Thursday, 12 May 2011

Talking Past Each Other

In search of protection: The true partnership that was sealed on 6 February 1840 was between the Maori leadership and the British government in London. The chiefs hoped that a London-appointed Governor would stand between their lands, forests and fisheries and the Pakeha they feared the most - the settlers who were coming to stay.

This posting is a response to the lively debate currently raging on the Kiwipolitico blogsite.

IT’S JANUARY 1840, two sailing vessels are fast approaching the North Island of New Zealand. His Majesty’s Ship Herald carries Captain William Hobson bearing instructions from the Colonial Office to organise the voluntary cession of the islands of New Zealand to the British Crown. The other ship, Aurora, carries settlers to the newly established settlement of Port Nicholson. It has been chartered by the privately owned and organised New Zealand Company.

Captain Hobson’s instructions are not unrelated to the purposes for which the Aurora and her passengers set sail. The islands of New Zealand, conveniently located in the temperate zone of the southern hemisphere, are large but sparsely populated (the indigenous Maori population numbers approximately 125,000). Unsurprisingly, they have begun to loom large in the sights of European entrepreneurs, missionaries and imperialists.

Under pressure from the aristocratic backers of the New Zealand Company, and wary of the pretensions of competing powers – particularly the French – the Colonial Office in London is determined to regularise the confused jurisdictions of Australasia. If the land titles being sold to settlers by the New Zealand Company are to be legally enforceable, the question of sovereignty must be settled – and quickly. By fair means or by foul, New Zealand is to be annexed to the British Crown.

The cheapest, the most politically expedient, and (in the face of the Missionary Society’s strenuous submissions) the most morally defensible means of securing possession of New Zealand is to persuade the indigenous Maori tribes to cede sovereignty to her Britannic majesty, Victoria, voluntarily. Indeed, British agents and missionaries in New Zealand have been assiduously laying the groundwork for just such a solution since the mid-1830s. The British Resident, James Busby, has even secured a “Declaration of Independence” from his purpose-built “Confederation of Chiefs” so the Crown has something to sit down with when the time to negotiate a plausible treaty of cession finally arrives.

As HMS Herald drops anchor in the Bay of Islands on 29 January1840, this is exactly what Hobson and his confreres, Busby and James Freeman, prepare to do.

THE MAORI LEADERS gathered at Waitangi to korero with Captain Hobson have come with an equally clear set of priorities.

First and foremost, they are seeking protection.

From the early 1830s, a rough “balance of terror” has prevailed among the combative Maori tribes as more and more of them acquired firearms. Even so, the slaughter and dislocation of the so-called “Musket Wars” are still a searing memory, and nobody’s ready to wager the lives of their whanau and hapu on the blood-letting not breaking out anew. Information gleaned from Maori who’ve travelled to Australia – and further afield – suggests that the British Empire holds out the best hope of keeping the peace between the tribes.

They’re also keen for the British to keep the roughly 2,000 unruly Europeans who’ve settled amongst them to trade, hunt whales and seals, or simply to outrun the writ of whoever’s justice system is after them, under some semblance of control. There’s a lot of wealth to be had from these folk, but only if the tribes can enlist the aid of an entity with sufficient power to make sure they keep their side of any bargain – and pay up.

Having learned the hard way how skittish the Pakeha become when Maori exercise their own robust forms of tribal justice, they reckon it will make things a lot easier if their “guests” are forced to live under their own laws.

Among the shrewder Maori – including the wily Hone Heke – there is also a nagging fear that the ever-increasing inward flow of European settlers will not stop. They’ve learned that these new arrivals are different – not the usual traders, whoremasters, grog-sellers, whalers, sealers and fugitives that the tribes have grown used to accommodating.

More than anything else, the settlers arriving on the New Zealand Company ships desire land – Maori land. And, as more and more of them arrive, that hunger for Maori land will only increase. It's why the better educated and more travelled Maori are determined to secure their tribal possessions against settler pressure by placing them under the protection of the world’s most powerful nation – Great Britain.

Also at Waitangi are the Christian Maori – the products of more than twenty years of missionary effort. To these men and women the Pakeha have vouchsafed an entirely different understanding of the human condition. Christianity has conferred upon its native converts a new kind of power: a new mana.

They understand that the Pakeha’s morality, knowledge and technology offer their people a way-in to a world their ancestors could never have imagined. For them the future lies in a voluntary melding of their own and the newcomers’ cultures – and that melding cannot happen soon enough.

THE SIMPLE CLAUSES of the Treaty of Waitangi masterfully embraced the complex agendas of both its British and Maori signatories. It is, however, naïve in the extreme to characterise the document as a contract.

