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Speech to text: Missionary endeavours “to fix the Language of the New Zealanders”

A paper given by L.Paterson at the “Dialogues: Exploring the Drama of Early Missionary Encounters” symposium, Hocken Collections, Dunedin, 7-8 November, 2014.

In this paper I am looking mainly at Thomas Kendall, a member of the first batch of missionaries to New Zealand, and his efforts to create an orthography for te reo Māori. This is of course a topic that other scholars have covered in the past, not least Judith Binney and Jane McRae, but the theme of this symposium is “Dialogues: exploring the drama of early missionary encounters”, held as part of the launching of the new online archive of the Hocken Library’s Marsden Collection, so my paper makes an effort to utilize some of the discussions on orthography from that archive.

I perhaps need to state that I am a historian with some Māori-language skills rather than someone with expertise in linguistics, and I am straying a little outside of my normal period, the 1850s to the early twentieth century, to look at this early missionary period. It is also good that Kuni Jenkins and Alison Jones’s paper at this symposium on the early Missionary-Māori encounter, and their reflection on their 2012 book, He Kōrero: First Maori- Pakeha Conversations on Paper, gives a good insight on how Māori contributed to the development of the orthography. The archive, compiled from missionary letters and journals, is less revealing on their input. The “dialogues” that follow are largely between Thomas Kendall, an on-the-ground missionary, Samuel Marsden, his immediate superior in Sydney, and the Church Missionary Society officials in London. What these texts do showcase is the ease with which historical material can be gleaned from the wealth of material contained in the Marsden Online Archive.

One thing that was important to the early missionaries was to make the scriptures available to Māori in their own language. If Māori were able to read the Bible in their own language, then it would be easier to convert them to Christianity. For this to happen missionaries would have to learn not only how to speak the language, but also to develop a system for writing it down. This would then make it possible to teach Māori how to read, as well as to translate and print the scriptures.

Although not yet ordained, Kendall was the best educated of the missionaries, and as can be seen on a letter written to one of the CMS Secretaries when on his exploratory trip to the Bay of Islands in early 1814, he was well aware that the task would not be easy.

As far as I am concerned, I should know but little of myself, did I not feel conscious of my own inability. Even an attempt to fix the Language of the New Zealanders so that they may be instructed in their own Tongue is a great work; and cannot in the very nature of things be accomplished for some years to come…

[Thomas Kendall to Josiah Pratt, 25 March 1814. MS_0054_035and036.]

We can see here some of Kendall’s early efforts at collecting vocabulary from that first trip.

Ire mi kiki                             (Come & eat)

Haere mai kaikai [Haere mai [ki te] kai.]

Emmera Ho my why           (Bring me some water)

E mara homai [he] wai.          

Yahheeyahee pi                     (A fine night)

Ahiahi pai

[Thomas Kendall to Josiah Pratt, 15 June 1814. MS_0054_043.]

When you compare his renditions with how they might be spelled now (in italics) – we can see that he has utilized English vowel sounds in his spelling.   However, he has not been consistent, for example writing the AI sound, as in kai, wai and pai, with either an I or a Y.

The whole process was going to be slow, but the CMS was hopeful. We can see here a letter from one of their secretaries less than a year after the mission was first planted expecting Kendall to be making a start at translating some scripture.

We shall hope to hear that you have made proficiency in the New Zealand tongue; and that the way will be thus prepared by you for the Translation of the Scriptures, when you are joined by a Clergyman who understands the originals. In the mean while we hope that you will prepare portions of Scripture, as well as you may be able; and that the little New Zealanders will, under your kind and paternal care, first learn the rudiments of their own tongue out of the Book of God.

[Rev Josiah Pratt to Thomas Kendall, 16 August 1815. MS_0055_019]

However, it was clear that they thought authorative translations were probably beyond Kendall’s skills, and a “real” clergyman who understood the Greek and Hebrew versions would be needed. By October, 1815 Kendall wrote back to Pratt ”I can speak to them in their own tongue, as yet, but very imperfectly” and he asked if a clergyman could come to help with “fixing the Native Language”. [Thomas Kendall to Samuel Marsden, 27 May 1815. MS_0055_012.]

No clergyman was as yet forthcoming, and in 1815 he produced A Korao no New Zealand, the first book produced for a Māori audience. His grammar is slightly better than his original collections, but we can see in an extract that his spelling continues on the same basis – using English vowels. The italicised text is as it would be spelled today.

Kámatte aou te eaki    (I am very hungry)

Ka mate au [i] te hiakai.

Iremi taooa kekone kiei (Come let us sit down and eat.)

Haere mai tāua ki konei kai ai.

[T. Kendall, A Korao no New Zealand (1815)]

Kendall was not a trained linguist, and he wrote the sounds as he heard and understood them. Notwithstanding that Māori may have simplified their expressions to make comprehension easier for Kendall, as can be seen in an example he collected in early 1814.

Shoroe ahaw Dingha Dingha Matta

(Wash your hands and face)

Horoia ōu ringaringa [me tōu] mata.

[Thomas Kendall to Josiah Pratt, 15 June 1814. MS_0054_043.]

But why does it seem so different to modern Māori? We should compare his efforts with modern-day language learners. If you asked an average Japanese people today to say “red” he may well say “led” or “red”. That is because the Japanese language does not distinguish between these sounds, and either L or R can be used in Japanese without changing the meaning at all. Indeed, many Japanese people cannot really hear the difference.   Similarly many English speakers have difficulty with other languages, such as Russian or Arabic, that distinguish between sounds that English does not.

