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Hobson’s Pledge

Extract: “Te Putatara”, 2/90, February 1990.

“He iwi tahi tatou”


“The change of plan caught Hobson by surprise. He was summoned ashore late in the morning, arriving in plain clothes, having hastily snatched up his plumed hat. Several hundred Maori were waiting for him in the marquee and more stood around outside. Only Busby and a few Europeans had turned up, among them the Catholic Bishop Pompallier.”


“The signing went ahead. Busby called each chief by name from a list he had. It was probably Williams who told Hobson to try a few words in Maori. When each chief had signed, Hobson shook hands with him and said, “He iwi tahi tatou.”

– Claudia Orange, extracts from “The Story of a Treaty”, 1989.


“He iwi tahi tatou – We are one people.” This, the oft quoted version of Hobsons choice of words, is the most commonly accepted, although at least one Maori oral version records that he actually said, “Kua iwi kotahi tatou.” Others say that the words were “He iwi kotahi tatou.” All mean the same thing, “we are one people”, but the differing versions do point to the possibility that they are all wrong.


The most common version, quoted above by Claudia Orange, was recorded by William Colenso (who was present at the signing) in “The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi”, Wellington, 1890. However, I have always wondered whether this was just a missionary fiction, designed to strengthen their efforts to bring all Maori under the mantle of the Christian church; whether in fact Hobson didnt say something much more mundane.


Since 1840, tauiwi have used Hobsons alleged choice of words to justify their contention that we are “one nation, one people.” “He iwi tahi tatou” has been used to justify both assimilation and integration, and the aim has always been to eradicate Maori culture. Today the same call is taken up by the One New Zealand Foundation, and by others such as Sir Robert the Jones, Sir Robert the Great Muldoon, Hon Peter Tapsell and Mr Winston Peters.


Well, I was right about those words. Te Putatara has now discovered new evidence, recorded by a founding member of the kumara vine who was present at the signing on 6 February 1840. Our man was close to the action and heard every word. E hoa ma, this is what really happened.


As Hone Heke stepped up to sign the Treaty he pointed to Hobsons plumed hat and he said, “Mr Governor, thats a fine chook you wear on your head!”


Quick as flash Hobson said, “Thats no chook mate. Those are genuine kiwi feathers. Te kiwi tuatahi ahau.”


Yes he did. “Im the Number 1 Kiwi.” Nothing at all about this “one people” rubbish. Hika ma!


And thats why, e hoa ma, to this very day, Pakeha New Zealanders still call themselves “KIWIS”. You know, it always puzzled me why they were called Kiwis. Now we know eh.