Treaties are not contracts: at least not in the sense that a mortgage or hire-purchase agreement is a contract. What a treaty actually amounts to is a description of the power relations existing between two peoples at a precise moment in history.

Almost always (and the Treaty of Waitangi is no exception) the relationship between the signatories is an unequal one (usually reflecting the stronger party’s military victory over the weaker). What makes the Treaty of Waitangi so interesting is that it was signed in anticipation of – and as a way of avoiding – the military clash which would have become inevitable if a voluntary cession of sovereignty to the British Crown had been refused.

But Maori did not emerge from the negotiations of February 1840 empty-handed. The quid pro quo, in return for making things easy for the Colonial Office, was the guarantee of what they had been seeking all along – the protection of the Crown. Protection against any return to the slaughter of the Musket Wars; protection against social disorder and commercial trickery; and protection against the Pakeha they were most afraid of: the ones who were coming to stay.

This was the real partnership enshrined in the Treaty: the partnership between the Maori tribes and the Colonial Office, or, to put it more precisely, with the executive arm of the British Government in London. This was the power the chiefs had aligned themselves with: a power which, in the person of the Governor, would stand between them and the predatory approach to land acquisition represented by the New Zealand Company and its growing body of imitators.

And there’s no question that the chiefs’ fears in regard to the settlers were entirely justified. Here, for example, is how one of the Governors of the New Zealand Company viewed the Treaty:

“We have always had very serious doubts whether the Treaty of Waitangi, made with naked savages by a consul invested with no plenipotentiary powers, without ratification by the Crown, could be treated by lawyers as anything but a praiseworthy devise for amusing and pacifying savages for the moment.”

THAT OMINOUS “for the moment” offers us a chilling reminder of just how historically contingent all treaties are. Certainly the Treaty of Waitangi – as a means of protecting the things Maori treasured – did not long survive the moment when the settler population reached a size sufficient to persuade London to grant it a measure of self-government (1852).

It was at that point that the Crown effectively ceased to be the protector of New Zealand’s indigenous inhabitants, and became, instead, the protector of the new settler state. In vain did the chiefs appeal to the Governor to uphold the Crown pre-emption clause of the Treaty. And when, in growing desperation, they crowned their own king and attempted to defend what remained of their tribal lands, the Settler Government promptly declared them rebels and traitors, and the British Government in London dispatched a vast army to crush the resistance of their nascent Maori state.

It is difficult to envisage any other outcome. The moment London acquiesced in the formation of a self-governing New Zealand colony, they set in place an entity which could only grow and prosper at the expense of the country’s original inhabitants. Because, as the chiefs rightly apprehended back in February 1840, if the new breed of settlers came to stay – it could only be on Maori land.

TO SAY that the Treaty of Waitangi was breached is, therefore, an accurate but ultimately trivial historical observation. Had it not been breached, New Zealand – as a colonial society inextricably enmeshed in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the British Empire – wouldn’t have existed. For the Settler State to become real, the Treaty had to become, in Chief Justice Prendergast’s brutal phrase: “a simple nullity”.

Was that wrong? Should the undertakings given by Captain Hobson on 6 February 1840 have been honoured? Removed from its historical context, the question is easily answered in the affirmative. Except that those who go in search of such unencumbered moral judgements, do so without understanding that such questions can never be extracted from history.

To judge the dead may give some comfort to the living, but no matter how fervently the misdeeds of previous generations are condemned, they cannot be undone. Therefore, whatever justice we seek to do here and now, let it be done to right the wrongs of the present – not the past.

We fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and can never be – “Europeans”. Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before colonisation. Both of us are the victims of historical forces too vast for blame, to permanent for guilt.

And both of us have nowhere else to go.

This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Gerrit said...

Best post yet.

You are though leaving out a large section of the population demographics.

Namely Asian, Indian, African and Pacifica people who demographically will be more numerically then either Maori and Pakeha in fifty years time.

These new colonists do not hold much stock or reverence in the treaty (IMHO based on feedback here in deepest Manurewa).

It is time to engage the non Maori/Pakeha population of what they see as the future democracy of New Zealand.

It is not just between Maori and colonial Pakeha.

jh said...

I wouldn't mind betting that the Auckland law Faculty not allowing the appearance by Hone was a rescue mission. The public don't get "aboriginal title" or tino rangitiratanga. The sound bites wouldn't have helped Mana, or the Greens.

jh said...

"The quid pro quo, in return for making things easy for the Colonial Office, was the guarantee of what they had been seeking all along – the protection of the Crown"
I don't believe Maori and Crown got to the point of agreement when it came to sovereignty. I think tino rangitiratanga meant keeping things pretty much as they were. I agree with Titiwhai and Hone. I don't believe those Chiefs would have thrown that away anymore than Colonel Gadaffi would step down without a fight. Had the Crown clarified that issue the Crown wouldn't have got to go home to the wife, children, congregation and farm and may have stirred up a hornets nest.
One explanation of the Treaty was made to his people by Nopera Panakareao at Kaitaia. He said: "Only the shadow of the land passes to the Queen. The substance stays with us, the Māori people".

