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New Zealand - Maori Flags

Last modified: 2019-09-03 by ian macdonald
Keywords: tino rangatiratanga | kotahitanga | waitangi | red ensign | te mana motuhake o tuhoe | maori | star: 5 points (red) | ngapuhi | marsden (hiraina) | smith (jan) | munn (linda) |
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Tino Rangatiratanga flag

[ Tino Rangatiratanga flag ] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 12 February 2017

The Tino Rangitiratanga flag is the one well recognised Maori flag in New Zealand.
John Harrison, 11 September 1998

I recently read some details of the Maori Independence (Tino Rangatiratanga) movement’s flag. The flag is black over white over red, with the thin white stripe being broken by a circular — almost spiral — pattern towards the hoist. It was designed in 1990 by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn, and was the winning design in a national contest to find a “Maori Flag”. The symbolism of the flag is as follows:

BLACK represents Te Korekore (the realm of potential being). It thus symbolises the long darkness from which the earth emerged, as well as signifying Rangi - the heavens, a male, formless, floating, passive force.
RED represents Te Whei Ao (coming into being). It symbolises Papatuanuku, the earth-mother, the sustainer of all living things, and thus both the land and active forces.
WHITE represents Te Ao Marama (the realm of being and light). It symbolises the physical world, purity, harmony, enlightenment and balance.
The spiral-like KORU, symbolic of a curling fern frond, represents the unfolding of new life, hope for the future and the process of renewal.
As a whole, the design represents the balance of the forces of nature, masculine and feminine, active and passive, potential and physical, air and earth. It can also be interpreted as symbolising the white cloud rolling across the face of the land, as in the Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa ("Land of the long white cloud"). Source: Otago University Student Newspaper The Critic, Issue 10, April 1996.
James Dignan, 21 August 1996

In the newspaper Dominion of 4 February 1998 there was a news report about a Maori-sovereignty flag of red, black and white which was flown above the national flag of New Zealand at a publicly-funded primary school of one hundred students, seventy of whom are Maori, in the Northland community of Helena Bay, 40 km northeast of Whangarei. This decision to fly the flag was reported to have angered several politicians and local residents who claimed the flag is offensive and inappropriate. Labour Maori-affairs spokesman Dover Samuels said that the red, black and white flag was not the Maori flag but rather a symbol for Maoris who believed New Zealand was a sovereign Maori state.
Michael Wang, 4 February 1998

Other sites:

Use as “national Maori flag”

A summary of the articles found through the 3 News timeline provided by James Dignan:

During 2009, twenty one hui were held to consult Maori groups about the flags flown over Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day, the anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Maori Chiefs in 1840. Four flags were presented as options to accompany the national flag:

  • the first National Flag of New Zealand/United Tribes flag used in some form by the United Tribes at the time of the treaty and flown at Navy celebrations of the anniversary (see photo at Wikipedia);
  • the current national flag, that is, following currently policy of flying the national flag on both flagpoles, without any change in flags for Waitangi Day;
  • the NZ red ensign, long preferred by the Maori, and authorised since 1901 for use on land at events of Maori significance as well as use as a civil ensign; and
  • the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, representing a key phrase of the Maori version of the Treaty (meaning "absolute chieftainship/sovereignty"), which came to prominence as a protest flag.

The consultation recommended the use of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. The recommendation was accepted by Prime Minister Key, who suggested that the flag should also accompany the national flag on Waitangi Day at other official locations.

In practice, this seems to be widely interpreted as an endorsement of the flag as "the Maori flag", although it's my impression that this was not how the discussion was initiated. The specific question of a flag to accompany the national flag on Waitangi Day does not require an answer that is a flag for the Maori people generally, as is shown by the inclusion of the national flag as the option corresponding to the status quo [presumably implying that it is the flag of the nation including the Maori, and that the other suggestions are not appropriate ways to mark the day]. The red ensign would also not be simply a Maori flag, but would acknowledge Maori significance in a way traditionally accepted by Pakeha. Both the other options relate to the Treaty in some way, and could be used in this context with or without broader significance.
Jonathan Dixon, 24 December 2009

Rangatiratanga is a very difficult concept to grasp, since there is no direct translation of it in English. As such it means different things depending on who you talk to. The closest you can get to a translation is what you have put – the word comes from the word Rangatira, meaning high chief, and the suffix -tanga, which translates as a noun form similar to the English suffixes -ness and -ity - i.e., a state of being or having something. It is a little further confusing, however, in that while the Maori use the word Rangatira to mean a high chief, they usually use the word Ariki to mean a sovereign ruler.

From the pakeha (i.e., non-Maori) viewpoint, the tino rangatiratanga flag is the only one of the four widely known to represent the Maori people (though some will know the united tribes flag), but with that comes its history of use as a protest flag.
James Dignan, 24 December 2009

Despite the consultation leading to the choice of flag having originally a question much narrower than that of choosing a Maori flag, the Minstry for Culture and Heritage interprets the whole process as a search for the preferred national Maori flag. It tells us that the Tino Rangatiratanga flag was recognised by Cabinet as such on 14 December 2009, and while stating that the flag has no official status, it promotes it as the “national Maori flag”.
Jonathan Dixon, 18 October 2010

Kotahitanga flag

[ Kothitanga flag ] image by António Martins, 19 Aug 2008

Central detail
[ Kothitanga flag ] image by António Martins, 19 Aug 2008

The national holiday in New Zealand, Waitangi day, commemorates the signing of a treaty in 1840 between the British colonists and the Maori tribes of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint) the commemorations were disrupted by Maori rights activists unhappy about parts of the treaty which have been poorly honoured over the 155 years since it was signed.

