Story: Ngā haki – Māori and flags

Page 3. Māori religious movements and flags

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Te Ua Haumēne

Te Ua Haumēne was the leader of the Pai Mārire faith, followers of which were sometimes known as Hauhau. He had a flag called Kēnana (Canaan), demonstrating his belief that Māori were related to the Jews. The five apostles of the movement each had their own flag, including leaders such as Tītokowaru and Topia Tūroa. The standard flag of Pai Mārire is reputed to be the largest flag ever flown in New Zealand, at almost 7 metres long by 3.7 metres high. On the flag was a life-sized image of Te Matairenga, the Māori god of war.

Central to Hauhau ceremonies was the use of the niu (news) pole. A 30-foot-high (just over 9 metres) staff was erected in the middle of an open space. On the flagpole three flags were flown:

  • Riki, a long red pennant with a white cross, which was regarded as the war flag
  • the flag of the prophet, apostle or priest who was conducting the ceremony
  • Ruru, another red pennant, broader than the upper one, with a St Andrew’s cross and another design, which was the flag of peace.

Te Kooti

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki, the founder of another Māori religious movement, Ringatū, believed in the power of flags and was known to have changed the design of flags depending on his success or otherwise in battle. His most famous flag was called Te Wepu (the whip), which measured 15.8 metres by 1.2 metres. It had been made by nuns at Greenmeadows mission school for the chiefs of Ngāti Kahungunu. Te Kooti captured the ensign in 1868, and held it until 1870 when it was taken by Captain Gilbert Mair at Rotorua. Another two of Te Kooti’s flags were seized at Te Pōrere and Tāpapa, north of Putaruru.

Pāora Te Pōtangaroa

Pāora Te Pōtangaroa, a prophet from Wairarapa in the 1880s, created a prophetic flag, which featured a number of symbols. He called people together in 1881, and thousands arrived. However, no one could interpret the flag at the time.

Mere Rikiriki

Mere Rikiriki of Ngāti Apa led Te Hāhi O Te Wairua Tapu (the Church of the Holy Spirit) in the early 1900s. Rikiriki had her flag gifted to her by King Tāwhiao, who recognised her spiritual power. The white flag bears stars and contains the words ‘E te iwi, kia ora’ (blessings to the people).

Rua Kēnana

Prophet Rua Kēnana of Ngāi Tuhoe continued the use of flags in Māori religious movements in the 20th century. One flag was a large Union Jack, which had been gifted to Tūtakangahau of Maungapōhatu by the governor in 1904. Rua had the words ‘Kotahi te ture mo nga iwi e Rua Maungapohatu’ (there is one law for both peoples) inscribed on the ensign to symbolise a relationship with Premier Joseph Ward and Rua’s acceptance of the authority the government had over native lands. Two of Rua’s other flags were Te Tahi o Te Rangi, which was named after one of his ancestors from Tūhoe who was considered to have performed miracles, and Te Wairua Kino, a black flag that warned of hostile visitors.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm Mullholland, 'Ngā haki – Māori and flags - Māori religious movements and flags', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 3 October 2023)

Story by Malcolm Mullholland, published 20 Jun 2012