Centennial - growth of New Zealand identity

Page 7 – The 1940 Centennial and the Treaty of Waitangi - 1940 Centennial

The 1940 Centennial and the Treaty of Waitangi

The year 1940 marked 100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Yet critics of the centenary celebrations argued that the Treaty and Maori played little meaningful part in the events, apart from some ceremonial aspects.

The government and officials were quick to point out that New Zealand's progress as a nation since 1840 also represented Maori progress as a people and that Maori were better off than they had been before. In what could almost be described in terms of 'they don't know how lucky they are', men like Lord Galway (the Governor-General) advised Maori to look forward and not back, while the deputy prime minister, Peter Fraser, speaking at Waitangi in 1940, pointed out that it was 'not much good brooding over ancient wrongs'.

The Maori King and (Princess) Te Puea Herangi boycotted the 1940 hui at Waitangi. Even Sir Apirana Ngata, who often agreed that Maori had to adapt to and get on in the Pakeha world, used Waitangi Day that year as an opportunity to question what had been of true benefit to Maori in the preceding century. Clearly, despite the hype and propaganda of the centennial, fundamental questions were being asked about who or what we were as a nation.

A selection of comments made in 1940 about this can be found at the end of this page, which is part of a site on the Treaty of Waitangi developed by the State Services Commission. These comments, the feature The 1940 Centennialand your own knowledge and ideas can help you complete the following activities.


1. To what extent could it be argued that the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was a side issue in the 1940 commemorations? Explain your answer.

2. With reference to the New Zealand Herald editorial of February 6:

  1. What future role did the Herald imply that the Treaty of Waitangi would have in determining the relationship between Maori and Pakeha?
  2. How would you describe the tone of the Herald editorial? Quote one line from it to support your answer.

3. What did Sir Apirana Ngata believe had to happen for Maori to proceed 'further with the new century'?

4. What attitude does Frank Langstone, the minister of native affairs, appear to have to any sense of Maori grievance over the events of the preceding 100 years? Quote one piece of evidence to support your answer.

5. When being interviewed about the placement of his Kupe statue at the Centennial Exhibition, sculptor W.T. Trethewey replied,

'at the main entrance gates ... the first thing that meets your eye, actually, is the very large lagoon, or reflecting pools ... At the head of this pool is going to be placed this group, looking along the water.'

'I see, what gave you the idea for that?'

'Well, there's been quite a lot of talk about the Pakeha pioneers and it just occurred to me that a group to the Maori, the original Maori pioneers of New Zealand, would be quite appropriate.'

How was this sentiment reflected in the centennial commemorations as a whole?

6. In your opinion, what similarities can be made between the debate in 1940 about the place of the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori in New Zealand society and current debate surrounding the same issues? Explain your answer.

Quotes about the Treaty in 1940

Viscount Galway, Governor-General

‘Look To The Sun. Future of the Maori. Viscount Galway’s Advice. Brotherhood of the Races.

We are assembled writing the last words of a page of history that will be turned over for a new writing to begin a new century … It was a far cry to times and conditions 100 years ago and it was hardly to be expected that perfection would be reached in a moment, and undoubtedly there were injustices which all were doing their best to remedy. It was to be hoped in the next 100 years they would be completely obliterated.

Sir Apirana Ngata had said that where injustices were overcome tribes looked forward instead of back. He would ask them to remember the words, “Look to the sun and the shadows will [be] behind you.” In looking back over the history of the past 100 years there was a definite period of 75 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi during which there was a feeling among the Maoris that they were rather overwhelmed by the pakehas [European New Zealanders], that the Maori race was on the decline, and that the future held little hope.

Then, in 1914, the Maoris joined up in the struggle for liberty. It put life and heart into the Maori race and the old prophesies were rendered false. From then on a new compact was made, not like a treaty, but one of heart and affection between the Maoris and their pakeha brothers. When the war was over the Maoris came back strengthened and heartened. Since then the race had never looked back. They were increasing in numbers and there was before them an era of great prosperity.'

[New Zealand Herald, 7 February 1940, reporting on the opening of a new wharenui at Waitangi during the centennial of the Treaty of Waitangi]

Sir Apirana Ngata

Ngati Porou leader and Member of Parliament for Eastern Maori

‘New Century Outlook. Problems Remaining. Appeal For Sympathy.

I do not know of any year the Maori people have approached with so much misgiving as this Centennial Year … In retrospect what does the Maori see? Lands gone, the power of chiefs humbled in the dust, Maori culture scattered and broken.

