Declaration of Independence

About the Exhibition

He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni – known in English as the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand – is a constitutional document of historical and cultural significance. First signed by thirty-four Northern Māori rangatira (chiefs) on 28 October 1835, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni collected a further eighteen signatures by 1839. Through He Whakaputanga, these fifty-two rangatira asserted that mana (authority) and sovereign power in New Zealand resided fully with Māori, and that foreigners would not be allowed to make laws.

Officially recognized by the United Kingdom and acknowledged by France and the United States, it signalled the emergence of Māori authority on the world stage. It represented a development in Māori nationhood and identity, while reaffirming tikanga Māori and sites of power that had existed for centuries. The document personifies a pivotal moment for Northern Māori, and the history of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Created in partnership with the British Resident James Busby, He Whakaputanga is historically significant due to its association with Māori-Crown relations and British involvement in New Zealand. It is inseparable from Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the massive social changes that followed. As Hone Sadler notes in Ngāpuhi Speaks, ‘He Whakaputanga te matua, Te Tiriti te tamaiti/ He Whakaputanga is the parent, Te Tiriti is the child.’

The Document

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He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni is two sheets of medium-weight cream laid paper. Sheet 1 has written information on both sides – four articles, and the names and tohu (sign) of those who signed on 28 October 1835. Sheet 2 is a single-sided codicil that was added after the initial signings, and has the names and tohu of a further 18 rangatira. The scribe of He Whakaputanga was Eruera Pare (written as ‘te kai tuhituhi’ on the document), while the English version was created by James Busby.

He Whakaputanga consisted of four articles. It asserted the independence of Nu Tireni (Aotearoa New Zealand) under the rule of the ‘United Tribes of New Zealand’. All sovereign power and authority in the land (‘Ko te Kingitanga ko te mana i te w[h]enua’) resided with the chiefs ‘in their collective capacity’. The chiefs present agreed to meet annually at Waitangi to make laws. In return for the ‘friendship and protection’ that Māori were to give British subjects in New Zealand, the chiefs entreated King William IV ‘to continue to be the parent [matua] of their infant State’, and asked him to ‘become its Protector from all attempts upon its independence’.

The Māori text of He Whakaputanga o te Ranagtiratanga o Nu Tireni, and the English version written by James Busby, can be found at http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/interactive/the-declaration-of-independence.

The Life of the Document

After its initial signing on 28 October 1835, He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni was retained in Waitangi by British Resident James Busby as he gathered further signatures. When William Hobson arrived in January 1840, the document was transferred to his care. From there it would have made its way to the government buildings in Official Bay (Auckland), where it was archived by the Registrar of Records, Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland. When these buildings burnt down in 1842 it was saved with the rest of the fledgling government’s records.

He Whakaputanga appears to have remained in the keeping of the Colonial Secretary's office, later the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). In 1877 it was photolithographed alongside Te Tiriti o Waitangi by the Government Printing Office for the production of a volume of facsimiles.

The 1931 Napier earthquake and its devastating fires had highlighted the importance of safekeeping records. In October 1935 He Whakaputanga was encased in cellophane envelopes, bound in a new volume and placed in the DIA safe.

During the Second World War, Te Tiriti o Waitangi travelled to the Masterton Public Trust office for safekeeping and He Whakaputanga travelled with it. Then in February 1940, He Whakaputanga travelled to Waitangi, where it was exhibited alongside Te Tiriti o Waitangi as part of the centennial celebrations.

In 1989 the government purchased 10 Mulgrave St (the former Government Print office) for the National Archives’ first permanent home under one roof. A display was planned for Te Tiriti o Waitangi and other constitutional documents in the Constitution Room. He Whakaputanga was placed in the first left-hand case, representing the first constitutional development in New Zealand’s modern history.

In recognition of its significance, He Whakaputanga was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register in 2015: http://www.unescomow.org.nz/new-zealand-register/browse.

From 2017, He Whakaputanga will sit alongside Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition in a new exhibition housed at the National Library of New Zealand. This exhibition will considerably raise the profile of He Whakaputanga and its constitutional significance.