Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Ngā tohu kotahitangaTreaty of Waitangi: Signs of a Nation

Tūhuratia te āhua ki tā te Tiriti | Treaty ahuahu i ngā pātahitanga i waenganui i ngā tangata o Aotearoa.

Tirohia te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi tuatahi kei te whakaaturanga o He Tohu ki te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, ki te kokonga o ngā tiriti o Molesworth me Aitken, Te Whanganui-a-Tara.


Discover how te Tiriti | the Treaty has shaped relationships between the peoples of Aotearoa.

See the original Treaty of Waitangi in the He Tohu exhibition at National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets.

When | Āhea

Permanent exhibition

Where | Ki hea

Level 4

Cost | Te utu

Free entry


All ages


20 minutes

Accessibility | E wātea ana ki
  • Wheelchair accessible

Find out more about accessibility at Te Papa

Discover te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi

Te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of modern Aotearoa New Zealand. It was signed in 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and more than 500 Māori chiefs. In this exhibition, you’ll discover how the Treaty has shaped relationships between the peoples of this nation.

The exhibition discusses the differences in text from the English and Māori versions of the Treaty. Signs explain differences between them.


The video projection in the exhibition highlights differences between the official English version of the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1840 version in te reo Māori – te Tiriti o Waitangi. It also points to a 1988 translation of te Tiriti by Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu. Kawharu’s version is considered to be a more accurate reflection of the understanding of Māori who signed. Please note this video is best viewed full screen.


The English version of the Treaty of Waitangi is contentious.

In 1835, King William IV of England recognises New Zealand as a sovereign Māori nation.

Four years later, Captain William Hobson is sent to New Zealand to negotiate a treaty and establish a British colony.

Hobson is instructed by Lord Normanby, Secretary of State for the Colonies, to recognise New Zealand ‘as a sovereign and independent state’.

Hobson co-drafts the Treaty in English, and it is translated into Māori.

Over 500 rangatira (chiefs) around the country sign the Māori version – te Tiriti – in 1840.

A version in English is also signed – but only by 39 rangatira.

This becomes the official English version.

The English version of the Treaty uses concepts that don’t occur in the Māori version.

The English version gives the Queen of England sovereignty – supreme rule over the country.

But the Māori version only gives the Queen of England kāwanatanga – governance.

The English version promises Māori undisturbed possession of their lands, estates, forests, and fisheries.

But the Māori version promises Māori tino rangatiratanga – absolute sovereignty.

The versions do not have the same meaning.

The Māori version does not give away sovereignty.

In 2014, a Waitangi Tribunal finding agrees with this.

In 1988, Professor Sir Hugh Kawharu of Ngāti Whātua provides a more accurate translation of the Māori text.

This version is considered much closer to the understanding of Māori who signed.

Māori retain absolute authority over their lands, people, and taonga.

Aotearoa New Zealand is a treaty nation.

It was founded on a promise of partnership that we all have a responsibility to honour.

(See references used.)

A contested document

From 1998, the official English version of the Treaty of Waitangi was displayed on a panel on this wall. It hung opposite the official Māori version, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

On 11 December 2023, activist group Te Waka Hourua damaged the panel with spray paint and an angle grinder because the English version did not accurately reflect the Māori version. The panel has been removed, but debate about the Treaty is important and ongoing. This space will be renewed.

The official English version of the Treaty of Waitangi damaged with spray paint, 2023. Photo by Michael O'Neill. Te Papa (244171)

A chief’s flag and other treasures

At the far end of this exhibition space, you’ll find taonga belonging to four influential Māori chiefs who signed the Treaty: Pūmuka, Mohi Tāwhai, Patuone, and Wāka Nene. These precious objects tell personal stories of hope, conflict, and cooperation – at the Treaty signing itself in 1840, and in the tumultuous decades that followed.

Treaty of Waitangi: Signs of a Nation, 2015. Photo by Norm Heke. Te Papa

Flag ‘Pumuka’, maker unknown, England. Gift of Rae Hone Tana, 1960. Te Papa (G002524)

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