Volume 111 2002 > Volume 111, No. 1 > Bound into a fateful union: Henry Williams' translation of the Treaty Of Waitangi into Maori in February 1840, by Paul Moon and Sabine Fenton, p 51-64
BOUND INTO A FATEFUL UNION: HENRY WILLIAMS' TRANSLATION OF THE TREATY OF WAITANGI INTO MAORI IN FEBRUARY 1840
For decades, historians have largely circumvented questions about the reasons for the Rev. Henry Williams' inept translation of the Treaty of Waitangi (Orange 1987:39), preferring to focus on the nature of the differences between the Maori and English versions, rather than the bases for these discrepancies (Henare 1987, McKenzie 1985:45). They have been afraid, perhaps, of flirting with a truth that may be unpalatable or too disruptive to the orthodox portrayal of the Treaty that we have inherited. Alan Ward (1973:42-45) glosses over Williams' role entirely in discussing the various versions of the Treaty, while Keith Sinclair (1988:71) defers almost exclusively to the English version of the Treaty in his mention of the cession of sovereignty—turning a blind eye to the existence of the Maori text of the agreement. A similar disinterest in Williams' apparently willful rewriting when translating the Treaty into Maori can also be found in the writings of David Williams (1989:78-79), M.P.K. Sorrenson (1989:164), I.C. Campbell (1991:80), P.G. McHugh (1991:174) and others. One treaty expert even satisfied himself that Williams “…did his best” (Biggs 1989:302), without raising any query as to why Williams had gone so badly wrong in his effort on this occasion. Even Claudia Orange, in her seminal work on the Treaty, while raising the possibility of Williams choosing “…obscure and ambiguous wording…” (1987: 41) to improve the chances of obtaining Maori agreement, contradictorily defers to the common thesis that he allegedly lacked the appropriate skills in the Maori language to produce an adequate translation (1987:39), and therefore presumably was also too inexpert to craft a deliberate mistranslation.
Henry Williams' Background
Williams was born in 1792 in Hampshire to a family of modest but certainly not impoverished means (Vosslambler and Vosslambler 1999:1). In 1806, he joined the Royal Navy, serving for 10 years. Following his discharge from the Navy, he commenced training for missionary work. This was a period when the Church and the State in England, while nominally separated, were growing close in practice. 1
Williams' initial career choice was not the mission field but the battlefield. At the age of 14, he joined the Royal Navy, saw active service the following year, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1815 (Rogers 1973:30-34). However, in the same year, following Napoleon's capitulation, Williams was retired on half- - 52 pay. It was in the ensuing few years that his interest in missionary work was aroused, mainly through the influence of his brother-in-law, the Reverend Edward Marsh. Williams and his wife finally arrived in New Zealand to take up their missionary work in 1823, 17 years before the Treaty of Waitangi received its first signatures. The European record of Williams' missionary activities and his commitment to the Maori in religious and social matters is unblemished. It speaks of a total devotion to the cause, his desire to bring Christianity to the Maori. He reputedly won the respect, admiration and trust of the native population and was affectionately, and in a somewhat patronising manner, identified as “a father indeed to all the tribes” (Rogers 1973:24).
