About He Whakaputanga

He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni

He W[h]akaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni. Archives reference: IA1 9/1/1a. Click on the image to enlarge or download.

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 34 Northern Māori rangatira (chiefs) on 28 October 1835, He Whakaputanga collected a further 18 signatures by 1839. This included Te Hāpuku of Hawkes Bay, and the Waikato leader Te Wherowhero, who later became the first Māori King. Through He Whakaputanga, these 52 rangatira asserted that Aotearoa New Zealand was an independent Māori state, that power resided fully with Māori, and that foreigners would not be allowed to make laws.

Described by British Resident James Busby as the "Magna Carta of New Zealand Independence", He Whakaputanga was a bold and innovative declaration of Indigenous power. Officially recognised by the United Kingdom, it signalled the emergence of Māori authority on the world stage. It was also one of the earliest assertions of Māori identity beyond separate iwi and hapū.

He Whakaputanga can be translated as "an emergence". The document itself 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 asked King William IV "to continue to be the parent [matua] of their infant State", and requested he "become its Protector from all attempts upon its independence".

The English draft of the document was written by James Busby, and was translated into Māori by the missionary Henry Williams (a draft in William’s handwriting is held at Archives New Zealand). Eruera Pare Hongi, a relation of Hongi Hika, wrote the final copy in Māori, which was the version that was signed (he is noted as "te kai tuhituhi" or "the scribe" on the document). The Māori text of He Whakaputanga o te Ranagtiratanga o Nu Tireni, and the English version sent to the Colonial Office by James Busby, can be found here (PDF 194kb, HTML).

In 1836, sixty copies of He Whakaputanga were produced by William Colenso on the Church Missionary Society press at Paihia. These copies were used to diffuse a flare-up between missionaries and traders in the Hokianga. In April 1837 Colenso printed a second edition of one hundred copies.

In recognition of its significance, He Whakaputanga was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register in 2015.

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.

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