Did Maori really understand when they signed?
On February 6th 1840, the Treaty was first signed by Maori chiefs, declaring British, Sovereignty, possession and pre-emption over lands, estates and resources of New Zealand and Maori. Arguably one of the most important documents within New Zealand history, the Treaty has had great effect on shaping the New Zealand known today. However, much enquiry surrounds the question of whether Maori really understood the Treaty when they signed, and many different perspectives are held surrounding the matter.
The extract ‘The authentic and genuine history of the signing of the treaty of Waitangi’, allows us to analyse and establish the perspective of William Colenso, a member of the Church Missionary society within New Zealand, who was largely involved with the signing of the Treaty. Within his journal translations his perspective over Maoris’ understanding of the Treaty emerges.
Throughout the text Colenso prevents evidence, facts and statements which allow us to establish his view on whether Maori understand. Stating “there were several parties present-not less than 300, or even 400- scattered in small parties according to their tribes, talking about the treaty, but evidently not understanding it.” new see his initial belief that Maori did not understand what they were signing, and from the beginning their seemed to be general confusion over implements of the Treaty. Further in, he refers to the native chiefs being called upon to sign the treaty and states “Not one, however, made any move or seemed desirous of doing so, indicating that Maori were largely unwilling to sign and did not want to, until called upon individually. Colenso’s idea becomes more apparent when it is revealed “Hoani Heke (known, too, to be the most favourite towards the treaty) happened to be first…” This demonstrates that Maori may have felt pressured into signing; especially due to the fact Heke had already done so. We begin to see stronger evidence surrounding Colenso’s perspective that Maori did not understand the Treaty whilst reading one of his later recorded conversations. He approaches The Governor, sharing his doubts, when he says “May I ask your Excellency whether it is your opinion that these Natives understand the articles of the Treaty which they are called upon to sign. I this morning--” Here Colenso is interrupted, but it becomes apparent he was going to state that he believed the chiefs do not understand the treaty. He continues stating “Natives are quite like children in their ideas. It is no easy matter… To get them to understand- fully to comprehend a document of this kind. Then, in case of a reaction taking place, the native could not turn round on the missionary and say, ‘you advised me to sign that paper, but never told me what the contents thereof.” Here Colenso portrays a large amount of foresight over what may happen in the future when Maori come to grasp the true meaning of the Treaty and may realise what it was not what they originally thought, or had not understood from the very beginning. He proposes ensuring all Chiefs understand the treaty so they could not reattribute the missionaries later on for their approval of the Treaty and recommendation of signing to the chiefs, as the chiefs placed a large amount of trust within the missionaries. “I have spoken to some chiefs concerning it, who have no idea what ever to the purport of the treaty. Explain the thing in all its bearings to the natives, so that it should be their very own act and deed.” This is when Colenso’s most convincing argument and perspective arises as it is not just thought by him, but has become an issue addressed to the Governor about his true be belief that Maori did not understand the Treaty, believing it was something their ‘Native minds’ were to primitive to address and fully grasp. They could not understand the implements the Treaty would bring, and because of that were cautious and…