Commitment to the Crown in New Zealand
Our focus now turns to Williams' commitment to the Crown, and specifically, its plans to make New Zealand a Crown colony. The sources and manifestations of this commitment is one of the central elements in our argument that Williams decided to mistranslate the treaty. As the influences of Church and Crown merged, so did Williams' activities in both areas. By 1840 the power of the Church and its influence on all aspects of life in New Zealand was at its height. On the political scene it played a dual role: missionaries advised and supported the representative of the Crown, the British Resident James Busby, as well as the Maori chiefs. In the social and ethical domain the Church also sought closer links with the British Government: “The missionaries had become convinced in the two to three years before 1840 that a regularisation of English intrusion into the country would be much preferable to the haphazard influx of settlers and transients that was proving increasingly detrimental to Maori welfare” (Orange 1987:58). These hopes became reality when William Hobson, the Governor-designate of New Zealand, departed Sydney on 18th January on HMS Herald, arriving in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand on the 29th of that month. On meeting Hobson in New Zealand, Williams wrote: “In the afternoon, I went on board H.M.S. Herald and was met by Captain Hobson, to whom I expressed my gratification that he had arrived and put an end to the great excitement then existing in the purchase of lands caused by the sudden influx of Europeans …” (Moon 1998:58). Williams' propensity to support the Crown was fortified by the instructions he received from the Archbishop of Australia (1840) —these unambiguously encouraged Williams to support Hobson to his fullest capacity:
You will without doubt have heard of the arrival of Captain Hobson, and of his destination for New Zealand, where he is to exercise, it is supposed, more ample powers than were conferred upon the British resident…. Among his first duties will be that of endeavouring to obtain from the Chiefs a voluntary recognition of Her Majesty's sovereignty over the territory…. Upon my fullest consideration my judgement inclines me very strongly to recommend to you, that through you to all the other members of the mission that your influence should be exercised among the chiefs attached to you, to induce them to make the desired surrender of sovereignty to Her Majesty (1840 in Rogers 1961).- 53
Putting aside the temporal character of this instruction, this was an explicit demand for Williams to use his influence and other powers to achieve the cession of Maori sovereignty to the Crown. This document alone gives considerable weight to the suggestion that Williams was likely to deal with the issue of the translation of the Treaty in a way that would favour the Crown. However, it would be wrong to imply that he would be acting under some form of duress.
The evidence of the three years leading up to the Treaty provides an insight into Williams' personal feelings towards the possible establishment of Crown rule in the colony. In a letter of March 1837 to his brother-in-law, he discussed a petition that some British subjects in the Bay of Islands had sent to the King. Williams' candid disclosure of his preference for formal British government in New Zealand is unmistakable:
It is high time that something be done to check the progress of iniquity committed by a lawless band daringly advancing in wickedness and outrage, under the assurance that ‘there is no law in New Zealand’. Without some immediate interposition on behalf of the [British] Government for our protection, our position will become very desperate, as we may be expected to be surrounded ere long by a swarm of rogues and vagabonds, who indeed carry all before them, both as respects the respectable Europeans and also the natives” (Williams, in Rogers 1973:163).
The following year, Williams reiterated this sentiment in correspondence with his Church Missionary Society superiors: “The English Government should take charge of the country, as the Guardians of New Zealand, and… the chiefs should be incorporated into a General Assembly, under the guidance of certain officers, with a military force” (Williams 1838:1). Thus, in both private and official communications with others, Williams openly favoured the imposition of formal British rule over New Zealand.
Williams' patriotic motives for colluding with the Crown through his involvement in translating of the Treaty were possibly not the only forces that guided his approach to securing Maori consent to the agreement.
Together with his extensive family (he eventually had in excess of 80 grandchildren), Williams was a significant landowner by the close of the 1830s 1838:1). This was arguably necessary to provide some form of income because of the often deficient funding the family received from the CMS (Williams MS. Papers). However, with the imminent imposition of formal British rule, there was a risk that land purchased by Europeans before 1840 could revert to Maori ownership, unless the European ownership was confirmed by the Crown, following an investigation by a specially appointed Government Commission (Sweetman 1939:9). Certainly, acting in favour of the Crown, and attempting to fulfill its expectations regarding its desire to assert sovereignty over New Zealand would put Williams in good stead - 54 when his land purchases were eventually investigated. Indeed, at the time of the signing of the Treaty at Waitangi, Williams was accused of complying with the Crown to protect his land holdings (Colenso 1890:20).
In 1841, the Crown-appointed Land Commissioners confirmed Williams' land holdings of around 11,000 acres, and determined that he had paid a fair price for the purchases he had made (Government Gazette 1841:257). The steady accumulation of land by Williams and his many relatives must have unquestionably given him the extra impetus to ensure that he executed the Crown's wishes as requested.
Williams' Relationship with Maori
While Williams' relationship with the British Crown is fairly evident, the nature of his association with Maori requires some disentangling of the historical record. Practically all the accounts of this relationship were written either by himself or partisan colleagues—often for the purpose of requesting more assistance for the work he was engaged in. It is through this lens that the comments dealing with Williams' relationship with Maori need to be viewed. For example, Lawrence Rogers (1973:24) dips into hagiography, describing Williams as being unequalled in mana in Maoridom, and claiming that there was no other person “…who had won so completely their [Maori] confidence and trust”. Rogers (1973:24-25) then goes on to list senior Maori who, he believes, finally came to admire Williams, including Tohitapu, Hone Heke and Kawiti.