Ngāpuhi simply did not differentiate between SH and H, or between D and R. Here in Southern New Zealand, Kai Tahu did not differentiate between L and R, which is why we have Lake Waihola just down the road.  But H and SH sounds did sound different to Kendall, so he wrote them down as he heard them.

It is well known that Professor Samuel Lee, the famed linguist at Cambridge University, collaborated with Kendall, Hongi Hika and Waikato in 1820 to create an orthography for te reo Māori.  But Lee’s involvement had began several years earlier. In 1818 Lee was already working on Māori grammar, with the aid of Kendall’s A Korao no New Zealand, as well as the services of two Māori travellers, Tuai and Tītere.  [Edward Bickersteth and Josiah Pratt to Thomas Kendall, 12 March 1818, MS_0056_076]

It is clear too that Kendall was now leaning towards what were called the “continental” vowel sounds, such as used in Italian. In 1819 he wrote “The Taheitians … pronounce the sounds of the letters and vowels after a similar method very readily.”  [Thomas Kendall to Samuel Marsden, 21 April 1819. MS_0056_150.]

Although the missionaries in Tahiti had serious disagreements about an orthography for the Tahitian language, one of their number, John Davies, had developed a system based on “continental vowels”, which Kendall was referring to (Davies, p.77).   Kendall wrote later,

On the Sunday after easter I had an opportunity to examine some Taheitian sailors belonging to the Ship King George, and they read the Works of their Missionaries both in print & Manuscript very readily, whereas I am told, the Society Islanders [Tahitians] could never be taught by our [English-based] method.

[Thomas Kendall to Josiah Pratt, 20 May 1819. MS_0056_162.]

In another letter to Pratt he wrote,

Tell Mr Lee that in writing the New Zealand Language I have first fixed the Sounds of the vowels and then formed those sounds, without paying regard to the English or any other orthography.

[Thomas Kendall to Josiah Pratt, 17 May 1819. MS_0056_159.]

Several of Kendall’s manuscripts were subsequently sent to Lee and the CMS. The Secretaries wrote to Kendall,

The New Zealanders first Book [A Korao no New Zealand] has greatly pleased us. Our Orientalist, Mr Lee, is making use of Tooi & Teeterree (who have recently arrived) to form a complete Grammar & Vocabulary of the New Zealand Language.

[Edward Bickersteth and Josiah Pratt to Thomas Kendall, 12 March 1818. MS_0056_076.]

However Bickersteth and Pratt were a little more critical of Kendall’s efforts, when they wrote to Marsden.

Mr Kendall appears to have adopted too many marks of aspiration &c. His system would puzzle the New Zealanders. The whole will require deliberate investigation; and time spent herein in the outset will probably save a great deal in the end.

[Edward Bickersteth and Josiah Pratt to Samuel Marsden, 3 August 1819. MS_0056_188.]

So Hongi, Waikato and Kendall travelled to England in 1820, and while there they worked with Lee to work on an orthography, vocabulary and Grammar, published as A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand in 1820.


T.   Na tána wahíne ra óki i ó mai. Ke táwahi ra óki e O’ngi, ke Ingland. Ki á no koe i róngo nóa?

P.    Ki a no ‘au i róngo nóa.

T.    Kóa díro ke ráia; kóa tai ke, méa ka e óki mai.

P.    A’i! k’wai tóna kaipúke i éke ai ía?

Modern orthography

T.    Na tāna wahine rā hoki i homai. Kei tāwāhi rā hoki a Hongi, kei Ingarangi. Kianō koe i rongo noa?

P.    Kianō au i rongo noa.

T.    Kua riro kē rā ia; kua tae kē, meake e hoki mai.

P.    Āe! Ko wai tōna kaipuke i eke ai ia?

Thomas Kendall. A Grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand (1820).

We can see that there is a clear improvement on Kendall’s earlier work. However, the text still sports dropped Hs, and the use of both R and D.   Although there are a few things that don’t look right, most of the vowels are pretty close to modern Māori.

Kendall clearly wanted to take the credit for what was clearly a collaboration between Lee, Hongi, Waikato and himself.   He wrote to Pratt:

I thank you for indulging me with the privilege of the instruction of the Rev.d Professor Lee so long. I have now nearly completed my work. The Professor has assisted me very much I could not have done without him.

[Thomas Kendall to Josiah Pratt, 4 October 1820. MS_0498_094.]

So how did their efforts go down with the other missionaries?   Kendall’s contemporaries did not like it at all, and their main concern appears to be with the use of the continental vowels.   Marsden visited New Zealand in 1823. Kendall had been sacked at this point due to his adultery, and was waiting to leave New Zealand, but he had been told to draw up a vocabulary, using the English vowel sounds.

When I called upon you after our Shipwreck I advised you to employ your time untill [sic] an opportunity for our return to Port Jackson, in drawing up a vocabulary of the New Zealand language in as correct and simple a manner as you could retaining the pronunciation of the English Vowels, as I found the Missionaries met with insuperable difficulties in speaking the language according to the Rules laid down in your Grammer. [sic]

[Samuel Marsden to Thomas Kendall, 14 August 1823. MS_0057_098.]

The debate over English versus continental vowels also occurred in Tahiti, where John Davies was initially outvoted in his attempt to do away with the English vowels (Davies, p.78). As in New Zealand, his contemporaries thought learning a new system would be too hard.

Marsden writing in his journal declared the Grammar to be imperfect, and confusing.

