Last modified: 2011-07-28 by jonathan dixon
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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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 symbology 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.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.
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.
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
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 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 tradiationally 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 prefered 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
image by António Martins, 19 Aug 2008
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.
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
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
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
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
Maori King Tuheitia (Tuheitia Paki) has a new royal flag according to a Radio NZ report.
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
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
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
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
February 6th in New Zealand is Waitangi Day, a day to commemmorate 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
James Dignan, 7 February1997
[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
[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
James Dignan, 7 February 1997 and 15 March 1999
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
James Dignan, 19 August 2008