Williams' attitudes towards Maori, based on his own accounts, were far less impressive than Rogers made out. Throughout his early journals—1826-1840 (Rogers 1961) —Williams' reactions to Maori culture, customs and values tended to be condemnatory if they clashed with Christianity, and otherwise virtually dismissive. On issues such as drunkenness, for example, he showed no bias in criticising Maori and European in equal measure for their intoxication on occasions (Rogers 1961:252), while he described traditional Maori religious beliefs as “…the citadel of the great enemy…” (Rogers 1961:162). In summary, William's general attitude toward Maori was governed by the extent to which they conformed to his construction of Christianity. He showed no wish to integrate into Maori society, and such involvement in interaction he did have with Maori consistently appeared to be based on his overriding urge to find converts.
Williams' Knowledge of Maori
Thus far, the evidence of William's urge to work in complicity with the Crown is significant, but also circumstantial in respect to his conscious mistranslation of key concepts of the Treaty. It remains to be asked whether Williams was sufficiently unaware of, or unfamiliar, with the Maori language in early 1840 to justify the claim that his translation of the Treaty was the best of which he was capable (Biggs 1989:302). Williams' own claims in respect to the translation of the Treaty deserve close consideration here. After the event, he wrote this account of how he came to be involved, and the thinking that motivated his approach to the matter (Williams n.d.):- 55
On the 4th of February, about 4 o'clock p.m., Captain Hobson came to me with the Treaty of Waitangi in English, for me to translate into Maori, saying that he would meet me in the morning at the house of the British Resident, Mr. Busby; when it must be read to the chiefs assembled at 10 o'clock. In this translation, it was necessary to avoid all expressions of the English for which there was no expressive term in the Maori, preserving entire the spirit and tenor of the treaty….
The language in the final part of this extract is ambiguous, and can easily be misread. The common interpretation seems to be that Williams was ignorant of the Maori words that could have rendered a more accurate translation. However, such a reading does not pay close enough attention to what Williams actually wrote. He did not deny that the English text of the Treaty could be translated into Maori. Instead, he deliberately stated that “…it was necessary to avoid all expressions of the English”, for which he suggested there was “…no expressive term” in Maori. It is these two segments that cast doubt on Williams' sincerity and intention to translate the English text of the Treaty into a Maori text equivalent in meaning and function to the original, and suggest that there were other germane considerations. Although Williams' son, Edward, assisted with the translation, and it was reviewed the following day by Hobson, Busby, and another CMS missionary, Charles Taylor, “the blame for the faulty translations must lie with Williams” (Walker 1972:2), who himself assumed liability for this task.
Two key examples of Williams' familiarity with the Maori language raise significant suspicions about his plea of ignorance when drafting the translation of the Treaty. The first, suggesting Williams had an intimate knowledge of what might be termed “constitutional Maori”, was his translation of the 1835 Declaration of Independence—a document he also signed as a witness. The 1835 Declaration of Independence was signed by James Busby, in his capacity as British Resident to New Zealand, and 35 Maori chiefs, mainly from the Northland region of the country. Busby's vague plans, for a statement of Maori independence and the introduction of pan-tribal Maori self-government, were boosted and given more definition by the imminent arrival of Baron De Thierry—a French eccentric who boasted that he would claim sovereignty over part of Northland. Busby perceived this as part of a French threat to the country, and formulated the Declaration partly as a response. Signatures were being added to it until 1839. The last was that of Te Wherowhero.
In the Declaration, Williams used the word ‘mana’ to signify ‘sovereignty’. This term manifestly conjured up many of the elements of sovereignty for Maori, and there was never any subsequent expression of dissatisfaction arising from this part of the translation of the Declaration, although, as Margaret Mutu (n.d.:11) has noted, while the word mana may be the closest translation of sovereignty, “…it is by no means an accurate translation”. The relevant passage in the Declaration reads as follows:- 56
The authoritative use of this term to translate “sovereignty” was subsequently confirmed by the Colonial Office's acknowledgement of the Maori chiefs' Declaration as a valid statement of independence in the international arena in the face of a possible invasion (Glenelg 1836:506).
