The colonisation of this country by the British was illegitimate and illegal, and it’s done huge damage. That has to be fixed.” –Margaret Mutu


By Bruce Moon

There is abundant evidence that New Zealand had been visited and populated by non-Maori peoples before the Maori tribes arrived circa 1350, and by Europeans and others from the late eighteenth century onwards. The Maori exterminated pre-existing inhabitants and now lay claim to being ‘indigenous’. The advent of post-Maori arrivals by and large brought co-existence with extensive inter-breeding but not always in harmony.

None the less, brutal inter-tribal warfare, conquests and massacres continued, around one-third of the Maori population perishing in the so-called “Musket Wars” of 1807-37.  The conflict arising from the arrival of Frenchman, Marion du Fresne in 1772 led to a morbid fear of “the tribe of Marion”.  Chaotic selling of land in exchange for European consumer goods developed.

Far-seeing, notably Ngapuhi, chiefs recognized that this situation could not be allowed to continue.  They appealed to King William of Great Britain and in 1833 James Busby arrived as British Resident but with no means to exert any authority or apply any remedial action.

A more substantial solution was evidently essential and one was adopted which was elegant and simple: the acceptance by a substantial number of Maori chiefs of British sovereignty over the whole country.  In 1839, Captain William Hobson of the Royal Navy was despatched to New Zealand with a 4200-word brief from the Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, on the procedures he was to adopt to attain this goal.

In this he was remarkably successful and as a result:

  1. The French were kept at bay; their colony at Akaroa did not succeed in asserting French sovereignty over New Zealand as this was vested in the Crown of England by the Maori Chiefs and thereafter asserted by the Crown. 
  2. There was one system of law applicable to all people across New Zealand for protection and government.  The Chiefs agreed to this overriding of tribal power and behaviour to ensure their own protection and that of their people..
  3. Managed land transaction process were introduced to protect the multiple owners, self-nominated sellers and purchasers and all pre-Treaty sales subjected to rigorous review. (There were rogues and scoundrels on all sides as well as the genuine!)
  4. Done and dusted in 1840 with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, a new order was agreed to the satisfaction of the signatories to it. There were those of course, who tested it limits – the Waikato tribes for example – but none the less, New Zealand had taken steps to become a formal, structured, multi-racial country.
  5. A carefully translated document
  6. It is worth noting that whilst prepared in English, the Treaty was carefully translated into the Ngapuhi dialect of Maori, supplemented by some important words for which there were no concepts, or at the very best, rudimentary ones in Maori society of the day. Clearly it met the needs of the signatories.  It was well understood by the chiefs who signed on 6th February 1840 that they were ceding such sovereignty as each possessed “completely and forever” to the Queen, as their recorded words the previous day show beyond doubt.
  7. So 
  8. Why is this elegant solution being so preposterously distorted, manipulated, misstated and betrayed today? 
  9. Why is it now construed to mean things it simply did not say? 
  10. Why are our respective forefathers not respected on their own merits but instead, subjected, almost, to ridicule?​
  11. “Somehow you strayed and lost your way, and now there’ll be no time to play, no time for joy, no time for friends – not even time to make amends.” [The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland].
  12. This article seeks to make amends. As a former scientist, researcher, academic and long-time student of New Zealand history I consider what we can take from published works of Professor Margaret Mutu of Auckland University.
  13. “Much Ado About Nothing.” [Shakespeare]
  14. “The proper order of things is often a mystery to me.” [Alice – The Cheshire Cat]
  15. A Declaration of Independence?
  16. In March 1834, Busby, the British Resident, had managed to get a bunch of northern chiefs to select a flag for their ships, for which they were rewarded with a “cauldron of porridge”, albeit “the ceremony was little short of a farce”. 
  17. Then Busby thought he would try again. For its curious genesis, we can do no better than to quote King again: “A second and equally contrived ceremony took place at Waitangi on 28 October 1835.  This time, in exchange for a second cauldron of porridge, Busby persuaded the same chiefs and some additional ones to sign ‘A Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand’ by a ‘Confederation of United Tribes’.  This document, into which Maori had had no input … 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 power structure within New Zealand.”
  18. The Governor of New South Wales called it “a paper pellet”.
  19. “A bloodless puerility” said Pember Reeves in 1903.
  20. “Little more than a pebble” wrote Paul Moon of the Auckland University of Technology in 2006.
  21. With a grandiose Maori name of “He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni” it was a classic paper tiger, stillborn in 1835.  
  22. Now Margaret Mutu, Professor of Maori Studies at the University of Auckland, says: “He Whakaputanga is a declaration of sovereignty that says that all power and authority rests with rangatira. It affirms that they would never, ever devolve that power, authority and mana to anybody else.”  Oh dear. Let us point out to Ms Mutu that those who signed the Treaty of Waitangi five years later, “ceding to the Queen of England for ever the entire sovreignty [sic] of their country” included “a majority of those who signed the Declaration of Independence”?
  23. Quite simply, the chiefs ceded such sovereignty as each possessed to the Queen and they knew it and as more than a hundred of them confirmed at the great meeting at Kohimarama in 1860.
  24. The physical existence of “He Whakaputanga”, so prominently displayed in the National Library, is merely a reminder of a very odd undertaking and the cauldron of porridge which accompanied it!
  25. “No, no” said the Queen. “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.” [ Alice again]
  26. The Mutu interpretation
  27. Now Auckland University academic Mutu says “If we look at what Te Tiriti o Waitangi envisaged, it was first of all that He Whakaputanga, the Declaration of Independence issued by rangatira in 1835, would be adhered to.”  This is simply untrue. I refer Ms Mutu to the discussion above on this paper tiger and its cauldron of porridge.
  28. We have recorded elsewhere an interview of Professor Mutu with a reporter from “The Guardian Weekly” in which we identify eighteen of her reported statements which are perversions of the truth.  We are at a loss to understand why she, who has given courses on the Treaty of Waitangi since 1986, has muddled her history so much. 
  29. Again, Professor Mutu is on record as saying: “[The Treaty] confirms that the constitutional framework and system of laws that had been observed in this country for many centuries, that is, our mana, tino rangatiratanga and our tikanga, would remain in place and be protected. The Queen of England’s role would be to take responsibility for the lawless behaviour of her own British subjects recently arrived in this country and to govern them in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.” and “Māori are starting to climb out of crippling poverty and are working together towards the full recognition of our mana and tino rangatiratanga, our sovereignty.” (Robson lecture, Napier, 22 April 2013)  
  30. Please Professor Mutu, note for the avoidance of doubt in future, that none what you are reported as saying above is in the Treaty of Waitangi nor can it be extrapolated from it. Furthermore it is inconsistent with the historical context in which the Treaty of Waitangi came into existence, as I have discussed above. 

