The Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi, is an agreement in both the te Reo Māori and English language. It was signed by representatives of the British Crown and by representatives of Māori tribal groups in 1840. It has been called the most important document in New Zealand’s history and New Zealand’s founding document.

Whetu: Did you know that … the Tiriti o Waitangi was only signed by Māori chiefs of Aotearoa and representative of the British Crown/ Government from England.' Koro: 'Ae, moko. It was not signed by all the people. That would have taken a really long time! All tangata whenua and new settlers from different countries did not have a say.'

What did the Treaty mean?

  • Māori granted the British Crown rights to govern and to continue settling the country with British immigrants.
  • Māori kept their tribal authority over their lands and resources and were granted the full status and rights of British citizenship.

Signing the Treaty

The Treaty was discussed and first signed at Waitangi, near the top of the North Island. A large hui or meeting was held at the James Busby’s house at Waitangi. The hui went from 4 to 6 February, 1840 with the signings on the 6 February 1840. The meeting was called by Captain William Hobson who had been appointed as New Zealand Consul by the British government. People representing the British government as well as Rangatira and other important members of some hapu and iwi attended the meeting.

Artist unknown [Reconstruction of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. ca 1940]
New Zealand. Department of Maori Affairs. Artist unknown [Reconstruction of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. ca 1940]. Ref: A-114-038. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22701985
The Treaty was originally written in English by James Busby. It was translated into Te Reo Māori by Henry Williams and his son Edward. Several copies of the Treaty document were made and these were taken around the country to get chiefs of other tribes to sign. Some signed an English version but most signed a copy of the Māori translation.

Following the hui and initial signing at Waitangi, copies of the treaty were taken around the country over the next six months to get Rangitira from different tribes to sign it. A number of chiefs refused to sign but many signed after discussion with the British officers and missionaries and Māori representatives who were travelling with them. Around 500 Māori had signed by the end of that year.

The Treaty House, Waitangi.
The Treaty House, Waitangi. Original photographic prints and postcards from file print collection, Box 1. Ref: PAColl-5471-017. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22907730

The Treaty documents today

The remaining documents are being preserved by Archives New Zealand. Explore all nine sheets of the Treaty of Waitangi as well as photographs, translations and information about the documents.

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