The rules laid down in the Grammer [sic] for the Orthography and Pronounciation of the language is not simple enough for the Missionaries to comprehend— They cannot retain in their memory the sound of the vowels as laid down in the rules of the Grammer— and pronounce them as the Natives can understand them.

[Samuel Marsden’s Journal from 2 July 1823 to 1 November 1823. MS_0177_003.]

I do not see any good reason for changing the sound of the vowels as the New Zealanders can with so much ease sound all the English Alphabet— If in speaking and writing the N[ew] Zealand language the Europeans retain the English pronounciation, the whole difficulty of which they complain, will be removed.

[Samuel Marsden’s Journal from 2 July 1823 to 1 November 1823. MS_0177_003.]

Marsden met with Kendall, who admitted that even he could not follow all the rules. Marsden wrote,

It appeared to me absurd to study Mr Kendalls theory, which he himself could not reduce to practice.

[Marsden’s Personal Copy of the Journal of his Fourth Visit to New Zealand. MS_0177_004.]

Marsden also thought it better if Māori first learnt the English sounds, and then learnt the English language, especially as he thought the Māori language “unchaste”.

I also recommended that all the English terms for such things as the native had never seen, should be introduced into the N Zealand language, that a Sheep should be called a Sheep, a Cow a Cow &c.

[Samuel Marsden’s Journal from 2 July 1823 to 1 November 1823. MS_0177_003.]

Rev Nathaniel Turner, one of the Wesleyan missionaries in the Bay of Islands, also called on Marsden to complain about the 1820 Grammar. Marsden reassured him that it would be going back to the way it was. Turner “expressed much satisfaction” at retaining the English vowels. Marsden opined:

I hope this question will now be at rest, as all are unanimously of opinion that the Vowels should retain the English pronounciation [sic]

[Marsden’s Personal Copy of the Journal of his Fourth Visit to New Zealand. MS_0177_004.]

Marsden’s 1823 visit coincided with changes in the Mission. He brought Rev. Henry Williams to New Zealand and Williams soon after became the effective leader of the Mission. Less than six months after arriving, the new missionary had decided that Kendall’s grammar was a dud.

We, in Council, have condemned the book called “The Grammar.” I cannot tell what share Professor Lee may have had in the composition thereof, but it certainly appears far from simplicity.

[Henry Williams to the Rev E. G. Marsh, January 27, 1824, in Carleton, p.37.]

The Grammar did however made its way to Hawai’i, where the missionaries there may have used it, as they too grappled with creating an orthography for the Hawaiian language (Schütz, p.251).

Kendall was still living in the Bay of Islands at this stage, but away from the mission, and therefore sidelined from new developments in the orthography.    Williams put more emphasis on learning the language, as his biographer suggested “not in the slovenly style in which it may be learned by conversation, but in a scholar-like fashion, ascertaining the rules by which it is governed, compiling a dictionary, and fitting themselves to undertake a translation of the Holy Scriptures” (Carleton, p.32). In this efforts he was helped by his brother William Williams who arrived in 1826, and Robert Maunsell in 1836.

Over the next few years there was a slow adaptation of Māori-language orthography.  Take, for example this example from 1826: a Proclamation by the NSW governor.

Ná tóna Excelenei, iá Sir Thomasa Brisabane, ko te Captani, ko te tíno Rángatira wáka shau; o ténei káinga, o New South Wales, me óna tíne motu atu óki, &c. &c. &c.

II. Na te méa, e máha ngá páshua tanga o ngá Mótu, kí te Moana Pocifica; a, kí te Moana tudiana, e nga tángata kíno: á ko ugá [sic] tàngata shóko ká máte iá rátou;

[Books in Māori, 6]

The translation was probably done by the John Butler, who had been a missionary at Kerikeri, but by 1826 was living in NSW. We can see the use of some English words and names, and some of the consonants of the older orthographies, such as the W for WH, SH for H, and D for R.

This was also the case in the example below, an extract from the Wesleyan Methodist Mission version’s of the Lord’s Prayer also printed in 1826.

To matu Matua e noho’na koe i dunga ki te rangi, kia tabu tou ingwa.    [Books in Māori, 7]

But it appears that any move to return to English vowels was now over.   As we see from these scriptural selections below from 1829 and 1833, within a few years written Māori had almost achieved its modern form.

Ko te tahi o nga upoko.

1 I te orokomeatanga i hanga e te Atua te rangi me te ’wenua.       

[Books in Māori, 9]

Ko te tahi wahi o te Kawenata Hou o Ihu Karaiti te Ariki, to tatou Kai Wakaora. Me nga upoko e waru o te pukapuka o Kenehi. Ka oti nei te wakamaori ki te reo o Nu Tirani.  

[Books in Māori, 15]

What is notable is that the Williams brothers did not opt for English vowels, but continued with the continental vowels that the 1820 grammar had introduced. The new missionaries, such as the Williams brothers, were far better linguists than Kendall, and developed the orthography to its more usable form.   They were aware that the Māori language did not distinguish between D and R, so opted just for the R. Similarly other unnecessary letters such as B, L, and SH were dropped. The one major exception that remained was the use of W or ‘W for the WH sound, as seen above. As Binney points out Kendall did attempt, unsuccessfully, to republish a revised grammar in the late 1820s, in which the WH sound would have been differentiated (Judith Binney. ‘Kendall, Thomas’, DNZB).   But it was not until the 1840s that the WH was incorporated into the orthography.   It is quite possible that regularizing the spelling, and the spread of literacy, has, over time, also had an effect on how te reo was pronounced, with sounds such as D and L falling out of favour.