Indigenous peoples meeting in Auckland

Ms Mutu says more in article in He Tangata for 20th November 2022 reporting on an occasion “when indigenous peoples from around the world [came] together in Auckland to compare notes on the best ways to achieve self-determination.” 

Maoris of course are not indigenous (whatever may be claimed) since we all know when they came here (within a few decades), where they came from (almost certainly) and how they came (we know exactly, even the names of the vessels they came in!), so they are disqualified from being “indigenous” on all counts! This is not a “Pakeha invention” – it is all part of their own lore.

The article continues: For Māori, there’s increasing recognition that the path to self-determination in Aotearoa requires constitutional transformation. Here’s Professor Margaret Mutu explaining what that means and why it’s allegedly needed.

Note that the report uses the fake name of our country, not that used in the Treaty of Waitangi,  Oops. 

Professor Mutu does not appear to realize that the chiefs, in whom all power resided in their society, used their powers of self-determination when they signed that treaty and ceded all such sovereignty as each possessed “to the Queen of England for ever” and (may we remind her again?) that at the greatest assembly of chiefs ever to be held in this country, at Kohimarama in 1860, after a month of deliberations they passed a unanimous motion stating “their declared recognition of the Queen’s sovereignty, and the union of the two races”.

So, Professor Mutu claims that our country “requires constitutional transformation”.

 Some of what she says there is:

“Constitutional arrangements are often portrayed as something mysterious that most people can’t engage with. That’s just not true. It’s really important that we all know what a constitution is, which is simply a set of rules that everyone agrees to abide by. A country has a constitution so that there is agreement about how government is to function, about who has the power to make rules, about how we’ll abide by them, and who will make sure that we do actually abide by them. Its purpose is to allow us to live together amicably and get on with each other.”  Few would argue with that!  

She continues: “Constitutions are cultural constructs. … It will be unsurprising to anyone living in Aotearoa that a Māori constitutional arrangement is very different from a western European one.”

Ms Mutu, I draw your attention to the name of our country being “New Zealand”, or “Nu Tirani” as transliterated in the Treaty of Waitangi. More than one hundred years later, the somewhat more accurate transliteration “Niu Tireni” was used in official documents in Maori.  Aotearoa is a mere populist notion, mentioned in passing by Pember Reeves in 1898 and by Stephenson Percy Smith in a work of fiction at about the same time.

