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New Zealand - Historical Maori flags

Last modified: 2006-01-07 by jonathan dixon
Keywords: maori | tapapa | te kooti arikirangi te turuki | iwi | cross (maroon) | wi | w | i | crescent (fimbriated) | star: 4 points (multicoloured) | stars: 3 | canton | potatau te wherowhero | cross (white) | potatau hei kingi |
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Flag of Te Kooti Arikirangi te Turuki

[ Te Kooti flag ] image by James Dignan, 7 Feburary 1997

Te Kooti Arikirangi te Turuki was a leading Maori warrior and rebel leader of the 1860s. His feats are the stuff of legend as much as of history. Imprisoned on the Chatham Islands, he received a vision in which the Archangel Michael told him to found a new religion for his people, Ringatu ("The upraised hand"). After a daring escape he and his followers wreaked havoc among the settlers along the east coast of the New Zealand North Island during the 1860s and 1870s. Te Kooti's support was largely among the Tuhoe iwi (tribe), a major Maori iwi based in the Urewera mountains between Lake Taupo and Hawkes Bay.

Te Kooti's banner was captured by colonial forces at Te Porere in October 1869. According to Dream Collectors: 100 years of Art in New Zealand (Te Papa Press, Wellington, 1998):

The symbols on the flag have been much debated. The letters 'WI' probably stood for the Holy Spirit, Wairua Tapu, 'WI' also refers to the Holy Spirit in the Ringatu Faith. The crescent moon was a tohu (portent) of a new world; the red cross, the fighting cross of the Archangel Michael. The moon and cross reiterate the first two elements of Te Wepu, the captured flag of Ngati Kuhungunu. Te Kooti probably took these images and incorporated them into a flag of his own design.

(I have found out nothing about the flag of Ngati Kuhungunu, but flags were, and still are, very commonly used by diffeent Maori Iwi and other groups.)

Note the unusual dimensions, approximately 1:2.5. The original, still in Te Papa Tongarewa (NZ's national museum) was hand sewn by Te Kooti's supporters in cotton, with woollen stitching. It is 1940 x 795 mm in size. The different symbols are in different shades of red (as shown in the gif), but this is probably due to the scarcity of materials rather than having any symbolic meaning. While making this gif I noted that the symbols actually form the word "Iwi", meaning tribal group. It is quite possible that Te Kooti intended this extra possible meaning of the symbols.

James Dignan, 7 Feburary 1997

Flag of Te Kooti at Tapapa

[ Flag of Te Kooti at Tapapa ] image by Thanh-Tâm Lê, 24 January 1999

In February 1870 Colonel McDonnell captured the flag flown by Te Kooti's forces at Tapapa (north of Putaruru) on 25 January 1870. The stars are similar to those used on [Maori] "King" flags, and the green and black device in the top left-hand corner was at first mistaken for the Union Jack.
Thanh-Tâm Lê, 24 January 1999, supposedly quoting from New Zealand Encyclopaedia

It is a 4:5 red flag with a unusual UJ in the canton (quartered green and black, over it a thin white saltire, and red cross frimbriated white over all), three black, green and white four pointed stars on the upper fly, and two white bars at top hoist and bottom hoist. It looks like a Maori UJ ensign based flag.
António Martins, 21 March 2000

Flag of Potatau Te Wherowhero

[ Flag of Potatau Te Wherowhero ] image by James Dignan, 15 October 2005

Television New Zealand is currently running a major series on the history of New Zealand called Frontier of Dreams. The latest episode dealt with the New Zealand land wars, fought between the British Army and Maori tribes during the 1860s. During this time, many of the maori tribes grouped together into what became known as the Kingi Movement, a movement which continues today. The head of that movement during the 1860s, Potatau te Wherowhero, became the first Maori king, Potatau I (his descendent Te Ataairangi Kaahu is the current Maori Queen). The title is largely symbolic, but carries a great deal of mana (prestige) and is still of major importance within Maori politics.

During the television programme, a flag was shown, which purported to be the flag of Potatau Te Wherowhero. I've not seen the flag before, but, judging by the accuracy of the rest of the series so far and also by the love of flags among the Maori, it would not surprise me at all if such a flag existed and was of a similar design to that shown.
James Dignan, 15 October 2005

Gate Pa flag

[Gate Pa flag] image by Jonathan Dixon, 16 Dec 2005

I visited Auckland Museum this week and found red flag (1:2) bearing square cross in upper hoist, 4 pointed star in lower fly and downward cresent like boomerang in the center all in white as Maori war flag used during New Zealand War 1845-1872.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 November 2005

That flag is E11 on this page from the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand - sounds like the Gate Pa flag (site of a fierce battle not far from the current city of Tauranga).
James Dignan, 17 November 2005