for both parties. The British Crown saw no point in a war of conquest, and wanted to use the treaty to prevent the country from falling into French hands. The Māori were willing to join the mighty British Empire, although by no means all Māori chiefs signed the tiriti – as they called it.
Although the treaty initially seemed a success, the treaty text turned out to be a source of future conflict. The different language versions of the treaty and tiriti turned out to be a tricky point. The English language version mentioned the British Crown to have sovereignty over New Zealand, whereas in the Māori language version it was stated that the Crown receives kawanatanga, arguably a lesser authority over the Māori and their lands. Inevitable conflicts over land ownership and use arose when settlers from Britain arrived in large numbers in the years that followed.
New Zealand’s history and cultural challenges are very well explained here and brought to life with interesting displays. It certainly helps to understand some of the current-day debates that regularly flare up in New Zealand.