The more compelling indication that Williams' Maori skills were well in advance of those he professed at the time he translated the Treaty comes from his own comments from early in his tenure in New Zealand. In the year he arrived, Williams was conducting prayers and hymns in the Maori language (Williams 1823), and although it would be mistaken to assume he had any degree of fluency at that time, his efforts certainly indicate that he was keen to acquire fluency. In January 1824, he was already involved in studying the Maori language, and reported that some of his fellow Englishmen were making “great advancement in the language” (Rogers 1973:56). A major development in New Zealand missionaries' awareness and use of the Maori language occurred in 1827, when 400 copies of Bible extracts, translated into Maori, were printed in Sydney (Coleman 1865:96). According to Williams' biographer, Lawrence Rogers (1973:70), following the arrival of the Maori Bibles, “What Henry Williams achieved was the organisation of the whole missionary body in a regular and systematic study which would lead to the mastery of the Maori tongue”. Williams, along with some of his colleagues, was also responsible for translating the Anglican Prayer Book into Maori, a task that Rogers observes (1973:78) was done “…with great care”.
By 1828, Williams was sufficiently fluent that he felt comfortable enough to deliver his sermons in Maori, something which was done with such accomplishment that he himself noted how he was able to maintain the attention of his Maori congregations through this approach (Williams 1828). Five years later, the number of translations of religious materials that Williams and others were producing was such that he wrote to Dandeson Coates, the lay secretary of the CMS, requesting funding for an improved printing press for the New Zealand mission (Williams 1833). One of the most telling signs of Williams' fluency in Maori came at the meeting that preceded the signing of the Treaty at Waitangi. Lieutenant-Governor Hobson requested that Williams interpret his explanations of the text and the meaning of the agreement. Williams later wrote in his journal:
In the midst of profound silence I read the Treaty to all assembled. I told all to listen with care, explaining clause by clause to the chiefs; giving them caution not to be in a hurry, but telling them that we, the Missionaries, fully approved of the treaty, that it was an act of love towards them on the part of - 57 the Queen, who desired to secure to them their property, rights, and privileges. That this treaty was as a fortress for them against any foreign power which might desire to take possession of their country… (Williams n.d.: 12).
This tone of confidence is in stark contrast—indeed contradiction—to the claim a few days earlier that the Maori language was incapable of embracing the concepts contained in the treaty (Williams n.d.:12).
Hobson (1840) also attested to the value of Williams' assistance in translating the explanations that were being given in response to questions from the assembled chiefs:
I [Hobson] then read the treaty… and in doing so, I dwelt on each article, and offered a few remarks explanatory of such passages as they [the chiefs] might be supposed not to understand. Mr. H. Williams, of the Church Missionary Society, did me the favour to interpret, and repeated in the native tongue, sentence by sentence, all I had said.
Hobson's final speech to the chiefs prior to the signing on 6 February 1840 was also fully interpreted and elaborated on by Williams (Colenso 1890:16-17).
What was Mistranslated?
A first comparison of the English and the Maori texts of the Treaty establishes Williams' translation strategy and appears to confirm his intention to avoid all terms that had no direct equivalents in the Maori language. The convoluted and technical language of the English version is recast in simple Maori, but with strategic omissions. Moreover, certain crucial terms were not translated into the closest, natural Maori equivalent but into Maori words and concepts that were used to convey meaning in translations of the Bible, words and concepts which were generally either understood differently by Maori or lacked any meaning at all.
The salient feature in Williams' mistranslation of the Treaty revolves around the central element in the agreement: the cession of Maori sovereignty to the Crown. The relevant portion of the English text reads:
The Chiefs… of New Zealand… cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of sovereignty which the said… Chiefs… exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or possess, over their respective Territories as the sole Sovereigns thereof (Treaty of Waitangi 1840).
The language in this segment is relatively free from ambiguity, and describes a complete cession of sovereignty from one group to the other. However, Williams translated this critical passage as follows (in a literal back translation into English):- 58
The Chiefs… give absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the complete government over the land (Kawharu 1989:321).
