In the first decade of the 19th century northern Rangatira established Te Wakaminenga o Ngā Hapū o Nu Tīreni The General Assembly of the Tribal Nations of New Zealand, also known as the Confederation of Chiefs, partly to discuss the problems they were having with the newcomers. Over the following years they petitioned the British Crown in person and by letter asking for help to control lawless Pākehā (as all non-Maori were known at that time), who did not accept Māori authority and law. In 1835 they drew up He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tīreni The Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand, which was discussed around the country and formally recognised by the British Crown in 1836.
The British Colonial Office had initially been reluctant to intervene in New Zealand however various pressures, in large part the land speculating of the New Zealand Company with its plans for creating unauthorised settlements in New Zealand, and selling land that it had not yet bought, had led to the instructions for William Hobson to travel to New Zealand and ‘treat with the Aborigines… for the recognition of Her Majesty’s sovereign authority over the whole or any parts of the islands which they may be willing to place under Her Majesty’s dominion’. In January 1840 James Busby, the British Resident, and the missionaries living in the north called local Rangatira to Waitangi to talk about the proposed treaty and to announce that a Governor representing the Queen of England was coming.
The Governor, Captain William Hobson, arrived in the Bay of Islands in late January 1840 on board the Herald, with written instructions from the Colonial Secretary Lord Normanby to negotiate a treaty with the Rangatira of New Zealand. Although he had instructions from the British Government, Hobson had not been provided with a draft treaty so he set about drawing up an English-language draft on board the Herald, loosely based on examples of previous treaties between the British and tribal leaders in other parts of the world. This draft was then refined by Hobson and Busby and Hobson’s secretary Freeman, before it was passed on to the Reverend Henry Williams, a missionary who had been living in New Zealand for 17 years and a fluent Māori speaker, to translate into te reo Māori.
Williams and his son Edward worked on the document and further changes in its meaning were made during its translation into te reo Māori, due in part to feedback from Rangatira that they would never cede their mana (power, prestige and authority) to the the Queen; the word kawanatanga (a transliteration of the word ‘governor’, an authority delegated by the British Crown such as that exercised by the Governors of New South Wales and Norfolk Island), was substituted. The final reo Māori version is what is known to Ngāpuhi as Te Tiriti Tuarua (the second version of the Treaty written in te reo) and it was this document that was presented to northern Māori at Waitangi and signed on 6th February by about 40 Rangatira.
Copies of the reo Māori document were then circulated at hui all around the country over the following months for Rangatira to debate and sign. This document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi The Treaty of Waitangi, was subsequently signed by well over 500 Rangatira. An English language version was also circulated during that time which is believed to have been written from memory of the original English-language draft, which has since been lost. It was sent out in late March and presented at hui in two locations where it is possible that up to 39 Rangatira signed it. In effect, these Rangatira would have been assenting to the content of the document in te reo Māori, as news of it would have travelled from the Waitangi signing and the discussion would have been about the content and intent of the reo Māori text since there were few who spoke or read fluent formal English in 1840. In addition, that which was verbally agreed was of the essence in the oral tradition of Māori and there are also several reasons from international law for this assertion; see https://nwo.org.nz/resources/treaty-poster/.
The Treaty documents with signatures comprise nine sheets: eight in te reo Māori and one in English. They are currently on display at the National Library as part of its exhibition He Tohu.