WAITANGI, TRANSLATION, AND METAPHOR

Richard Dawson

Abstract


The paper directs attention to and criticizes an unexamined metaphor that
dominates talk about the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi. Key terms in the Treaty, such as ‘Sovereignty’ and ‘Property’, are commonly talked about as if they point to entities in the world, observable by us independently of the talk about them. The activity of ‘translating’ the Treaty, in this schema, is talked about in terms of ‘conveying’ bits of meaning over from English to Maori, ultimately replacing one set of labels with another. Treaty translator Rev. Henry Williams has been repeatedly judged, implicitly or explicitly, something of a failure in his supposed task of ‘conveying’ cum re-labeling meaning. But meaning, I submit, is always meaning to someone, who is uniquely located in some context. What the Treaty means to one person, with their particular set of experiences and expectations, will of necessity be in some degree different from all others. Justly judging Williams requires that we let go of the ‘conveying’ metaphor. A new metaphor may enable us to see the Treaty and Williams quite differently; it may stimulate new questions and create new
understandings.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol2iss2id63