The Tino Rangatiratanga Flag: It’s a flag that speaks, directly, to this country’s past, present and future. For that reason, alone, it makes the strongest case for being chosen as the present flag’s replacement. That it is also a superb design merely strengthens its claim.
THERE’S A HOUSE not far from here that flies the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. Every day, rain or shine, its flutters bravely atop its slender flagpole. A statement? Certainly. But isn’t every flag? The Tino Rangatiratanga flag stands for Maori sovereignty. It’s about the proper relationship between those who came to these islands first and those who came later. In other words, it’s a flag that speaks, directly, to this country’s past, present and future. For that reason, alone, it makes the strongest case for being chosen as the present flag’s replacement. That it is also a superb design merely strengthens its claim.
Tragically, New Zealanders will not be given the opportunity to vote for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. The government-appointed Flag Consideration Panel has released the four “finalists” from the 40 designs it selected from the more than 10,000 submissions it received – and the Tino Rangatiratanga flag is not among them. (Hardly surprising, really, since it didn’t make the “Top-40” either!)
Even more tragically, not one of the “Final Four” comes close to the Tino Rangatiratanga flag in terms of either graphic power or cultural resonance. Though the Panel was charged with ensuring that any new flag’s design reflected the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi-inspired partnership between Maori and Pakeha, not one of the chosen flags features the red, white and black “colours” that are fundamental to Maori artistic expression. Not to worry, the Panel have carefully covered the base marked “Maori” with a flag featuring a stark black koru. Sorted.
The remaining designs all feature the Silver Fern – either on its own, or, in combination with the Southern Cross.
The problem is that a flag based on these traditional New Zealand symbols cannot help but draw attention to the country’s colonial history. If England was represented by the rose, Ireland the shamrock, Scotland the thistle, and Wales the leak, then what was New Zealand’s national “flower”? The answer turned out to be the ubiquitous silver fern. The Aussies contribution to Great Britain’s sprawling imperial garden was the wattle.
The Southern Cross, too, reflected the Northern Hemisphere origins of the Southern Hemisphere’s British colonisers. South of the Equator the stars were different. “Crux” (The Cross) just happened to be the constellation most easily identified by emigrants travelling in southern latitudes. Perversely, the “Southern Cross”, rather than representing a new beginning, ended up reminding the colonists how far they were from “home”.
The substitution of the silver fern for the Union Jack is not, therefore, a bold statement of nationhood – merely a capitulation to the embarrassment of incorporating another nation’s flag in the corner of our own.
But why be embarrassed in the first place? Everything about New Zealand, from its political institutions, to its courts, its schools, universities, and sporting codes, have been borrowed directly from the British. Yet nobody is suggesting we give up the Westminster System, the Common Law, the unrivalled cultural achievements of Britain’s artists, philosophers and scientists – let alone Rugby or Cricket! So, why quibble about keeping Britannia’s flag? What better reminder could there be of where the nation of New Zealand has its origins?
Except, of course, our nation was built on Maori foundations. For all its mock gothic architecture and borrowed parliamentary rituals, New Zealand is the deliberate creation of speculative British capital. Initially, a source of raw materials: timber, flax and gold. Later, a magnificent British farm. For the hard-bitten men who created her, New Zealand was always expected to pay her way. Its original inhabitants, and the complex culture they had created over seven centuries of occupation, were simply in the way. Those who could not be pacified by British missionaries would be dispossessed by British troops. Whatever flags they may once have flown were hauled down and forgotten.
A New Flag Flying - It may require a revolution to do it.
And we are still forgetting them – or leaving them out of the reckoning. But go to any gathering whose purpose is not to celebrate the status quo. Visit any place where the aspirations of Maori are on the agenda. Think of any future in which the needs of both the colonisers and the colonised are fairly assessed – and you will find a new flag flying.
It may require a revolution to do it, but, one day, the Tino Rangatiratanga flag will replace the Silver Fern, the Southern Cross and the Union Jack.
This essay was originally posted on the Stuff website on Thursday, 3 September 2015.