I believe that without a treaty there would have soon been masses of colonists, especially grazing sheep in the south Island and digging gold.

Without a treaty Maori may have got a better deal as tribes vied with colonists on more equal terms and had time to learn the game, however NZ's isolation, size and lack of food species was what limited the Maori population and control of the land and it is highly unlikely that the Maori population could have built up as fast as the colonists.

That being so the present demographics and political reality is so far removed from that blunt position (the one adopted by the Green Party, Maori Party and Hone) that the moral value and practicality of correcting it does far more harm than good (IMHO) and it becomes the proverbial bottomless pit.

Anonymous said...

It's all very good for state representatives to go around making agreements on behalf of their populous but if the populous don't accept the conditions, (despite the exhortations of "the smug spineless short-sighted imbeciles and their Greek chorus of self-righteous well-off holier-than-thou racial masochists") they will not obey, as in, vote for Don Brash, (or Adolf Hitler for that matter).

WAKE UP said...

"We fair-skinned Polynesians are not – and can never be – “Europeans”."

You speak for yourself, buddy. I respond viscerally, innately, automatically to my European heritage all the time: the sounds, the sights, the culture - even at this distance, and even though I've only traced my family tree back a few generations. It's in me, I'm proud of it and I won't/can't deny it.

At the same time, I'm a Pakeha, a kid born in Hawkes Bay, who grew up on the beaches and in the paddocks of this country; sand between the toes and running free.

I have no trouble melding and accessing both of those cultures; it's who I am , and the one thing I won't do is pretend otherwise, or pretend that other local cultures resonate with me when they don't. Bone carvings give me the creeps.

The amount of smoke and mirrors being erected around New Zealand's true history, to create an artificial, mythic "Pasifica" has reached epidemic proportions; cultural dishonesty is rife. But not where I live.

Anonymous said...

"This was the power the chiefs had aligned themselves with: a power which, in the person of the Governor, would stand between them and the predatory approach to land acquisition represented by the New Zealand Company and its growing body of imitators."

I beg to differ with this view.

The Crown's right of preemption resulted in maori only being allowed to sell land through the Crown which used this power to lower the prices paid to Maori. Of course not to mention the Native Land Courts where alienation of Maori lands took place on rather flimsy proofs of ownership.

How is this be different to the predations of the NZ company?

Anonymous said...

All this makes the debate about Aotearoa becoming a republic, with a constitution all the more interesting.

Dan McCaffrey said...

Very reasoned and sensible article. Good heavens even in Northern Ireland after 300 years of hatred against and by settlers the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge has said "we must let bygones be bygones." It is possible that there will be peace for the future. The dead are dead. Nothing can set right any imagined wrongs they did or did not suffer. Only the present and the future can be changed. To think that prosperity and a common future for all citizens could come from an endless litany of recriminations and hatred is futile and dangerous - Dan McCaffrey

Anonymous said...

The rot set in after Governor Fitzroy was rolled by the NZ Company's mates at the Colonial Office. In his report to them after being recalled he atated that "...I know of no instance when the Maori haven't kept their word, and no instance where the Crown and it's agents have" So basically the old maori had had enough and then had a go. Grey's imperious stance was to mallet them back in place. Hence the fertile ground for the whole crop of weeds today. Had Fitzroy's impartial enforcing of the law been maintained it would have been a different story all round. But he was under-resourced, undermined, unpopular and unemployed on his repatriation. What the dickens we do now as immigration overwhelms both tints of NZ will take some real thinking, but we can't go on living in the 1840's.

A house divided cannot stand.


Anonymous said...

Would a maori prime minister or President (of the republic of Aotearoa) be a way to unify Aotearoa New Zealand? It would need a constitution, and to be focused on making this a fairer and cleaner nation, where all are looked after, not just the fat cats @ the top.

Logo designer said...

Nice and awesome historical information. I really look forward to your other posts. will suggest to others.

jh said...

Lew (@ Kiwipolitico)'s thesis is that a deal is a deal and the deal can be agreed and determined and that the deal is doable.
I don't agree that the deal is determined.
Many economists favour a land tax to correct and avoid the asset bubbles that have caused the greatest divide between haves and havenots in most western countries at this point in time. If we were to take te tiritti to it's logical conclusion this could mean all revenue from a land tax going to tangata whenua (the holy indigenous). When you take ideas of justice and apply them to players they don't always translate across time and/or populations.

Sam Hill said...

This should be a full page piece in every Newspaper in the country.