Treaty of Waitangi Translation and Effects for Maori


Fenton and Moon argue that the Maori translation of the Waitangi Treaty by Anglican Missionary, Henry Williams is ambiguous and obscure. The translation was meant to deceive the Maori chiefs into signing the fake document by their colonials, the British Crown. The Maori who are the indigenous people of New Zealand thought that their colonialists are given them the independence to rule themselves and they saw a new birth for their nation.

After the signing of the treaty, there were doubts about the consequences that may come out of the treaty. The doubts led to the realization that there were some ambiguities in the Maori translation of the treaty. The Waitangi treaty disempowered the sovereignty of New Zealand and its citizens because the treaty continued to exert post-colonial effects long after independence. After more than one hundred years of post-colonial effects of the treaty, the Waitangi Tribunal was set up to readdress the past injustices resulting from the treaty and colonialism.

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The main argument of Silverman is that the mistranslation of Christianity led to the mutual growth of religious beliefs. The element of various religions such as Christianity, traditional and other beliefs merge and grow together bringing a new form of religion. Thomas Mayhew translated the Christian teachings to suit the Wampanoags’ traditions and beliefs hoping to convert and purify them with time.

Due to the translation, the Wampanoags misunderstood Christianity and associated it with their traditional beliefs hence making them Christians in their own Indian way. Instead of covering to Christianity, the Wampanoags perceived that their traditions were consistent with the Christianity; hence, there was no need to convert. The Wampanoag Christianity was based on the Indian’s culture and traditions that drifted the Wampanoags from the Christian fundamental beliefs as taught by the missionaries. The lack of equivalent words in the translation of English words into Wampanoags’ language also contributed to their misunderstanding of Christianity.

Rafael’s main argument is that the Tagalogs contracted colonialism by the translation of their language and their conversion to Christianity. The Tagalog translations and conversions made them the subjects of the Spanish. The Spaniards utilized translations of the Tagalog language and conversion to Christianity in the establishment and development of their empire. The priests preached and subjected the Christians to the wishes and the interests of the Spanish because they justify the expansion of the Spanish empire.

Fenton and Moon argue that the Maori translation of the Waitangi treaty was very ambiguous. Henry Williams made deliberate mistranslations in order to deceive the Maori chiefs and the people of New Zealand into believing that the treaty was going to restore their independence from the colonial rule of the British Crown. Fen and Moon seem unfair and very biased in how they criticized the Anglican Missionary, Henry William.

They criticized Henry Williams that, “he had some previous experience in translation and was aware of the strategic goals of the colonization” (26). Fenton and Moon further depicted the interests of Henry William saying that “in order to secure Maori agreement, the wording he chose was obscure and ambiguous” (26). He was not the only one who had interests in New Zealand. The Maori chiefs are also to be blamed for their negligence and taking too long to realize that the treaty had some ambiguities.

Silverman argues that the mistranslation of Christianity by the missionaries led to the misinterpretation of Christianity by the Wampanoags. ”In partnership with their missionary, Thomas Mayhew Jr., they filtered Christian teachings through Wampanoag religious ideas and terminology—a process that one might call religious translation” (Silverman 3).

The religious translation was done on the assumption that the Wampanoag’s traditional beliefs were to be purified with time, but “it was, rather, an acknowledgment that Christian and native beliefs were analogous at several critical points” (Silverman 3). Thus, the Wampanoags did see the reason to convert since their traditional beliefs were analogous with the Christian values.

Similarly, the mistranslation of the Waitangi treaty by the missionary Henry William led to the signing of the false treaty by the Maori chiefs. According to Fenton and Moon, “although the treaty had seemingly brought together two distinct groups … the translation to a large extent has managed to destroy both and has become the cause of much confusion and bitterness” (25). In the article, Fenton and Moon are explaining “…why and how the translation came to disempower a free and sovereign nation” (26). Both problems were associated with Christianity and it involves mistranslation as a way to win people and colonize them. The citizens of New Zealand took a long time to resolve their case of the Waitangi treaty while the Wampanoags became confused and lost the real essence of Christianity.

Rafael argues that the Spanish spread their colonialism into Tagalogs by translating their language and converting them into Christianity. Rafael states that “…translation simulates conversion in the very process of subjecting or submitting oneself to external foreign systems in order to inoculate oneself against their possible threats” (227). He confirms that “for Spaniards, conversion and translation served the consolidation of the colonial power” (228). Hence, Tagalogs were colonized through the translation of their languages and conversion into Christianity.


This argument is similar to the Fenton and Moon mistranslation of the Waitangi treaty in that, both show ways in which the colonialists utilize in order to expand their colonies. They argue that “William was product of his time, his religion and the prevailing ideology … he firmly believed that Maori souls would be served under British rule and, just as he believed that Maori souls would be saved by faith in a Christian God” (41).

For William to serve and save the Maori, “he produced a translation that was successful in terms of getting the Maori chiefs to sign the document, but a true and faithful rendition of the English text was not” (26). Both show the indirect forms of colonization because, while the British Crown uses treaties to achieve their ends, the Spanish uses the translation of the languages and the conversion into Christianity to pursue their colonial interests.

Works Cited

Fenton, Sabine, & Moon, Paul. “The Translation of the Treaty of Waitangi: A Case of Disempowerment.” Translation and Power: New York: University of the Massachusetts Press, (2002): 25-43. Print.

Rafael, Vicente. “Selections from Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule.” London: Cornell University Press, 1988. 227-230.

Silverman, David. “Indians, Missionaries, and Religious Translation: Creating Wampanoag Christianity in Seventeenth-Century Martha’s Vineyard.” The William and Mary Quarterly 62.2 (2005): 1-23. Print.