Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand

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Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand
He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga
Created 28 October 1835
Ratified 1836[1]
Author(s) James Busby and 35 northern Māori chiefs (including Tamati Waka Nene and Bay of Islands brothers; Te Wharerahi, Rewa, and Moka 'Kainga-mataa')
Signatories United Tribes of New Zealand
Purpose Proclaimed the sovereign independence of New Zealand
This article discusses the Declaration of 1835. For information on the process of New Zealand's gaining independence during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, see Independence of New Zealand.

In New Zealand political and social history, the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand (Māori: He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga), was signed by a number of Māori chiefs in 1835, proclaimed the sovereign independence of New Zealand prior to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Background and signing[edit]

The original design of the flag is today widely used by Maori groups.

In 1834 James Busby, the official British Resident in New Zealand, drafted a document known as the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand which he and 34[2] northern Māori chiefs (including Tamati Waka Nene and Bay of Islands brothers; Te Wharerahi, Rewa, and Moka 'Kainga-mataa') signed at Waitangi on 28 October 1835. By 1839, 52 chiefs had signed.[2]

The chiefs signed this declaration of independence and in the process established themselves as representing a confederation under the title of the "United Tribes of New Zealand". Henry Williams and George Clarke, (missionaries) translated the Declaration and signed as witnesses[3] James Clendon and Gilbert Mair (merchants) also signed as witnesses.[4]

The Declaration of Independence arose in response to concerns over the lawlessness of British subjects in New Zealand and in response to a fear that France would declare sovereignty over the islands. At this time a Frenchman, Charles de Thierry,[5] who titled himself as 'Charles, Baron de Tierry, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand and King of Nuku Hiva' (in the Marquesas Islands) was seeking to establish a colony on 40,000 acres (16,187 hectares) he claimed to have purchased in the Hokianga.[3] The document also arose from movements in Māori society where from 1816 onwards a number of Northern Māori chiefs had made visits to the colonies in New South Wales and Norfolk Island as well as to England leading to discussions about unifying the tribes and formation of a Māori government.

The Māori had become involved in international trade and owned trading ships and in 1834, the year prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the chiefs had selected a flag for use on ships originating from New Zealand. The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear when the trading ship Sir George Murray, built in the Hokianga, was seized by Customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag, a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand was not a colony at the time and had no flag. The ship's detainment was reported as arousing indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.[6] The flag – amended slightly when officially gazetted – became the first distinctively New Zealand flag. As late as 1900 it was still being used to depict New Zealand, and it appeared on the South African War Medal which was inscribed "Success to New Zealand Contingent 1899–1900"[7] and issued to New Zealand soldiers at the Boer War. The unamended version, with eight-pointed stars and black fimbriation, is still widely used by Māori groups.

The Declaration and after[edit]

The hereditary chiefs and heads of the tribes of the Northern parts of New Zealand declared the constitution of an independent state. They agreed to meet in Waitangi each year to frame laws, and invited the southern tribes of New Zealand to "lay aside their private animosities" and join them.

The signatories sent a copy of the document to King William IV of the United Kingdom (reigned 1830–1837), asking him to act as the protector of the new state. The King had previously acknowledged the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, and now recognised the Declaration of Independence, in a letter from Lord Glenelg (the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) dated 25 May 1836.[8]

The Declaration was not well received by the Colonial Office, and it was decided that a new policy for New Zealand was needed as a corrective.[9]

It is notable that the Treaty of Waitangi was made between the British Crown and "the chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand" in recognition of their independent sovereignty which continued after 1840 to the extent that the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was flown at the Pukawa hui when the Maori King was appointed in 1857.

The Māori text – Explanations[edit]

The Māori text of the Declaration was made by the tino rangatira (hereditary chiefs) of the northern part of New Zealand and uses the term Rangatiratanga to mean independence, declaring the country a "whenua Rangatira" (independent state) to be known as The United Tribes of New Zealand (Te Wakaminenga o nga Hapu o Nu Tireni). It should be noted that throughout the document the usual use of "wh" is largely replaced by "w" — a spelling indicative of the document having been largely created by iwi from the western North Island. This is most notable in the document title's use of the term "wakaputanga" rather than the usual "whakaputanga".[10]

The translation of the second paragraph is "that all sovereign power and authority in the land" ('Ko te Kingitanga ko te mana i te w[h]enua')[4] "reside entirely and exclusively in the hereditary chiefs and heads of tribes in their collective capacity", expressed as the United Tribes of New Zealand.[4]

The terms Kingitanga and mana were used in claiming sovereignty of the state to the assembly of the hereditary chiefs and it was also declared that no government (kawanatanga) would exist except by persons appointed by the assembly of hereditary chiefs.

