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Kāwanatanga (literally governorship) is a word from the Māori language of New Zealand. Kāwanatanga was first used in the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, 1835.[1] It reappeared in 1840 when the Treaty of Waitangi was being translated from English into Māori. It was used there to translate the concept of sovereignty. Some historians believe that there was no existing suitable word in the Māori language at the time; however, many Māori believe that the word mana would have provided appropriate meaning. One supposition is that if mana had been used instead of the new, transliterated kāwana tanga, the treaty would never had been signed.

The first part of the word, Kāwana, is a transliteration into Māori of the English word governor. The suffix -tanga is very similar in meaning and use to the English suffix -ship, for example rangatiratanga (chieftainship) and kīngitanga (kingship). So a literal translation of the word would be governorship. From an idiomatic perspective, this word had little meaning to the chiefs signing the treaty, since the concept of being governed by an overseeing authority was alien to Māori. What understanding Maori may have had of the term was derived principally from the Bible and in particular Herod's Governorship.[2] At the time the bible was one of few long printed texts in Maori enjoying wide distribution.

The meaning attached to this word, and in particular how it relates to rangatiratanga is vital to discussion of the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty is still vitally important in modern New Zealand, and remains the object of much controversy and political debate. Māori constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson has stated that, because the New Zealand government (identified as "Kawanatanga" in the Treaty text) is the body politic enforcing the Treaty and making settlements, "Kawanatanga" is the actual party to the Treaty, not the Crown.[3]


  1. ^ "The Declaration of Independence". NZ History Online.
  2. ^ Maori Bible, Matthew 2 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/mi.Matt.2.html (this text does not use macrons, thus kāwana appears as kawana)
  3. ^ Republicanism in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, 1996: page 119