On the surface, it may seem that using the term “government” instead of “sovereignty” is an insignificant distinction, but this would be to avoid the comparative weight given to the term kawanatanga, which Williams used to mean “sovereignty”. Kawanatanga as a missionary neologism based on the English word “governor” (appearing as kawana o conform to Maori orthography). It had first appeared in early translations of the Bible, where Pontius Pilate was described as a kawana(Matthew 27:1-26). Not only was this word only partially familiar to the few Maori who had undergone missionary education, its context bore no direct relation to the notion of sovereignty. The other problem with the use of the notion of governor (in either English or Maori) was that there had never been a governor in New Zealand. Therefore there was no way in which the Maori signatories could have established the power and jurisdiction of such a person. The more appropriate word would have been mana(Walker 1989:263), as used in the 1835 Declaration of Independence. Mana defies easy translation, but can include power, prestige, authority and sovereignty. However, Williams bypassed this obvious choice, one with which he was familiar, and employed a far more ambiguous term. Even the handful of chiefs who might have been familiar with the Biblical concept of governor could never have equated ceding this unknown extent of authority to the Crown with a surrender of their mana.
As if to reinforce the point that the sovereign power of the chiefs was in no way threatened by the terms of the Treaty—and thereby giving added incentive for the chiefs to sign the agreement—Williams again interpolated a term in the Treaty that, this time, was completely at odds with the English version, in which sovereignty was ceded to the Crown. In the Second Article of the Maori version (in literal back translation into English), the relevant portion reads:
The Queen of England agrees to protect the chiefs… of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, villages, and all their treasures (Kawharu 1989:321).
The term Williams elected to use in Maori—tino rangatiratanga—for the English “chieftainship” was also a missionary neologism, 2 but its root word—rangatira—was indigenous to Maori. Rangatiratanga—the power, rights and authority of the chief—was a sovereign power in its fullest sense. Thus, Williams' translation of this Treaty Article promised to the Maori signatories the same sovereignty that they were supposedly ceding under the First Article of the English version to the Crown. Consequently, far from “preserving entire the spirit and tenor of the treaty” (Williams n.d.:12), Williams succeeded in the opposite: carefully mutating the Maori version to make it palatable to the Maori chiefs, while appearing as a reasonable translation of the English version, with the convenient qualification of “…avoiding all expressions of the English for which there was no expressive term in the Maori…” - 59 (Carleton 1877:12). This formidable achievement, done with such precision and care that no-one present at Waitangi on 5 and 6 February 1840 even noticed it, could only have been executed by someone who was extremely fluent in Maori and English. In both Article the First and Article the Second, the Maori text was cunningly manipulated to give the impression that it was a competent translation of the English version of the Treaty. Yet, in the critical area of the transfer of sovereignty, Williams succeeded in devising, in the Maori text, a meaning that was fundamentally at odds with the English version.
The Success of the Translation
Williams later proclaimed that the subsequent success of the Treaty, in his mind, was partly attributable to his role in undertaking its translation: “Though severely tested, [the Treaty] has never yet been disturbed, notwithstanding that many in power have endeavoured to do so” (Williams n.d.:12). There can be little doubt as to the success of Williams' translation, if measured by the degree of Maori consent that was obtained for the Treaty. In terms of translation theory, William's translational action had focused on producing a target text that was functionally communicative for the receivers and achieved the Commissioner's goal and with which Williams had no difficulty agreeing. The target text was determined by its skopos, its purpose (Reiss and Vermeer 1984), and its goal was achieved by the chiefs signing the Treaty.
In a letter written to the Editor of the Southern Cross newspaper in July 1861, a Mr W. F. Porter cited an anonymous letter written to him by a person who was involved in getting the Treaty signed by Maori. It has since been shown that Henry Williams himself was the author of this letter (Ross 1972:24). Williams' text reaffirms his earlier comment about the competency and depth of his explanation of the terms of the Treaty to Maori:
“…explanation upon explanation was called for by the chiefs—some of whom are still living to attest to the accuracy of my statements—doubt after doubt had to be removed, and when it touched upon the land, the preemption clause had to be explained to them over and over again…. This explanation [of the preemption clause] I most conscientiously assert was given to them, and thus they understood it; and… had any other explanation been given to them, the treaty would never have been signed by a chief in the Bay of Islands…” (in Ross 1972:33-34)
It is perhaps significant that in this extract Williams ignores any mention of the accuracy of his translation and focuses on the political dimension of its success— specifically, the way in which his clarification of the text induced so many Maori to sign the agreement.
