The Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi

 Background to the Treaty

New Zealand was largely a Maori world in the 1830s. There were perhaps 100,000 Maori, divided into major iwi or tribes. Relations between groups could be tense, and conflict was common. Maori traditions and social structures prevailed, but more Europeans arrived in New Zealand through the decade. There were about 200 in the North Island in the early 1830s. By 1839, there may have been 2000 throughout the country (including around 1400 in the North Island), attracted by trade and settlement.

Bibles, industry and trade
Many Maori welcomed the new experiences that contact with Europeans brought. Missionaries had arrived in the 1810s, bringing new ideas and concepts drawn from both the Bible and the wider world. They introduced Maori to literacy, in Maori, with the translation of parts of the Bible. Maori visited New South Wales and England, enlarging their experience of commerce, the role of monarchy, alternative systems of law and government, and the treatment of indigenous peoples.

Up to the late 1830s, Europeans mainly came to exploit the country's natural resources – seals in the far south and whales, then timber, flax and fisheries. From around the early 1820s, British and American sperm whalers used northern harbours to refit and refresh. By 1830 Kororareka (Russell), located at the Bay of Islands in the territory of the Ngapuhi people, was a well-established trading and whaling port. Sometimes a dozen or more ships might be at anchor, with several hundred men ashore. New Zealand trade, in terms of both exports and imports, grew rapidly and became increasingly important to the merchants and capitalists of New South Wales.

New Zealand was a rough place, with the mixed population and riff-raff typical of all 19th-century frontiers. The whaling trade brought men of many nationalities to New Zealand, not only British but also French and American. Many Maori became involved, working on the ships and supplying vessels with pork, potatoes and other goods and services.

New firepower
Muskets added a new edge to traditional conflict between Maori. From 1818 northern Maori war parties, increasingly armed with muskets, attacked tribes further south. Some tribes migrated, while others resettled. A kind of arms race developed as all groups competed to obtain the new firepower introduced by Europeans.

The period of major population shifts ended in the mid-1830s. The conquest and settlement of the Chatham Islands by Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama was the last instance, although warfare continued until 1840 and beyond. It is likely that a form of military equilibrium was reached once all tribes had access to the coveted muskets.

Published by the New Zealand Immigration Service - a service of the Department of Labour, 2013.

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