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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Maori “King” Flags

Recognising that the Union Jack was the symbol of British power, and rejecting the Treaty of Waitangi from which that power derived, the Maori tribes who banded together to elect a King sought a similar mana for their monarch. The three flags (F7) hoisted on 23 April 1857 when Te Wherowhero accepted kingship emphasised this by carrying the words “Kingi” (King) and “Niu Tireni” (New Zealand). The flag of the King movement is also the personal flag of the “King” and is flown at his residence at Turangawaewae (Ngaruawahia), and precedes him when he visits the other maraes which recognise his authority. When the “King” dies his flag is interred with him and a new one is made for his successor. The flag is strictly tapu and is kept by a hereditary custodian.

A special “King” flag (E4) was hoisted at Ngaruawahia in 1861, probably in conjunction with Ta-whiao's accession. The blue and yellow device represents the three islands of New Zealand. Another version of this flag, recorded about the same time, shows the device in the form of three four-pointed stars. From time to time recruiting parties toured North Island villages on behalf of the movement. In January 1864 two special recruiting flags (E5 and 6) were carried by a party which visited Waiapu in Poverty Bay.

Hauhau Flags

The Hauhaus believed that the British flag possessed mana of itself, and that it was thus a particular manifestation of divine power. Te Ua also believed that the Europeans worshipped a terrible deity to whom the military did homage around the flagpole every morning and evening. It is little wonder, therefore, that the Hauhaus gave much attention to their flags and “Niu Pole” ceremonies. Hauhaus usually showed three flags in their poles – a pennant, “Riki”, which was a war flag; the flag of the prophet, apostle, or priest who presided over the ceremony; and “Ruru” – the flag of peace. The relative positions of Riki and Ruru showed whether or not the meeting was a peaceful one. The flags seen at Tataroa (F6) in 1865 were warlike and the Pakeha observer felt himself fortunate to escape with his life.

Te Ua's personal flag (10 ft × 3 ft 6 in.) bore the legend “Kenana” (Canaan) showing that he identified the Maoris with the Jews. The standard of the Hauhau “movement”, and the largest flag ever flown in New Zealand (22 ft 10 in. × 12 ft 4 in.), bore a life-size figure of Te Matairenga – the Maori God of War – challenging the enemy to fight (E8). Patara, one of the five “apostles” of Hauhauism, possessed a handsome flag, “Rura” – a pacifier, which represented the Angel Michael and also the gospel (E9). Kereopa, one of the “apostles” and Volkner's murderer, flew a grey bordured pennant. Titokowaru, the Hauhau guerilla leader in Taranaki, flew a red war pennant with white devices in his campaign against Whitmore (F3). Peehi Turoa, the upper Wanganui chief who signed the Treaty of Waitangi but who remained hostile to the Europeans, lost his flag “Paerangi” after the Battle of Moutoa (1864). In design this flag is reminiscent of the “King” flags (E10). When colonial troops occupied Omarunui Pa (Hawke's Bay) on 12 October 1866, they captured a pennant (6 ft × 2 ft 6 in.) (E24). Note the direction of the cross. One of the most famous Maori rebel flags was that captured at Gate Pa in April 1864 (E11). The star, believed to represent the Star of Bethlehem, is in the ascendant. A lesser known but more colourful flag was hoisted by the rebels at Papatupu, on the Waitotara River, in 1868 (E12). The Maoris were fond of long whiplike pennants. The one shown (F2) was flown by Hauhaus in the Bay of Plenty and measures 16 ft × 1 ft 6 in. Note the red fimbriation on two sides of the blue, and the white fimbriation around the outer edges of the red tip.

Te Kooti Flags

Te Kooti, like Te Ua, believed in the “power” of flags and used many during his campaigns, altering their designs and symbolism as his fortunes under them waxed or waned. His most fabulous war flag, “Te Wepu” (the whip) – measuring 52 ft × 4 ft – was originally made by the nuns at the Greenmeadows Mission School for the chiefs of the friendly Ngati Kahungunu. Te Kooti captured it in 1868 and retained it until 7 February 1870, when Gilbert Mair captured it near Rotorua (F8). Te Kooti lost another “powerful” flag at Te Po(u)rere. This measures 6 ft × 2 ft 8 in. The symbols, which were supposed to be exceptionally potent, have never been explained (E13). Tuwharetoa Maoris from Tokaanu used a handsome flag (E14) in their campaigns under Te Kooti. The colonial forces saw another of Te Kooti's flags in the Opepe engagement in 1869 (E15). It was never captured and nothing is known of its later history. In February 1870 Colonel McDonnell captured the flag flown by Te Kooti's forces at Tapapa (north of Putaruru) on 25 January 1870 (E16). The stars are similar to those used in “King” flags, and the green and black device in the top left-hand corner was at first mistaken for the Union Jack.

Maori “Queen” and Tribal Flags

As the Maoris are so fond of flags, it is not surprising that the Government and other organisations adopted the practice of presenting standards to chiefs and tribes as a reward for their loyal services during the Maori Wars, the flags themselves being unique in that only one of each was made. Some of these, such as “Te Rakau i Mataahu”, which Queen Victoria presented to Major Ropata in the 1860s, incorporated the British Red Ensign with special devices. But those presented by the Government usually consisted of the New Zealand Red Ensign (12 ft × 6 ft, with trunk and halyards) with the name of the hapu, or of a notable ancestor, worked or printed on the fly. Maoris preferred this flag because red was a colour denoting rank and mana. Moreover, the hapu that could boast a genuine “Queen” flag was bound to acquire great prestige in the eyes of less fortunate hapus. The Maoris of the Ngati Makino tribe of Otamarakau Pa (near Rotorua) requested a flag in August 1902, and this (E17) was duly presented by the Government. Some times the hapu specified the design it wanted, as did the Whakarewarewa hapu on the accession of Edward VII (E18). In commemoration of the Wanganui tribes' victory over the Hauhaus at Moutoa Island (14 May 1864), the ladies of the town presented a large silken flag, of their own design, to the local chiefs (E19). In this the centrepiece of the crown is gold, while the small device below represents (in their natural colours) Maori and European hands clasped in friendship.

In 1894, in order to strengthen their hold among the East Coast tribes, the Church of England presented flags to many hapus. One of these, the flag of the subtribe of Rongomai-Wahine at Opoutama, is still used on ceremonial occasions.