An independent nation
185 years ago today, in 1835, 34 northern rangatira (chiefs) met at James Busby’s Waitangi home to sign a document declaring this nation’s independence. He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (known in English as the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand) arose from concerns about the intentions of the ever-increasing European settlers. Britain’s official recognition of this document was significant for both Māori and British.
Because of this official British recognition of He Whakaputanga, Māori agreement to the signing of the Treaty was important to justify colonisation at a time when Britain was very much in the public eye. Later Māori political movements saw the Declaration and the Treaty as a whole. Together the documents acknowledged and supported Māori independence, the right to manage their own affairs and to share in running the country. For many today, the Declaration of Independence has never been superseded.
What did this handwritten document say? It consisted of four articles: mana (authority) and sovereign power in New Zealand resided fully with Māori; foreigners would not be allowed to make laws; the chiefs would meet yearly at Waitangi to frame laws, and lastly, in return for their protection of British subjects, they sought King William IV’s protection against threats to their mana.
The English draft of the document was written by James Busby and was translated into Māori by missionary Henry Williams. Eruera Pare Hongi wrote the final copy in Māori, the version that was signed. By July 1839, 52 chiefs had signed.
Find out more about He Whakaputanga at Archives New Zealand.
Read an article at NZ History.