In conclusion, Thomas Kendall was right in 1814 when he said that fixing the language would be a great work, and a task that would take some years to achieve.   He struggled initially with his English ear, but together with Hongi, Waikato, and Samuel Lee, created an orthography in 1820 that went some of the way to finding a workable system. Their efforts were not appreciated by the other missionaries, who wanted to keep to the old style of writing Māori down.   It was really the next wave of missionaries, better educated and more methodical in approach, who improved on Kendall’s work, translated considerable amounts of the scriptures, and who had the most success with their evangelical endeavours.




Carleton, H. The Life of Henry Williams, Auckland, 1874.

John Davies, A History of the Tahitian Mission 1799-1830, edited by C.W. Newbury (ed), Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961.

Jones A. and K. Jenkins, He Kōrero: First Maori- Pakeha Conversations on Paper, Wellington: Huia, 2012.

Kendall, T. A Korao no New Zealand, Sydney, 1815.

Kendall T. and S. Lee, A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand, London, 1820.

Parkinson P. and P. Griffith, Books in Māori 1815-1900: Ngā Tānga Reo Māori, Auckland: Reed, 2004.

Schütz, A. J. Voices of Eden: A History of Hawaiian Studies, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press,1994.




New Zealand’s Victorians Uncool?

The New Zealand Herald has just published its list of the “Coolest 50 Kiwis Ever“.  The paper admits that its list is subjective.  It has a reasonable percentage of women and Māori but, like many of these kinds of lists, individuals from the present and near present predominate, and coolness is seen to fade as time passes.  What is quite incredible is that it appears that no one cool flourished in the nineteenth century.  This is of course the “coolest Kiwis ever”, and New Zealanders in the nineteenth century probably didn’t consider themselves as “kiwi”, or think that “coolness” related to anything other than temperature.  Yes, New Zealand’s population was much fewer in the nineteenth century, but surely there were one or two individuals in the colonial period who were well known, widely admired, and who captured the public imagination (while still retaining the classic New Zealand humility) or perhaps even a few gay blades and gals whose ascetic stood out from the crowd.


“Tino Rangatiratanga: a Constitutional Problem Child?”

Lachy Paterson, “Tino Rangatiratanga: a Constitutional Problem Child?”

This is the text of a presentation given at Centre for Research on Colonial Culture event, Colonial Origins of New Zealand Government and Politics, Dunedin, 8 March 2013.


The Treaty of Waitangi is important, perhaps central, to current discussion on New Zealand’s constitution.  The government established the Constitutional Advisory Panel largely at the instigation of the Māori Party, who in their own press release squarely saw the review in terms of the Treaty.[1]

Now in 2011, we have a great opportunity to make good on that invitation, to breathe new life into the call from the people to honour the Treaty.  

‘On December 8, both parties announced a wide-ranging review to include matters such as the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, Māori representation, the role of the Treaty and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution.

The “role of the Treaty” sits within the Panel’s Terms of Reference, and the Treaty features prominently in the panel’s publication, The Conversation So Far.[2]  In addition it is the role that the Treaty might play in our country’s constitutional future that is most contentious.   For example, ‘in response to the Maori Party’s plan to replace our constitution with one based on the Treaty of Waitangi to give the tribal elite supreme power in New Zealand’ the right-wing New Zealand Centre for Political Research set up its own Independent Constitutional Review of politicians and academics.  Without appearing to have consulted with anyone, this body has rejected the Treaty and its principles out of hand.[3]

What is not being talked about, yet is surely implicit, is what is so attractive, or so noxious about the Treaty and its place within the constitution, the concept of “tino rangatiratanga”, and what constitutional rights Māori might get that others will not, and how will these rights might impinge on others.   Despite the Treaty’s prominence in The Conversation So Far, including five pages specifically to its role, the only attempt to define rangatiratanga that I can find is that the Treaty gave chiefs ‘absolute authority for chiefs (or rangatira) to be chiefs and to hold sway in their territories’. The document also states that ‘The Waitangi Tribunal is responsible for defining what the Treaty means in a modern context’, something that actually appears beyond the scope of the Treaty of Waitangi Act.[4]  In the event of a written constitution, I would imagine, for both judicial and political reasons, that courts will be tasked with defining rangatiratanga rights rather than the Tribunal.

As we all know, there are differences between the English-language Treaty of Waitangi and the Māori-language Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  To a large extent, current academic assumptions of Te Tiriti stem from Ruth Ross’s essay in 1972 which suggests that Māori saw kāwanatanga (government) as somewhat limited in scope, certainly not the sovereignty ceded in the Treaty, and that the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga was significantly more than mere ownership of land and possessions.[5] Ross’s observations were not necessarily new: Māori had been saying this at least a century earlier, and New Zealand’s first Chief Justice, Sir William Martin, before that.  Ross’s interpretation happened to emerge concurrently with educated urban Māori asserting their rights and grievances, and has since fostered a new Treaty orthodoxy, at least as lip service, within church, state, and academia.  However, notwithstanding the largely homogeneous nature of this public “treaty discourse”, there is no real consensus on what rangatiratanga might actually mean in practice, to Māori, or to Pākehā.[6]   What Pākehā may have to give up, to placate the unknown of rangatiratanga, remains for them, a continuing site of unease.   Rangatiratanga is obviously not a straightforward concept.  Nor was it so during New Zealand’s colonial past.  The point of this discussion is to investigate the term, rangatiratanga, within historical contexts.   Hopefully this will stimulate some debate.  What did rangatiratanga actually mean during New Zealand’s colonial past, and why might this be relevant for the panel.

