So you have watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy…ok, you have watched it more than once. And you know that the movies were filmed in New Zealand, so you think you know what this country is all about. Well, no. Sorry to break it to you, but if you don’t know what the Treaty of Waitangi is, you are unaware of perhaps the most important episode of this country’s history. So without further ado, I will attempt to explain to you centuries of New Zealand history, in hopes of turning your eye to an underlying controversy that has remained latent in this country for many years.
You probably already know that New Zealand was fromally an English colony, but it was also the target for many imperial countries such as The Netherlands, France and Spain, when the craze to conquer other territories grew in Europe in the 1800’s. By this point, New Zealand had a majority of English settlers among the foreigners, however, the most populous group in the territory were the Maori, who had inhabited the islands of New Zealand since many years before the Europeans ventured to explore other parts of the world.
So, long story short, Maori iwis (tribes), inhabited New Zealand, when in 1769 a nosey English sailor by the name of James Cook became the first European to reach the islands. Ever since then, travelers from The Old World kept going back and forth to New Zealand, mainly for trade with the Maori iwis, and attempting to settle to claim the territory for their country. Enter James Busby, a British explorer that was granted the title of ‘British Resident’ in New Zealand by the monarchy of his country.
James Busby’s job was to represent the English Crown and vouche for its interests in New Zealand, but since so many countries wanted to claim this country for themselves, Busby and other British settlers and missionaries went ahead of the game and suggested the English Crown and the Maori tribes should sign an agreement that would benefit the British by becoming the governing country in New Zealand. Nevertheless, the document would also protect the Maori from being attacked or invaded by any of the countries that were interested in doing so.
Some Maori chiefs were more keen on signing this treaty than others. So Busby and company went on a voyage to track down every Maori chief in order to convince them to sign the document. Some of them still weren’t sure, but most of them were, because they admired the technology and products brought by the English and saw an advantage in partnering with them. So with this odds, on Febreuary 6th of 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
|Original manuscript of the Treaty of Waitangi. Source: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/the-full-and-final-fantasy/|
It all sounds like a good deal right? Well…no. Things got really complicated when both Maori and English people realized that they had understood deifferent things when they were signing the Treaty of Waitangi. The main source of the contoversy is that the Treaty had two versions, one in english and the other in maori. This two versions where different from each other, so both sides thought they were agreeing to different things.
The treaty has three written articles and an additional verbal article usually refered to as the ‘fourth article’. Although the articles are pretty similar to each other, there is a major difference between the two versions of the first article. In the English version it says the Queen would be granted ‘absolute sovereignty’ of the land, whereas in the Maori version the same article explains the Queen would have ‘governorship’ of the said land. This miscommunication has become a problem.
It has obvious troublesome implications because of the difference between having sovereignty and having the right to rule over a territory, which are not the same thing. But not only that is controversial. Since 1840, New Zealand has undergone a series of territorial issues, were Maori people claim to have been removed from their homes and rightful land.
In so many regions of the world, land and its distribution are huge problems, and taking New Zealand as another example, wouldn’t we wonder why this keeps happening? Why is this a recurrent issue in our history? Sure, there have been failed mechanisims to try and restore the countries once colonized to its original shape and order, like the United Nations Trusteeship Council, but why does the world still face issues like the one surrounding the Treaty of Waitangi?
The answers to this questions are probably more anthropological than we think, and are naturally linked to human nature, more than to the political distribution of land. But it is still a head-scratcher, and what is more surprising than anything else, is that this issue-even across cultures and continents-manages to linger for generations, affecting people that weren’t alive when the original problem surfaced. Is this good? Or is it a bad thing that we carry the weight of the mistakes of past generations?
I don’t know. You tell me.