What remained of all the fine things said 100 years ago? … What remained for the Maori to celebrate whole-heartedly with the European at this Centennial? The outstanding thing was the shield of sovereignty handed to Queen Victoria and her descendants. Otherwise he doubted if there would have been a free Maori race today. In acknowledgement of this they offered up the flower of the race for the Maori battalion …

Before proceeding further with the new century, it was the clear duty of the Government to try to wipe out the mistakes of the past 100 years. When the Taranaki confiscated lands problem was settled the Maori there ceased to look back and looked forward. Similarly, when the Arawa lakes claims were settled they looked ahead. They asked the Government to help the Waikato, South Island, Bay of Plenty, and North Auckland Maoris to close their eyes to the past.

Red blankets worn by the Maoris at the pageant were reminders of surplus lands injustices [in Northland]. They asked that these claims be settled in order that the Maoris should go forward confidently, side by side with the Europeans. The Treaty of Waitangi was a gentleman’s agreement, which on the whole had been not badly observed. When they learned they were to have equality with the white man they did not bargain on equality also in paying taxes. They had learned that equality of privilege meant equality of obligation, and they began the new century with their eyes open to obligations.'
[New Zealand Herald, 7 February 1940.]

Peter Fraser, prime minister

'The pakeha of today sympathised with the Maori over the mistakes and misunderstandings of New Zealand’s first 100 years.

It is not much good brooding over ancient wrongs … It is more sensible and efficient to try to put them right, and endeavours are repeatedly made to that end. At the close of 100 years we see signs of great progress … [He] pointed to the Maori Battalion as living evidence that the Maoris were just as determined as the Europeans to help in the present struggle for democracy, justice, and decent living throughout the world. If this spirit permeated them and their successors, the second century would outstrip in progress, prosperity, and happiness the one that had closed'.

[New Zealand Herald, 7 February 1940.]

New Zealand Herald editorial, 6 February 1940

'In many events celebrating New Zealand’s first century as a British community, pakeha [European New Zealanders] and Maori have united cheerfully. If they did not do so at Waitangi, the ceremony would have no value. It was there the two races made the compact which enabled New Zealand to become part of the British Empire peacefully and with goodwill. The moment was critical … in the end, the forces for the treaty prevailed, the signing was begun and the way was paved for the cession to the Queen of these islands which have become the Dominion of New Zealand. The word cession must be used advisedly. New Zealand was neither seized nor annexed. It was ceded by as many chiefs of as many tribes as could be reached and persuaded to put their names to a formal treaty. There has been much debate about the value of the Treaty of Waitangi as a legal instrument, about the observance of its terms by both races, about alleged violations, both early and late. Let that now be forgotten, since it is better to consider what has resulted from the most remarkable compact ever made between a civilised and a primitive people.'

New Zealand Herald editorial, 7 February 1940

'The Treaty of Waitangi represented an attempt to put relations on a satisfactory basis in the beginning. It was a brief document, enunciating a few general principles. In no circumstances could it have been expected to cover the many and complex questions arising as European settlement proceeded. These had to be worked out as they arose. A century of experience gained in this way offers a valuable basis for further endeavour as the two races face their future in continued association.'

Te Puea Herangi

Kingitanga leader

'She said that in the matter of the Social Security Act, they considered the Government had displayed a cynical attitude toward the Maori King. Her nephew and herself would have been very happy indeed to have participated in any national celebrations in which they could have wholeheartedly joined. But the position had been summed up by one of their leaders when he said, referring to Waitangi: "This is an occasion for rejoicing on the part of the pakehas and those tribes who have not suffered any injustices during the past 100 years."

… they were seeking some tangible evidence from the Government that its past professions of goodwill toward the Maori King and all he stood for were not empty phrases. No amendment of the law was called for to enable this exemption [from the Social Security Act] to be made. It would be extremely difficult for King Koroki to comply with the Social Security Act. Any insistence on the part of the Government appeared to be aimed at humiliating him …

The Government could have made a gesture … that would have convinced the Maori people at this significant centennial time that King Koroki is not being relegated to obscurity. I feel sure that in no other part of the Empire would one holding a position similar to the one that King Koroki occupies be treated in the manner contemplated by the Government. … I am forced to the conclusion that the Government’s action has only one object and that is to uproot much that is held worth-while and dear in Maori life.'

[New Zealand Herald, 3 February 1940, reporting on the absence of Waikato Maori from the forthcoming Treaty of Waitangi centennial celebrations, the cause being the government’s refusal to exempt King Koroki, the Maori King, from having to register under, and comply with, the terms of the Social Security Act.]

