by Matthew Wright
I really enjoyed reading this book and did so very quickly over a couple of days.
Wright writes well in fluent, conversational prose and regales the reader with lots and lots of interesting anecdotes about historical figures, along with screeds of wide-ranging notes. In fact, I learned quite a bit about events and personages I was not fully aware of earlier – some quite humorous, including the escape attempts of one oil-coated ariki!
It is not a stodgy, dry read at all – quite the opposite in fact. There are a couple of editing issues I will point out, such as a rather frugal Index, and a bit of repetition of the same points – as for example regarding Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa not signing the document – but these are trivial pedantries.
The key point Wright makes is summed up in the title – Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a living being, which has been and will continue to be reappraised and reaffirmed differently over historical periods, as dependent on wider Weltanschauung pertaining. What the treaty meant for Pākehā in and around 1840 is considerably different nowadays, while for Māori it has always been a lodestar of equality, fairness, justice, ownership – even given its sublimation by Pākehā for most of the 20th century and the later 19th. In short, the treaty far exceeds its decayed paperwork: existentially, it is an historical continuum of ideas and ideologies.
Wright is at his most entertaining and erudite when dealing with the formative early years – the whys and wherefores and whos of the establishment of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its somewhat ad hoc compilation, including the me-too meddling of James Busby. Later on, after successfully explaining how the treaty became abnegated, forgotten and then re-designated as a Pākehā self-love fest, he is not quite so clear cut and comprehensive as to how today’s newfound ultra-significance of that treaty-ground compact between some Māori and a few Pākehā in 1840, has come about.
I found myself a little occluded by the explanations presented in the final couple of chapters, given that Wright’s disdain for the nutters attempting to ‘prove’ a pre-Māori settlement of Aotearoa New Zealand, is palpable. Why has the Treaty of Waitangi become so regenerate recently, other than via the obvious increase in the Māori demographic? The author’s vaguer references to changed generational attitudes and a swerve towards legally-impelled principles of ethnic justice are far less tangible.
I would have loved far more Māori voice, more reo Māori per se. The relativist ambience of an empathetic professional Pākehā historian is obvious throughout, given of course that most reference material remains written by Pākehā: then and certainly considerably even now. The time is long overdue for a record of Māori voices about the Treaty of Waitangi, compiled by Māori – regarding its relevancies over time from genesis to gestation to growth as the key to the current bicultural and burgeoning multicultural relationships in New Zealand.
To his credit, Wright stresses that for Māori there were several differing rationales behind their ‘signing’ the treaty, just as there were several possible perceptions about what they were placing their insignia on. But let us hear from Māori now, eh. E pīrangi ana ahau he pukapuka ki nui ngā reo Māori mō tēnei tiriti. Kei whea tēnei pukapuka, tēnei mea tino nui ināianei?
Ultimately, however, I can only recommend this book. It serves as a cogent explication of the various values the treaty has had during different stages of this nation’s history and as such serves as a robust foundation for the next epoch, whereby Māori continue to surge and whereby also potential new nuances are accorded it. Who knows? After all, autonomy was never vitiated in the Māori versions of the original drafts.
Tēnā koe mō te pukapuka, Matiu. Ko he rawa mōhio ki tēnei tāima whakamere.
Author: Matthew Wright