The Treaty of Waitangi was made between the British Crown and the Chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

Legal effect[edit]

There is some debate as to whether the Declaration still has effect in New Zealand. Most legal commentators state that the claim to independence lasted only until the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.[11] Recently the Nga Puhi iwi in Northland requested the Waitangi Tribunal rule on whether the tribe had in fact relinquished sovereignty in 1840 when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi.[12] Historian Paul Moon stated that the tribe is unlikely to be able to take the claim much further because "the tribe has misunderstood how treaties work."[13]

Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi guarantees to the chiefs their continued chieftainship, and ownership of their lands and treasures (taonga). It also specifies that Māori could sell land only to the Crown. Most New Zealanders consider the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of the nation of New Zealand, with formal sovereignty vested in the British Crown (the Crown in Right of New Zealand from 1947), but the existence of different versions of the Treaty, in both Māori and English, and its brevity, leave this subject to arguments over the preferred interpretation.

But de facto, the federation of independent tribes became subsumed into a new political body after 1840, regardless of the legality or legitimacy of this process. Thus, the Treaty of Waitangi voided the Declaration for all practical purposes; the Treaty rather than the Declaration provides the legal foundation of claims for the redress of historical wrongs. For this reason, constitutional lawyers regard the Declaration as an historical document that no longer has legal force.

As of October 2010, the Ngāpuhi's claim that sovereignty was not given up in their signing of the Treaty of Waitangi is being investigated by the Waitangi Tribunal.[14] The Waitangi Tribunal, in Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry (Wai 1040)[15] is in the process of considering the Māori and Crown understandings of He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga / The Declaration of Independence 1835 and Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi 1840.

Many of the arguments being used are outlined in Paul Moon's 2003 book Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi, which argued that not only did the Maori signatories have no intention of transferring sovereignty, but that at the time the British government and James Busby did not wish to acquire it and that the developments and justifications leading to the present state were later developments.[16] It is estimated that the hearings will last between 4 and 6 years, and may serve a serious precedent for all Maori tribal groups if the Tribunal recognises Ngāpuhi sovereignty. A common Ngāpuhi interpretation of the Declaration of the United Tribes is that the British government was simply recognising Maori independence and putting the world on check, merely re-asserting sovereignty that had existed from "time immemorial".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scholefield, G. (1930). Captain William Hobson. pp. 202–203.(Instructions from Lord Normanby to Captain Hobson – dated 14 August 1839).
  2. ^ a b "Background to the Treaty of Waitangi – Declaration of Independence". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Caroline Fitzgerald (2011). Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North. Huia Press. ISBN 978-1-86969-439-5.  261
  4. ^ a b c "The Declaration of Independence". Translation from Archives New Zealand, New Zealand History online. Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  5. ^ Raeside, J. D. (1 September 2010). "Thierry, Charles Philippe Hippolyte de – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  6. ^ "Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (1834–1840)". History of the New Zealand Flag. New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2007-02-16. Without a flag to represent the new nation, trading ships and their valuable cargoes would continue to be seized [not in citation given]
  7. ^ Caption to photo, Alexander Turnbull Library, retrieved 15 January 2012
  8. ^ The Lord Glenelg (25 May 1836), "EXTRACT of a DESPATCH from Lord GLENELG to Major-General Sir RICHARD BOURKE, New South Wales", written at London, Documents > Declaration of Independence, Christchurch: Waitangi Associates, retrieved 11 January 2010 
  9. ^ Paul Moon (5 October 2010). "Paul Moon: Agreement long ago left in tatters". The New Zealand Herald. 
  10. ^ "Declaration of Independence 1835," Te Waka o te Mokopuna, retrieved 6 February 2014.
  11. ^ "Declaration of Independence – taming the frontier?". NZ Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  12. ^ "Independence Daze". The Listener. 25 June 2010. 
  13. ^ "Professor questions Ngapuhi claim". TVNZ. 18 June 2010. 
  14. ^ Field, Michael. "Hearing starts into Ngapuhi's claims". Hearing starts into Ngapuhi's claims. Farifax New Zealand. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  15. ^ Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) inquiry, Waitangi Tribunal
  16. ^ "Book lies at the heart of Ngapuhi's sovereignty". Book lies at the heart of Ngāpuhi's sovereignty. Sky News New Zealand. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 
  17. ^ "joshua hitchcock sets the record straight regarding ngapuhi, sovereignty, and legal pluralism in new zealand 03aug10". joshua hitchcock sets the record straight regarding ngapuhi, sovereignty, and legal pluralism in new zealand 03aug10. Retrieved 6 September 2011. 

External links[edit]