Rev. P. Moki

Taranaki Maori churchman

'No longer have the Maori people any confidence that any New Zealand government will rectify any past injustices … although individual Taranaki Maori had gone to Waitangi for the celebrations, they did not officially represent the tribes of the province … The real cause [of their non-attendance] was that they contended that the Treaty of Waitangi had not been kept.

The Waikato and Taranaki Maori … were tribes who had had their lands confiscated in a manner they contended was not in accordance with the treaty. Nearly 500,000 acres were confiscated in the Taranaki district alone. Their pas and cultivations, and above all, the resting places of the bones of their ancestors, had all vanished. The Maoris in the Waikato were beaten down, and more than 750,000 acres of their land was confiscated.

Many pakeha said every acre in New Zealand was bought and paid for … A cursory review of the history of Maori land alienation showed that hundreds of thousands of acres of Maori lands were never bought and paid for. For the past half-century and more Parliament had been inundated with Maori petitions asking for redress. Many of these claims were substantiated, but few rectified.'

[New Zealand Herald, 6 February 1940, reporting on the absence of Taranaki and Waikato iwi from the centennial celebrations at Waitangi.]

Frank Langstone

Minister of Native Affairs

'No other country in the world had such a record [with respect to its indigenous people], yet he regretted to say many of their Maori brethren did not fully appreciate all that had been done for them. The past is gone. The present was here. But the future was ever before them, and no one could plough straight forward while looking backward.'

[New Zealand Herald, 3 February 1940, reporting on absence of Waikato Maori from the forthcoming Treaty of Waitangi centennial celebrations, the cause being the government’s refusal to exempt King Koroki, the Maori King, from having to register under, and comply with, the terms of the Social Security Act.]

'It is only right and proper that the people of New Zealand, both Maori and Pakeha, should combine to celebrate in a fitting way the great charter signed 100 years ago … those chiefs and elders who had the foresight and acumen to pierce the veil of the future and sign the Treaty – they knew they kept the substance while giving Queen Victoria the shadow … No other country in the world has such a record, yet I regret to say that many of our Maori brethren do not fully appreciate all that has been done for them in a brotherly, loving way.'

[cited in Michael King, Te Puea. A life, Hodder & Stoughton, Auckland, 1977, p. 205. Langstone’s reference to 'the shadow' acknowledged the words of Nopera Pana-kareao when signing the Treaty at Kaitaia in April 1840, although he reversed his metaphor in 1841; observing that the substance had gone and Maori retained but the shadow of the land.]

Michael King

Historian, discussing the response of Te Puea Herangi and other Kingitanga to World War II

'[Te Puea] was making two points: Waikato would assist in the defence of New Zealand but was unwilling to fight overseas; and she would again oppose the imposition of conscription.

Privately she was more explicit. “Waikato are not going to the war,” she wrote to Ramsden in November [1939]. “If any of the young men want to they can. Those that do not wish to go will be able to assist … with kai.” Most Waikato elders, survivors of the 1917 and 1918 anti-conscription campaigns, took an even harder line. When Tonga Mahuta tried to persuade Waikato men to enrol in the Home Guard, the old chief Te Kanawa stood up at Turangawaewae and said they should not take up arms at home or abroad:

"Why should the Maori people guard this land? …It is no longer ours. The British evidently do not wish to keep their word as Rangatiras… What difference does it make if the Tiamana [Germans] come here? The British have taken our land. They have killed our wives and children. They Treaty of Waitangi is only a delusion to make the Maori people believe that the British people will keep their word of honour."'

Paraire Paikea

Member of Parliament for Northern Maori

'[He] recalled that this was the spot where brotherhood between Maori and pakeha was reached 100 years ago. No more appropriate representatives could be chosen to show the loyalty of the Maori toward the Empire than those who had just arrived.'

[New Zealand Herald, 6 February 1940, reporting the powhiri given to the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion at Waitangi, after they were escorted there by a guard of honour formed by Maori returned soldiers from World War I, led by Eruera Tirikatene, Member of Parliament for Southern Maori.]

Major G. Bertrand

Second-in-command, 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion

'[He] recalled the obligations entered into between the Maori and pakeha at Waitangi. If there was any question of whether the Maori race was honouring its obligation the answer was the men behind him. They could not do more than give their lives for those to whom they gave a promise.'

[New Zealand Herald, 6 February 1940, reporting the powhiri given to the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion at Waitangi, after they were escorted there by a guard of honour formed by Maori returned soldiers from World War I, led by Eruera Tirikatene, Member of Parliament for Southern Maori.]

How to cite this page

'The 1940 Centennial and the Treaty of Waitangi - 1940 Centennial', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/classroom/ncea-level-2-history/centennial-and-the-treaty-of-waitangi, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 4-Aug-2014