History is Written for the Victors

Since I’ve gone to uni one thing has become astoundingly clear. We do not get taught shit about New Zealand history in New Zealand. Sorry for swearing. But honestly, to use an old adage, if I had a cent for the number of times I’ve learnt something that has left me stunned at its previous omission, I would have already snapped up that dress I want from Karen Walker.

Our education system keeps us ignorant which is why today we’ve got people like Dan Carter wishing Waitangi Day was more like Thanksgiving (why that is not cool here) or why The New Zealand Herald is advertising a ‘protest free’ Waitangi Day paper while boasting an Aryan Fist on the front cover.


People want to ‘celebrate’ Waitangi Day, but until people are ready to learn a bit more about it and accept the ramifications of this day (as opposed to leaving it in the past) we’re not going to get there.

This leaves the question – how do we get there?

Trying to address 170+ years of colonial rule in one blog post is a mare. I don’t have the skills nor the knowledge to attempt that. I’m not from Ngāpuhi either, so I can’t claim to speak for them. What I can do is share some knowledge I picked up last year. The knowledge that our history books don’t tell the truth and that Ngāpuhi claims they never ceded sovereignty in signing the treaty.

Michael King and Claudia Orange are two of this country’s most celebrated historians. When it comes to history, these two are supposedly the bees knees. That’s until you read Ngāpuhi Speaks, the independent report supporting Ngāpuhi’s ongoing treaty claim (Wai 1040).

Ngāpuhi Speaks is a unique report in that it provides an alternative insight towards what led to Waitangi. Considering both oral and written evidence Ngāpuhi Speaks goes beyond the diaries of James Busby and co to give a real voice to the other side of the story – Ngāpuhi.

When you begin to compare Ngāpuhi Speaks with King’s History of New Zealand and Orange’s Treaty of Waitangi you soon discover that those accounts, so well-respected lack major events in the history of the period.

They fail to acknowledge that Ngāpuhi were consistently engaging and demonstrating their tino rangatiratanga with the outside world during this period.

They ignore the formation of Te Wakaminenga O Nu Tirene (The United Tribes of New Zealand) in 1907.

They ignore Hongi Hika’s 1820 trip to visit King George IV in London.

They ignore the 1831 letter appealing for British Crown support.

They ignore He Wakaputanga o Te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene AKA NEW ZEALAND’S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Never heard of it? Funny, I hadn’t until I started uni either.

They instead claim that the Treaty was foisted upon Ngāpuhi (as was the flag which everyone wants to get rid of at the moment – read into it, they wanted it so they could trade internationally). They undermine ideas of Māori sovereignty and Michael King goes so far as to suggest that tino rangatiratanga was only dreamt up post 1840 –

‘The declaration of independence had no constitutional status and an official in the Foreign Office in London referred to it as ‘silly and unauthorised’. It also had no reality, since there was in fact no national indigenous power structure within New Zealand at that time, tribal authority – or rangatiratanga, as it would come to be called in February 1840 – being far more akin to a collection of ‘nations’ (King, 2003, p. 155).

From such a revered historian it’s a problematic statement. It is correct in that it recognises that Māori did not exist as a united whole but it ignores inter-hapu dynamics that had emerged prior to the signing of the treaty. Principally it flat-out fails to recognise the existence of Te Wakaminenga o Nu Tirene, the United Tribes of New Zealand.

The existence of Te Wakaminenga from 1907 is crucial to both Ngāpuhi’s treaty claim and our understanding of the formation of this country as a whole. Pākehā historians would have us believe that Ngāpuhi had no clue and no plan. Te Wakaminenga proves that this was not the case.

As John Klaricich suggests in Ngāpuhi Speaks,  Te Wakaminenga was representative that, ‘Our ancestors saw into the future, they understood the need to accommodate these visitors, and at the same time protect their own way of life. They understood being free and power and authority.’

In light of this, what happened post the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi is nothing short of horrendous. Ngāpuhi believed that they were signing in to get help with controlling the out of control behaviour of British settlers. Ngāpuhi did not believe that they were ceding sovereignty. It was supposed to be a partnership. What followed was anything but.

So when you wish that Waitangi could be a happy day, a celebration, calm, free of protest you need to acknowledge that for many it’s not. For many it’s still a reminder of how badly their families were treated and continue to be treated. It’s a reminder of broken promises. It’s a reminder that many of our most treasured history books (printed as recently as 2003 in Michael King’s case) still fail to get it right.

Until those history books tell both sides of the story they will continue to be props of colonisation. As Michel Foucault has theorised, history is synonymous with domination and conquest. It is a propaganda tool, a means to assert power. To quote another (Edith Wyschogrod) it is also selective. In writing history the victors are able to, ‘select among our beliefs and features of our world some that we can reasonably claim to represent to the world… to the maximum degree of our perspective and its peculiarities. ‘ History is written for the victors, or in our case, the colonisers.

Until we accept our full past, both sides of the story, what happened in 1840 at Waitangi will not be over. We cannot just forget about it. We cannot ‘just move on’. If we want to come together as a country, people need to accept the history and people of this country as a whole. No more assimilation, no more forgetting, no more pain. Until we can accept that the formation of our country and a lot of policy was really shit for a long time and that some people still need help to recover, we won’t get anywhere. That is why Waitangi is not a celebration.

And perhaps look at it this way. Waitangi is a rare opportunity for the people of the far north to actually get in touch with our representatives in parliament. An opportunity that maybe, just maybe they will be heard.

So, you still want a celebration? Then how about Matariki?!

About madicattt

Curator of The Things That Are Good. Sharing the things that stand out in the worlds of theatre, food, beauty and style.
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One Response to History is Written for the Victors

  1. Pingback: Blog Love #1 | MyFoxyCorner

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