Protests at the Waitangi commemoration site prominently featured several flags representing Maori unity / independence / freedom etc., including the Tino Rangatiratanga flag described above. Another flag prominently displayed was the Kotahitanga, or flag of Maori Unity, which is described as follows:

A horizontal tricolour, red over white over black, featuring a circular emblem on the central stripe (and extending slightly onto the other two), nearer the mast than the fly. The emblem contains the word Kotahitanga ("Unity" - literally something like "of one people", but I’m no expert on the Maori language) curved around a central red circle containing two crossed white mere (clubs) over what looks like a vertical spear or staff.

James Dignan

To further explain the Kotahitanga movement, the word literally means "oneness", or sometimes "integration". "Kotahi" means either something which is unified or "same" (Tahi is the Maori word for the numeral "one"), and "Tanga" is the Maori equivalent of "ness", as in "oneness", or "ship", as in "chieftainship" ("ranatiratanga", with "rangatira" meaning "chief"). The Kotahitanga movement itself is based on the philosophy that in order to achieve anything, the Maori people must be united. At present, each individual Maori iwi (tribe) functions as its own individual entity, and there is no single organization or institution that can claim to represent all Maori (although several attempts have been made). The Kotahitanga movement seeks to create such an organization, believing that such is the best way to promote the interests of Maori. There is some quite deep debate over the merits of such a movement, with some Maori being strongly opposed to the idea, claiming that it will eventually destroy the iwi, severing ties with tradition and history. It does not help matters that different members of the Kotahitanga movement have different views about how far it should be taken.
Thomas Robinson, 3 January 2001

The National Business Review carried a report backing up conclusions reached during our discussion of the "adoption of a Maori flag" for Waitangi Day recently. The Tino Rangatiratanga flag was selected to be flown alongside the national flag to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi, rather than explicitly as the flag of the Maori. This article deals with polling on the issue of whether the Maori should have a separate flag.

More than 50 percent  of Maori would like their own flag, a new survey has found as the country prepares for Waitangi Day this Saturday. The Government decided last year to allow the Tino Rangatiratanga flag to fly alongside the New Zealand flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, Premier House and other sites controlled by the Government after 80 percent of the 1200 submissions supported it rather than other flags. The flag has associations with protest movements and some did not think it was the right choice.

The Te Karere Digipoll asked 1002 Maori from the Maori and General electoral rolls if they thought Maori should have a separate flag. The majority 53 percent said yes while 41 percent disagreed, 7 percent did not know. Asked if they saw the Tino Rangatiratanga flag as the Maori flag 58 percent said yes and 38 percent said no while 4 percent did not know. Most respondents -- 45 percent -- thought the Treaty of Waitangi had a lot of relevance to their day to day life while 16 percent said some, and 21 percent said a little. Only 15 percent thought it did not have relevance and 2 percent did not know. Of respondents 35 percent saw the Treaty as divisive but most, 52 percent, said it was inclusive, 13 percent did not know.

The poll was taken between January 6 and 27 and had an error of margin of 3.1 percent. 
Darrell Neuman, Jonathan Dixon, 5 February 2010

Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe

[ Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe flag ] image by Thanh-Tâm Lê, 24 December 2009

[Spotted at event reported below.] A very impressive flag in black, reddish-brown, green and white, featuring a star on an arch over a central green area, all surrounded by black. Vaguely reminiscent of the Kenyan flag.
James Dignan, 7 February 1997

Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe is the name of the movement. The flag is usually just called the Tuhoe flag, although I suppose "The flag of Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe" would be the most accurate way to describe it.
James Dignan, 15 March 1999

This one is the flag of the self-sovereignty movement of the Tuhoe iwi (iwi = tribe, Tuhoe is pronounced TOO-hoy). The Tuhoe people have traditionally been the most vocal in their calls for Maori independence, and are based in the Central Eastern North Island in an area roughly bounded by the cities of Gisborne, Napier and Taupo.
James Dignan, 9 March 1999

The Tuhoe have always been one of the strongest and most vociferous North Island tribes, and have very strong tribal claims. The exact meaning of Mana Motuhake I do not know — although there is a Maori-based political party with the same name. Mana tends to mean power, strength, pride, status, or social/political prestige, so I would guess that Te Mana Motuhake o Tuhoe is some form of movement promoting the Tuhoe’s political or spiritual ideals.
James Dignan, 12 May 1997

I have occasionally seen it with the words "Te mana motuhake o Tuhoe" written in white capital letters on the black stripe at the bottom of the flag.
James Dignan, 15 March 1999

Flag of King Tuheitia

Maori King Tuheitia (Tuheitia Paki) has a new royal flag according to a Radio NZ report.
Chrystian Kretowicz