Rangatiratanga is a derived noun: rangatira means chief or chiefly, while rangatiratanga denotes abstract qualities, such as, according to the Williams Dictionary ‘evidence of breeding and greatness’.   Given that Māori society was hierarchical, and that superior whakapapa (or breeding) gave one greater standing and mana (power and authority), rangatiratanga was thus a positive attribute.  Lyndsay Head, sifting through Ngā Mahi a ngā Tupuna, a volume of Māori traditions, claims that mana related only to religious contexts, and that rangatiratanga was reserved for worthy behaviour rather than political power. Head also asserts that rangatiratanga was a Pākehā construction, a ‘semantic improvisation’ to translate the new concepts of power and authority Māori were encountering, and that ‘it fitted the new world better than the old, hence its scarcity in accounts of the former.’[7]

When Pākehā, such as missionaries, sought to introduce words for new items or concepts into Māori, they sometimes employ loanwords, such as Paipera for Bible, hoari for sword, Hīhā for Caesar.   However, for more metaphysical concepts, they often borrowed Māori words with a similar meaning.   They added an additional specific definition, the subtleties of which they would then need to explain to Māori.   Thus atua (spiritual entity) and tapu (restricted) have pre-contact meanings, but also gained Christian definitions.  When missionaries were looking for a term to translate “kingdom” (or similar terms) they often used rangatiratanga, building on its attributes of chiefliness, hierarchy and status.  The word appears over 200 times in the Māori Bible, mostly in the New Testament where it is commonly used for the higher kingdom of God, although it was also used to used to define more earthly realms.  The word kīngitanga was also used for kingdom, although mostly in the Old Testament.    The transfer of rangatiratanga for kingdom from spiritual to secular can be seen in this 1831 land deed, where the United Kingdom is described in terms of  rangatiratanga.[8]

…na taua Kirepeti Mea kaihanga kaipuke o te kainga i huaina ko Pitahere, i Koterani no nga rangatiratanga huihui o Piritane Nui, a Airirani.

“…whereas the said Gilbert Mair shipbuilder by trade, of and from the town or place called Perhead of Scotland in and of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland…”

But what of political authority?  In these two examples from the 1840s, we can see Māori using rangatiratanga in terms of abstract political power.  This goes beyond mere personal qualities, even if – according to Head – this had not been the case in pre-contact times.[9]

…engari au e rima rau oku tangata i roto i toku rangatiratanga.

[…but I have 500 men within my chieftainship.]

…e kore ahau e hui i toku rangatiratanga ki to nga tangata o Wairarapa.

[…I will not associate my chieftainship with that of the people of Wairarapa.] 

Given the context of the Māori scriptural lexicon of both heavenly and earthly kingdom, it is perhaps not surprising that missionaries, when translating the Northern chiefs’ 1835 Declaration of Independence, rendered the word ‘independence’, that of Māori chiefs, as ‘rangatiratanga’, and ‘all sovereign power and authority’ with ‘kīngitanga’ and ‘mana’.  These were logical extensions of the Biblical lexicon.  What is less clear is why missionaries, five years later, when translating the Treaty of Waitangi by which Britain annexed New Zealand, used rangatiratanga (with the intensifier tino) to define mere land possession in the second article.  Head suggests that it was to downplay the fears of Northern chiefs about losing their lands.

However, as seen in the old land deed below, where missionaries, buying land just one month before the Treaty was signed, included the words mana and rangatiratanga in the Māori-language version of the deed to reinforce the nature of the transfer.[10]

…kua oti te tuku e matou e Panakareao ma ki te Hahi Mihanare tetahi wahi wenua oti tonu atu me nga rakau katoa me nga aha noa me nga aha noa katoa e tupu ana i taua wenua me nga mea katoa o raro i taua wenua, me te rangatiratanga me te mana i runga i taua wenua.

[…that I Noble Panakareao and tribe have sold to the Church Missionary Society a piece of land forever, trees and everything else that grows on it and all things below it.” [and the rangatiratanga and mana on that land.]]

Clearly rangatiratanga could also refer to land ownership.

Whatever the Māori understanding of the Treaty was, chiefs who signed thought that the rangatiratanga of their lands and taonga [valued possessions] was guaranteed, and Governor-to-be Hobson considered, once sufficient signed copies of the Treaty were back, that the Crown had gained sovereignty.   However, Hobson was hardly in control.  While Māori authority was real in 1840 – however it was defined –Crown sovereignty was liminal at best.  The government sought to realise its sovereignty, which could only come at the expense of rangatiratanga.  I think that this is signalled in the Treaty, where it talks not of rangatiratanga per se, but transitively; the rangatiratanga of things, including land.  The Treaty’s second article also states that Māori who desired could sell their land to the Queen.   This was one way that Crown control could be extended over the country, and by implication, rangatiratanga diminished.

In the two decades after the signing of the Treaty, the term rangatiratanga for the most part is absent from both governmental and recorded Māori discussions on the nature of institutional power, with the term mana – specifically “te mana o te Kuīni”, [the Queen’s mana] the preferred term.  Rangatiratanga, however, developed new meanings in the colonial setting.  It was being used to define Pākehā customs, and concepts such as civilisation, prosperity, and knowledge – all things that both missionaries and officials thought Māori should aspire to.   The government did not use the term to define chiefly authority: it was proactive in directing all discourse on power, including the Treaty, and perhaps did not want to cloud the desired Māori acquiescence to Crown sovereignty with any notions of chiefly rule. For example, when Governor Browne reiterated the [government’s] principles of the Treaty to assembled chiefs at the Kohimarama Conference in 1860, the Māori re-translation of the second article avoided rangatiratanga completely, and his speech asserted that Māori ‘completely gave up to the Queen of England all the processes and mana of government that they all had, or that one or another of them had, and all things like that which they are thought/said to have’.[11]  Browne also threatened that Māori who did not align with the Crown would lose the Treaty’s guarantees.   In effect, it was the Crown of the 1860s that was holding up the Treaty – its interpretation – against any ideas of Māori autonomy.