Again, whether pre-treaty Maoris had any concept at all of any constitution, “cultural construct”, or otherwise, is, to say the least, “a moot point”.

She continues: The western concept of power is [that] the site of power is the monarch in parliament who has absolute authority and dominion over the land and over people. 

What has Professor Mutu learned?

Through her research and studies, surely Ms Mutu must know that most “Western” states no longer have a “monarch” (New Zealand being one that does) but we’ll let that one pass.  And likewise that monarchies in the Western World no longer have “absolute authority and dominion”?  Hey, wait a minute!  I can say what I like (with some constraints of course but recent attempts to increase them fortunately coming to naught). I can move freely around my country and proceed overseas.  I have freedom of association and can choose my friends.  Subject to certain procedures accepted by citizens in general, at generally regular intervals, we can change the composition of parliament to ensure that the power which it exerts is more in line with general approval.  My considerable rights have developed in a sequence of steps since 1216 when the monarch (King John) was obliged to apply his seal to a document called Magna Carta”. Absolute authority??

Mutu again: The constitutional arrangement for Māori is that our power and authority comes from mana. Mana is absolute and paramount power and authority derived originally from the gods. It’s something that passes down through the generations, and the site of power is in ariki and rangatira, our leaders. Power is bestowed on those leaders by the people.  

Ms Mutu, please explain how on the one hand mana “passes down through the generations” and on the other that it “is bestowed on {the] leaders by the people.”  However, the absolute power a chief certainly had when, in a whim, he could slaughter a slave girl, roast her and eat her for his dinner with total impunity!  And old Maori gods from which “our power and authority comes” – how do they fit into the picture today?

Mutu on power

And Mutu again: Power is bestowed on those leaders by the people and is to be exercised in a way that is tika, which requires decisions be made by consensus. It ensures that our hapū and iwi are completely independent and can make their own decisions for themselves.  Of course, in New Zealand “Power is bestowed on those leaders by the people.”  The process is called a “general election”.  

But whatever may have been the case in earlier days of savage fighting among tribes and hapu, tika though it may have been, “hapu and iwi” simply cannot today be completely independent.  Ms Mutu – are you really suggesting that they might be, forfeiting all the privileged and material benefits of the state in which Maori privilege is fast coming to exceed and dominate those of other citizens?

She postulates: Where any citizen agrees to be a part of making the constitutional rules for their country, it is usually a process that fits with their culture and their values. Ms Mutu, this is exactly what happened when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed! 

And again: But where a significant part of the population, particularly those who were in a country before another group came in, have no role whatsoever in deciding what the constitutional arrangements are, then it causes huge distress, impoverishment, marginalisation and the opposite of peaceful relations.  If a constitution is imposed without permission, then everything a people hold dear to them — their cultural values, their way of seeing the world, the way they look after their things and their resources — can be completely ignored.  Fortunately Ms Mutu, this did not happen in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi may be short but it encapsulated the expectations of all parties, as discussed above.

Ms Mutu is confused about our history

Strangely though, the Professor seems to misstate the outcome of the Treaty: That is the situation we have in Aotearoa. If we look at what Te Tiriti o Waitangi envisaged, it was first of all that  He Whakaputanga, the Declaration of Independence issued by rangatira in 1835, would be adhered to. For the avoidance of doubt I restate the facts of history:  The Declaration had no official status, no effect and there was simply no undertaking that it “would be adhered to”.  The Treaty of Waitangi met the goals of its signatories. 

Ms Mutu please note it is incorrect to claim that ‘they [the Confederation] would come together annually to make laws, to ensure peace was maintained, to ensure trading could continue, and that essentially everybody was living in harmony with each other.  The “confederation” never met and within a couple of years warfare broke out among its members and chief Titore was killed.

Ms Mutu’s is further reported thus:  What Te Tiriti o Waitangi then guaranteed in 1840 was that the subjects of the Queen of England could emigrate here. It allowed others to come and reside in this country, but it was conditional. The condition was that the British stop their lawlessness and live under the concept of kāwanatanga. 

It remains unclear exactly what kāwanatanga meant back then, but there’s no doubt that it was kāwanatanga belonging to the Queen of England. It was the mechanism by which she was able to stop her people being lawless. There were only 2000 of them here at the time when Te Tiriti was signed, and that was the condition of their settlement. 

Professor Mutu, I urge you to read the Treaty of Waitangi. It is a simple and concise document. The description above is a travesty of what was actually said and agreed in the Treaty of Waitangi.  As a university professor who has been conducting courses on the Treaty since 1986 surely you know that?  Surely you would want to see integrity in history? The truth is:

1.  The treaty said absolutely nothing about who could emigrate here nor anything about any “condition of their settlement”.  What it actually said was: “many of Her Majesty’s subjects have already settled in the country and are constantly arriving.”