The likelihood of the chiefs signing the Treaty if the Maori version had given the full meaning of the English text is the final issue, which is connected with the success of Williams' mission of ensuring that Maori consent was obtained. Williams' - 60 role in this context is two-fold: both as translator of the Treaty, and, at Waitangi, as the key person who explained and elaborated to the chiefs the English explanations of the Treaty given by Hobson (Hobson 1840).
There is little doubt that the chiefs who signed the Treaty would never have done so had they known that it would have entailed sacrificing their sovereignty. Ranginui Walker has put the situation bluntly, observing that the missionaries “knew that any loss of mana was an anathema to the chiefs” (Walker 1989:266). Had the word mana been used instead of kawanatanga, no chief would have consented to the Treaty (Ross 1972:26). Thus, Williams seems to have complemented his mistranslation of the text with a more elaborate but equally effective litany of verbal misrepresentations—carefully bypassing, at all stages, any suggestion that in signing the Treaty Maori would be surrendering their sovereignty.
Henry Williams' primary purpose in New Zealand was to preach the Gospels, and establish the presence of the Church of England in the colony. However, the timing of his mission work coincided with New Zealand's transition from an independent collection of tribal authorities to a colony whose sovereignty—as far as the British were concerned—had been ceded to the Crown. Williams' knowledge of the Maori people and their language unavoidably made him a political as well as a religious figure for the early colonial administrators. Hobson, in particular, took advantage of his skills by vesting in him the responsibility of translating the Treaty into Maori.
The translation of the Treaty of Waitangi is a salient example of the role that translation can play in constructing societies, cultures and ideologies by conveying a completely different discourse. “The translators' imposition of parts of their own personal, ideological or cultural outlook may lead to serious distortions in the target text” (Baumgarten 2001:27). It also confirms the view that translations reflect the imperatives of their context, their time and their culture. Translators, caught in a web of contradictory relationships, as Williams was, will resolve the tensions according to their understanding of their own position and role within their culture (Lefevere 1992). The historic circumstances of the translation and signing of the Treaty constitute an example of the important role of missionary translations played in colonial projects and the role of translations in the imposition and reproduction of power structures: “We are compelled now to recognise the role they play in reshaping texts, a role that is far from innocent” (Bassnett 1996: 23). World history abounds with examples of the subversive power of translation and draws a rich and complex picture of such translation practices and the motivations for these practices. It has been shown again and again that a translator's behaviour is rarely guided by a single coherent set of motives but arises from multiple identities and affiliations. “A translator's behaviour is often the result of conflicting loyalities, sympathies - 61 and priorities—precisely because a translator, like any human being, does not have just one identity but many” (Baker 2001:16). Henry Williams is a case in point. In his case we must add to his complex role as religious leader and political figure his own desire to serve the Crown, the instructions he received from his superior in Australia to assist Hobson, his perceived need for the Crown to look favourably on his earlier land purchases when the Land Commission began its investigations, his personal preference for formal British rule to be established in the colony, and that his knowledge of the Maori language was so good that he was able to manipulate key elements of the Treaty text to ensure that it received widespread Maori consent—something that would have otherwise been highly improbable.
In his position as the translator of the Treaty of Waitangi, Henry Williams' role was anything but innocent. He was also a product of his time, his denominational affiliation, and the prevailing ideology. His translation reflected all three. His view of the world and that of his own position in it were the dominant factors in determining his translation strategy. In the final analysis they made Williams, the “father of all Maori” —the traduttore, a traditore, the translator, a traitor. Williams reshaped the text of the Treaty of Waitangi and changed one part of the world forever. He managed to bind two nations into a fateful union, which has been under pressure since its creation. Its continued survival will depend to a large extent on the question whether the mistranslations made by Henry Williams can and will be corrected to the satisfaction of the wronged party.
- 64 Page is blank
1 Sir James Stephen, for example, who was Permanent Undersecretary of the Colonial Office during the 1830s and 1840s, was also an official of the Church Missionary Society — the evangelical arm of the Church of England.
2 The relevant portion of the Maori text of the Lord's Prayer reads:“…kia tae mai tou rangatiratanga”—“…thy Kingdom come”