Some Māori paid lip service to this colonial discourse, but those who did not – such as the Kīngitanga of the 1860s, and its sympathizers  – saw the Treaty as a fraud.  Its own newspaper, Te Hokioi, expressly rejected the Treaty, first because many chiefs hadn’t signed it, and second because those who had signed had been duped.  It was a ‘covenant of the blind’.[12] The Kīngitanga defined its authority in terms of mana, in effect sovereignty, relating to land as yet unsold.[13]

…koia ra tenei me tu te mana o kingi potatau ki runga o nga wahi o Nui tireni e mau nei ki a tatou, me tu te mana o kuini ki runga i nga wahi kua riro atu ki a ia… 

[…it is this, let the mana of King Pōtatau stand on the parts of New Zealand that we still hold, and let the mana of the Queen stand on the parts that she has obtained…]

It was in the 1870s, the early post-war period that what might be deemed a modern treaty discourse emerged, in which rangatiratanga was posited as something more than a guarantee of land ownership.  This can be seen in the pages of the Māori newspaper, Te Wananga, which rendered rangatiratanga within its Treaty translations as both “dominion” and “the chieftainship”.[14] This was also the period when the Repudiation Movement was challenging some very dodgy land sales through the courts, and local Māori rūnanga were attempting to take control of decisions over land lest they be left to the Pākehā-controlled Native Land Court.  Its successor, the Kotahitanga also engaged in these discourses.  I imagine that the immediate post-wars period, when some of the naked realities of colonisation became apparent to Māori, that a Māori re-reading of the Tiriti became particularly attractive.   This interpretation may have troubled the government, which produced a new translation of the English version in 1869.   Sovereignty, formerly “kāwanatanga”, became “mana” and “rangatiratanga”, and the Article 2 guarantees, formerly “rangatiratanga”, were downgraded to mere “tūturutanga” (fixedness) of their lands.[15]

Ultimately the Treaty was a stick and carrot with which the government tried to impose Crown sovereignty up until the early 1860s.  It was only useful to the government in the early stages of asserting its power, and once it had decided that coercion was the method to solve its problems, the Treaty lost its relevance to the Crown.   We see this in 1877, when Māori were claiming rights in court based on Article 2, that Chief Justice, Sir James Prendergast, determined that the Treaty was “worthless” and a legal “nullity”.[16]

The Kīngitanga and the Crown made peace in 1882.  In 1862 the movement had suggested that the Treaty was a fraud, and did not apply to those who did not sign it.  After 1882, the Kīngitanga, like the Kotahitanga, promulgated a Tiriti-inclusive argument.  This was not expressed in terms of rangatiratanga, but of mana, mana motuhake (or separate authority).   However, the Kīngitanga now justified that mana on the basis of Treaty guarantees, rather than that the Treaty did not apply to them.


Te Paki o Matariki, Kīngitanga newspaper

The dynamic nature of Māori opinion can be seen too in the words of Rēnata Kawepō of Ngāti Kahungunu.  In 1860, he was sympathetic to the Kīngitanga and troubled by the Crown’s aggression in the first Taranaki War.  For this reason he describes the Treaty as having failed.[17]

Inahoki kua he ano te Tiriti o Waitangi, i kiia ra hoki ko taua tiriti he Kawenata kei tikina mai e etahi iwi ke, te tae mai aua iwi kino ki te patu i a matou.  Ka puta tonu mai i roto i a koutou i te iwi naana taua Kawenata nei te patu i a matou.

[Moreover, the Treaty of Waitangi has failed.  That Treaty is said to be a Covenant lest [we] be taken by some foreign peoples. Those bad people did not come to attack us.  The attack on us came from among you, the people who made that Covenant.]

However, in the following decade, due to the threat of the Pai Mārire movement to his chiefly position, Kawepō had re-aligned himself to the Crown and fought as their ally.  By the 1870s, he was not totally content with the Crown’s actions, but saw his chiefly position best protected by the Treaty.[18]

Tenei toku kupu ki a koe, e takoto nui tonu ana taku mana, i tapiritia nei e te kupu a Te Kuini, ara, e tona Tiriti i Waitangi; e ki nei, ki au ano te mana o toku whenua.

This is my word to you, my mana, which was confirmed by [the Queen’s word, that is] the Treaty of Waitangi, still remains in force.  The Treaty of Waitangi, which declared that the mana of my land should remain with me.

However, during this last quarter of the nineteenth century, despite the shift towards Māori viewing the Treaty as the bulwark of their rights, they tended not to use the term rangatiratanga in the context of these Treaty rights.  Nearly always, the term used was mana.    For example, the Repudiationist Hēnare Matua used mana to define land rights in 1876.[19]

Na te Tiriti o Waitangi i mana ai ta tatou pupuri i o tatou whenua, i mana ai nga Kooti, me nga mokete.  Mei kore te Tiriti i Waitangi, kua penatia tatou me nga motu o te Ao nei.

[It was through the Treaty of Waitangi that our holding of our lands was empowered [mana] and that Courts and mortgages were empowered.  If it were not for the Treaty of Waitangi, we would have been like other countries in the world’.]