2.  Nowhere does it state a condition “that the British stop their lawlessness”.  What it actually said was that it was “desirable for their protection as well as the protection of the natives to establish a government among them.”

3.  She continues: Up until that point, the British had proven lawless and bothersome and our rangatira could not control them. Which is why rangatira devolved authority to control the British immigrants to Queen Victoria. 

In fact, the warrior tribes could easily have swept all the settlers into the sea. As it was, they welcomed them for the trade goods, and liquor, they could provide together with a lucrative market for the prostitution of their slave women.  

4.  Ms Mutu again: [The Queen] had to ensure that her citizens abided by the law, but she could not interfere with the lives, the resources, the lands of Māori. Māori retained complete control over those.

Ms Mutu, please read the treaty and stop the fantasy

The words above do not remotely describe the agreement which was made when the chiefs signed the Treaty.  What the rangatira actually did was “cede to the Queen of England for ever the entire sovereignty of their country .”   They did this primarily to protect Maoris from the French and from themselves.   

And yet more from Mutu: “what you see now, where Māori have no control over our lands, over our lives, over our resources, and we have watched the whole lot be desecrated, and in many cases destroyed.  That state of affairs continues to this day. … .  because the immigrants were white and Christian, they [thought they] could take over the country and reduce the true owners, the Indigenous people, to servitude or commit genocide against them and strip them of everything. That action, to this day, underpins our constitutional arrangements in Aotearoa. The colonisation of this country by the British was illegitimate and illegal, and it’s done huge damage. That has to be fixed.”

When I read this, it calls to mind Alice in Wonderland again: ‘When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now I find I am in the middle of one!”

Informed debate?

Any healthy democracy will enjoy informed debate and a variety of opinions held in good faith. Likewise factual education is fundamental to our understanding of ourselves and in helping choose how we see and implement our future.

As a matter for debate I put it to you, the reader: is this statement of Ms Mutu based in history or a proposal for social and political revolution?
 She envisages “an environment where Māori are fully recognised and respected as mana whenua and the original peoples of this country; where tikanga, mātauranga, He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti are all a natural part of the agreed order [with] constitutional arrangements based on [them].  She forgets, or at least appears to do so, the many privileges part-Maoris enjoy today; the monstrous “Waitangi settlements” bestowed on many, based on the grossly biased procedures of the Waitangi Tribunal. She forgets, or at least appears to do so, the barbarous state of the country where tikanga and matauranga reigned supreme and the nasty, brutish and short lives of so many at the time.

Well, fellow New Zealanders of many races which I need not nominate here – you have been warned.

I conclude with some wise and well chosen words from Professor Elizabeth Rata: 

“Tribalism is based on principles of inequality”

“Tribalism and democracy are incompatible”

“Tribalism is exclusive”

“Democracy is based on equality”

“Democracy includes people from all backgrounds”.


  1. E.g. the skull of a non-Maori woman found on the Wairau Bat in 1939, New Zealand Voice Dec. 2017, pp 6-11
  2. With a handful of probably survivors, e.g. Ngati Hotu. DNA to rock the nation, ISBN978-0-473-38851-5, 2016
  3. Strictly, “the Crown of Great Britain” but the form familiar to Maoris was adopted.
  4. While the French might take on a Maori tribe, this was not a matter that they would contest with the British.
  5. Cannibalism, slavery and inter-trial violence were outlawed.
  6. This and related quotations are from M. King’s Penguin History of New Zealand, 2003,  pp,153ff.
  7. Our emphasis
  8. We are not related.
  9. Hobson, quoted by T.L.Buick, “The Treaty of Waitangi”, p.162
  10. New Zealand; the fair colony, ISBN 978-0-473-53728-9, pp.80-83
  11. Proceedings of the Kohimarama Conference, Comprising Nos. 13 to 18 of the “Maori Messenger” NZETC
  12. Well, of course King John is well and truly dead today, but the authority of his office has passed in a continuous succession to his heir, King Charles, today,  accepting that for a few short years in the 1650s it was transferred elsewhere.
  13. Hobson’s final draft of 4th  February 1840, Preamble
  14. Ibid.
  15. Hazel Petrie, Chiefs of Industry, ISBN 978-1-869403768, 2006
  16. Hobson’s final draft of 4th February 1840, Article first
  17. “New Zealand; the fair colony”, op.cit.,pp.48ff.
  18. E. Rata, NZ Herald, 29 January 2013