Though the article you link to doesn't show the flag, it does give some information, saying that it has the Kingi movement's coat of arms (Te Paki-o-matariki) as a major feature. Te pako-o-matariki means “The fine weather of or at Matariki”. Matariki, the star group known to astronomers as the Pleiades, are a major indicator of the changing of the seasons in the Maori calendar; the year's major winter festival is named Matariki, and occurs when the Pleiades mecome visible in the dawn sky before sunrise, which occurs in mid June. (Other notes in understanding the article: tohunga = tribal elder with a role which combined priest, shaman, and teacher; taniwha = mythical creature believed to live mainly in lakes and rivers)

An image of the coat of arms can be seen at Te Ara.
James Dignan, 6 May 2009

See also: Flags of former monarchs

Maori use of the Red Ensign

[ Maori use of the Red Ensign ] image by James Dignan, 26 April 2000

The Red Ensign was (and is) widely used by Maori on land. The specific provision in New Zealand’s current flag legislation permits its use on land and the defacing of the flag, in a Maori context only. This sanctions the long-standing custom of applying white capital letters identifying the particular family or tribal group whose flag it is. There are many examples, old and current — one example in a photo to hand reads TAKITIMU — which is the name of one of the ancestral canoes, and thus of a grouping of tribes who are descended from its crew.
Stuart Park, 9 November 1996

According to traditional legends, the Maori arrived in New Zealand in twelve large canoes or waka, and some older, more tradition-minded Maori claim to be able to recite their whakapapa (lineage/ancestry) back to one of the twelve waka, much like the tradion in Israel of the twelve original tribes. In some cases, I think the iwi and waka names are the same, but in most cases this is not the case. For instance here, in the southern South Island, the main iwi is Kai Tahu (also known as Ngai Tahu), whereas the local waka was Takitimu.
James Dignan, 26 April 2000

Moutoa flag

I discovered this photo at the NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage site, captioned

"Maori men in front of the Moutoa flag, which was presented by the ladies of Wanganui to lower Whanganui iwi in 1865 to mark their success at Moutoa Island."
James Frankcom, 27 March 2008

To me, it looks like the background is the same white as in the union jack in the canton. On a side note, it is interesting that while the saltires in the union jack are oddly positioned, the countercharging of St Andrew and St Patrick is correct.
Jonathan Dixon, 28 March 2008

The most interesting thing about this flag is the intriguing variation on the Union Jack in the canton. Not only is it a different shape, but the saltire is a different colour to the cross.
James Dignan, 28 March 2008

Though we already have a link explaining the conflict, I came across this more specific explanation. It even mentions the flag (but not much more than that): It did make clear to me that "the ladies of Wanganui" apparently were the white females of Wanganui, which previously hadn't registered.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 1 September 2013

Waitangi flag

There have been and still are many other flags used by Maori including the United Tribes 1834 flag which is still flown as a sign of independence, alongside other more recent flags of Maori identity.
Stuart Park, 9 November 1996

I've not head any reports of a backlash among Maori about the choice of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, but I'm pretty sure I have seen far more United Tribes flags around in the last year or so.
James Dignan, 19 October 2010

Other Maori flag #1

February 6th in New Zealand is Waitangi Day, a day to commemorate the signing of the treaty in 1840 between the colonial settlers and Maori natives. As always, Waitangi Day this year was the subject of Maori protests, mostly at the town of Waitangi itself. As always too, there were various Maori flags shown on the news - though sadly, as always, no explanation of them and no clear look at them! Because of this, these descriptions are extremely vague: A square flag with a large circle in the centre, such that it appeared to be a circle with four “corners”. The circle was bright yellow, the corners were a duller, orange-ish yellow. There appeared to be lettering on the circle, but I could not tell what it was.
James Dignan, 7 February1997

Other Maori flag #2

[Spotted at the same event as previous.] A dull red flag with a large black design in the centre, which appeared to be either abstract or a traditional Maori design. It looked vaguely like the Albanian flag.
James Dignan, 7 February 1997

Other Maori flag #3

[Maori flag] James Dignan and António Martins, 5 February 1999

[Spotted at the same event as previous.] A horizontally striped flag with three wavy stripes, black, deep red, white. The red might deep, possibly as deep as on the Georgian or even the Latvian flag.
James Dignan, 7 February 1997 and 15 March 1999

Other Maori flag #4

[ Unidenitified Maori flag ] image by António Martins and Ivan Sarajčić, 19 Aug 2008

TVNZ news has just shown footage of a major hui (Maori tribal gathering) currently in progress, and one of the images briefly showed a flag. (NB - the image may not be 100% accurate - it was shown very briefly). The hui is being hosted by the Ngapuhi iwi (tribe) - I suspect it could be the Ngapuhi flag.
James Dignan, 29 January 2005

Nga Puhi (usually spelt Ngā Puhi) is one of the leading maori iwi, with a rohe (tribal area) occupying the centre of the North Auckland Peninsula, between the city of Whangarei and the Hokianga Harbour. (More info at Wikipedia.)
James Dignan, 19 August 2008