A correspondent to Te Wananga also wrote, ‘You heard the word within the Treaty at Waitangi, that is, that the mana of the land should be left to the Māori people.’[20]

Why did Māori not use the term rangatiratanga to assert these rights?  In the post-wars period, the government considered that it was gaining the upper hand. Māori were increasingly being pushed to the margins politically, and swamped demographically by immigration.  Less concerned about civilisation or social customs, the Crown increasingly used rangatiratanga in its own discourses to Māori in the context of governmental power.  The United Kingdom became “te Rangatiratanga Kotahi”, and the Queen’s sovereignty as “te rangatiratanga o te Kuini”.[21] The Crown continued to usurp the term in the services of colonisation, and even Te Wananga, a Māori-controlled newspaper, used rangatiratanga in the context of colonial or imperial power.  Even the Kotahitanga, whose full name was “Te Kotahitanga o te Tiriti o Waitangi” based its right to exist, in its discourses of the 1890s, on tribal mana rather than rangatiratanga.

Not all post-wars Māori adhered to a Tiriti discourse.  For example, James Carroll of Ngāti Kahungunu was a politician who, as can be seen in this discussion he had with Ngāti Tūwharetoa ariki, te Heuheu Tūkino V, promulgated a more positivist legal interpretation of the Treaty.[22]

124. . . .Te Heuheu: Ka korero atu au i taku ake whakaaro. Ae; kua takahia te wahi tuatahi o te rarangi tuarua o te tiriti.

125. Hon. Timi Kara: I peheatia te takahi?

Te Heuheu: Koia tenei, kaore ano ona tikanga i whakatutukitia. Ko nga mana mo nga Maori i whakatuturutia nei e taua rarangi kaore ano i hoatu ki a ratou.

126. Hon. Timi Kara: Kaore ano koia i hoatu nga taitara o o ratou whenua ki a ratou?

 – – –

124. … [te Heuheu] I will give my own opinion.  Yes; the first provisions of the second article  of the treaty have been broken.

125.  [Carroll] How?

[te Heuheu] It has been trampled on in this way: it was never given effect to.  The rights which that article assures to the Natives have never been given to them.

126. [Carroll] Have they not got titles to their lands?

Carroll was a mentor to Āpirana Ngata, leader of the Young Māori Party. This new movement saw Māori society as in need of reform to improve it socially, materially and spiritually.  Ngata didn’t see this as achievable through striving for self-determination, but through better education and engagement with the parliamentary processes.[23] In 1922 Ngata published a series of articles on the Treaty in Te Toa Takitini in which he stated that Māori who sought mana Māori motuhake through Article 2 were mistaken.  Sovereignty had been ceded to the Crown through Article 1, and rangatiratanga pertained to property ownership.[24]

Ka puta nga wawata a nga Ropu Maori ki te mana Maori motuhake, ahakoa kiia he Kotahitanga, he Kauhanganui, he Paremata Maori he aha ranei te ingoa, e hoki ana aua wawata ki tenei upoko o te Tiriti. Otira na te pohehe i pera ai. Ara kei te mana o te Maori kua tapaetia atu e te Upoko Tuatahi o te Tiriti mo ake tonu atu.

[Various Māori groups, whether Kotahitanga, Kauhanganui, Māori Parliament or some other name, have yearned for separate Māori authority and those dreams go back to this [second] article of the Treaty.  But it is from mistakenness that they think so, because the mana of the Māori people has been covered over by the First Article of the Treaty forever more.]

The Young Maori Party saw the Māori race as in danger of extinction, not just culturally but as an actual people and pragmatism was the only way to save it.  In contrast, the religious and political leader, Tahupōtiki Rātana, who also sought to save the Māori people, regarded the Treaty of Waitangi as of pivotal importance to his mission.

So what does this mean for the Constitutional Review?  Unfortunately, most publically espoused positions fall into two opposing poles.  On one side are those who wish to avoid addressing the Treaty.  At least, they are happy to accept the Treaty having given the Crown sovereignty, but not that rangatiratanga ascribes any special rights to Māori.  The New Zealand Centre for Political Research and its own Independent Constitutional Review fit this bill.  On the other hand, the Crown, churches, iwi and many academics all believe that the Treaty is of fundamental importance to modern New Zealand society. For example, church and union groups – non-state agencies – still see a need for a ‘Tiriti partnership relationship’.[25]   Some have described the Treaty as “sacred”, or as one Presbyterian minister told his congregation, a “secular scripture”.[26] Although many agree on the importance of rangatiratanga, there can be quite marked differences in interpretation.  For example, Network Waitangi assert that the term equates with ‘the continuance of Maori authority and sovereignty’[27] whereas recent statements from the judiciary or Waitangi Tribunal talk more of resource management, or woolier terms, such as ‘a claim to an ongoing distinctive existence as a people’,[28] or ‘self-management’ or ‘self-regulation’,[29] or ‘full authority status and prestige with regard to [Maori] possessions and interests’.[30] In the case of the Mangonui Sewerage Report, rangatiratanga is the right to be consulted.[31]

The Treaty is important to the constitution.  It is a mechanism through which Māori can engage collectively with the state.  However, the Treaty’s past is far less cut-and-dried than it is sometimes portrayed. The historian can point this out, but it is for other professions to determine political and legal truths for today.  However, there are four key points from this talk that I would like to stress.

First, that rangatiratanga has meanings outside of the Treaty, including notions of prosperity and civilisation, and even God’s heavenly kingdom.

