On Monday, 6 February, we commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
Many Māori see the Treaty in spiritual and Christian terms as is seen in one of their names for the Treaty: ‘Te Kawenata o Waitangi’ (‘the Covenant of Waitangi’).
Covenant is a very appropriate word to use. The word itself is of Latin origin (con venire), meaning a coming together.
In our context it describes two peoples who choose to come together to make a contract, agreeing on promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. As in the marriage covenant the understanding is that Te Kawenata o Waitangi is permanent, and is based upon God’s covenants with the faithful of this world.
The Treaty of Waitangi was prepared and signed out of deep concern of the impact of European settlement upon Māori.
In the 1830s New Zealand was increasingly attractive to European settlers, and it was also largely without any protections that governed settlement. Those Missionaries then serving here were concerned that the lack of legal protection for Māori could have catastrophic consequences, and talk of a formal relationship began to develop.
At the same time in England evangelical Christians were prominent in public service and parliament, these leaders were deeply influenced by the teaching and the life of Jesus, and their reforms which included the abolishment of the slave trade in the British empire were far-reaching. Amongst the same group a campaign began for the protection of Māori. James Stephen, the brother in law of William Wilberforce, was part of this. He was also the permanent undersecretary in the Colonial Office, and was instrumental in drafting the following instructions that were to guide William Hobson when he was sent to New Zealand.
All dealings with the Aborigines for their Lands must be conducted on the same principles of sincerity, justice, and good faith as must govern your transactions with them for the recognition of Her Majesty’s Sovereignty in the Islands. Nor is this all. They must not be permitted to enter into any Contracts in which they might be ignorant and unintentional authors of injuries to themselves. You will not, for example, purchase from them any Territory the retention of which by them would be essential, or highly conducive, to their own comfort, safety or subsistence. The acquisition of Land by the Crown for the future Settlement of British Subjects must be confined to such Districts as the Natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves. To secure the observance of this rule will be one of the first duties of their official protector.
This instruction became the foundation for The Treaty that was soon to be signed.
The Treaty that we commemorate on Monday was born out of a desire of two peoples to honour one another and to ensure that the most vulnerable in the partnership were protected; it was inspired and shaped by the Word of God and a desire to honour God from many amongst the British and among the Māori.
May we give thanks for the history of this land and the way God enabled Te Kawenata o Waitangi.
Mā te atua koutou e tiaki e manaaki i ngā wā kato
Some information in this article is sourced from an article by Bosco Peters, Christians And The Treaty Of Waitangi, Feb 2019