Tension rose between Māori and Pākehā despite the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, as the number and ambitions of Pākehā settlers grew, and war erupted during the 1860s. During this time several Māori independence movements emerged, each with their own symbols of identity. The Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) was one such development.
When the first king, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, was anointed in 1858, three flags were hoisted that contained the words ‘Kīngi’ (king) and ‘Niu Tireni’ (New Zealand). Support for the Māori king’s flag was not instantaneous. In May 1860 a hui was held at Ōtaki, with 350 Māori attending. Half opposed the hoisting of the Māori king’s flag, with the other half in support. When Tāwhiao succeeded Pōtatau, a blue and yellow flag with three star-like figures denoting the three islands of New Zealand was designed.
Tāwhiao’s successor was King Mahuta, whose flag was 5.2 metres by 2.4 metres wide. The background of the flag was white and featured the Tainui waka (canoe), the rainbow god Uenuku, Matariki (the Pleiades constellation), with a cross, a crescent moon and the sun. In the 2000s the Kīngitanga flag is still used at the poukai (an annual series of visits to marae affiliated to the Kīngitanga) and at koroneihana (coronation) celebrations.
Another independent Māori movement, the Kotahitanga, or Māori parliament, opened its first session at Waipatu marae, Hastings, in 1893. They flew a flag that contained the North and South Islands with a Māori figure standing with one foot on each island – this was the flag of Māui, the demi-god who fished up the North Island.
In 1897, as visitors were making their way to the Kotahitanga parliament, they were welcomed by a haka pōwhiri (welcome) from a group waving an ‘English flag’ in their hands. There were four flags being flown at the marae: the ‘Treaty o Waitangi flag’ (probably the United Tribes’ flag), Rongopai below that, Māui below that, and Pāora Pōtangaroa’s flag below that. An image of the 1897 parliament shows the Union Jack being flown.