Second that it was largely absent from Treaty discourses, or merely implied, for most of the nineteenth century.  What’s now expressed as rangatiratanga was more commonly known as mana.  Its other meanings, and the Crown’s appropriation to define colonial rule, meant that it was not often used to define Māori treaty rights.  However, this not mean those rights did not exist.

My third point is that during the colonial period Māori attitudes and opinion towards the Treaty, and by implication rangatiratanga, had more to do with the pragmatics of politics than enduring principles.  Some Māori barely considered the Treaty before the 1860s.  In 1860, the Governor asserted the Queen’s sovereignty as the Crown’s treaty right, and threatened the removal of Treaty guarantees from Māori who did not accept this.  Perhaps understandably the Kīngitanga, attempting to create a Māori state, rejected the Treaty.   In the post-wars period, as the state endeavoured to further impose its power over Māori, movements such as the Kotahitanga and the Kīngitanga promoted the Treaty as the bastion of their rights.  In the early twentieth century Ngata, seeing more benefit for Māori through working within state institutions, rejected the tino rangatiratanga discourse and asserted Crown sovereignty.

My fourth and final point is, when determining constitutional niceties for the twenty-first century, it does not hurt to remember the messiness of the past.



[1] Māori Party Press Release, Constitutional courage, constitutional change, January 2011,

[2]Constitutional Review Panel, New Zealand’s Constitution: The Conversation So Far, September 2012.

[3] ;

[4]The Conversation So Far, p.8.

[5] Ruth Ross. ‘The Treaty of Waitangi: Texts and Interpretations’, New Zealand Journal of History, 6, 2, 1972, pp.129-157.

[6]Macalister, John. 2008. ‘Tracking Changes in Familiarity with Borrowings from te Reo Māori.’ Te Reo 51, p. 85.

[7] Lyndsay Head ‘The Pursuit of Modernity in Maori Society: The Conceptual Bases of Citizenship in the Early Colonial Period’ in Andrew Sharp & Paul McHugh (eds) Histories, Power and Loss: Uses of the Past – A New Zealand Commentary Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2001, pp. 106-7.

[8] H. Hanson Turton, Maori Deeds of Old Private Land Purchases in New Zealand from the Year 1815 to 1840, with Pre-Emptive and Other Claims, Wellington: Government Printer, 1882, pp. 76, 78.

[9] Letter from Kawana Hakeke to McLean, Aug 1848.   Alexander Turnbull Library, MS-Papers-0032-0672C-06. Object #1031502; Letter from Hakaraia Te Rangiwakatakaura, Te Retimana to Te Kepa and Te Pere, 28 Nov 1848. Alexander Turnbull Library, MS-Papers-0032-0672E-08. Object #1031091.

[10] H. Hanson Turton, Maori Deeds of Old Private Land Purchases in New Zealand from the Year 1815 to 1840, with Pre-Emptive and Other Claims, Wellington: Government Printer, 1882, p.3.

[11] TKM 14/7/1860: 6.   Translation of Māori text.  ‘…tino tukua rawatia ana e ratou ki te Kuini o Ingarangi nga tikanga me nga mana Kawanatanga katoa i a ratou katoa, i tenei i tenei ranei o ratou, me nga pera katoa e meinga kei a ratou.’

[12] Te Hokioi, 15/2/1862: 2.

[13] Te Hokioi, 8/12/1862: 2.

[14] Te Wananga, 22/1/1876 p.38; 3/6/1876, p.215.

[15] Appendix to the Journal of the Legislative Council, 1869, p. 68.

[16] Wi Parata v Bishop of Wellington (1877) 3 NZ Jur (NS) 72 (SC).

[17] Rēnata Kawepō.  ‘Letter Answering the Letter of Thomas Fitzgerald, The Superintendent of Napier, H.B.  Pā Whakairo, February 1861.’  Folios 30 & 31, McDonnell Papers, MS-Papers-0150 [ATL].

[18] Rēnata Kawepō, addressing Sir George Grey. 15/1/1877.  Te Wananga, 29/1/1877, pp.507, 510.

[19] Te Wananga, 15/4/1876: 167.

[20] Te Wananga, 21/2/1876: 77.

[21] Te Waka Maori o Niu Tirani, 15/12/1874: 311; 29/12/1874: 322)

[22] Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1898 Session I, I-03a.

[23] In 1897 he stated that people who knew Māori, ‘would not sympathise with the leaders of the [Kotahitanga] movement in their efforts to secure Home Rule and the power to legislate and administer Native Lands. The time would be better spent in agitating for the increase in Maori representation in Parliament…’A.T. Ngata ‘Maori Politics and Our Relation Thereto’, in Papers and Addresses read Before the First Conference of the Te Aute College Students Association, February, 1897 (Gisborne: Herald Office, 1897) p.34

[24] Te Toa Takitini, 1/6/1922, p.6.

[25] Example from Tertiary Education Union: Te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa, Te Tiriti o Waitangi – TEU Policy,, Updated 8 December, 2011.

[26] Allan Davidson, Waitangi Day, 2011. The Community of St Luke, Accessed 18 March, 2014.

[27] Network Waitangi, Treaty of Waitangi: Questions and Answers, 4th revised edition, (Christchurch: Network Waitangi, 2012), p.12.

[28] Janine Hayward, “Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi”, appendix to the National Overview. (Taiaroa v the Minister of Justice (1994), p. 482.

[29] Hayward (Manukau Report, p.486; Ngawha Geothermal Resources Report, p.492)

[30] Hayward (Manukau Report, p.486.)

[31] Hayward, p.492.


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