Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For two flags

The New Zealand Herald has made a typically pompous contribution to the argument about whether a Maori flag should be flown over Auckland's harbour bridge on Waitangi Day. According to an editorial in last Sunday's Herald, Maori are divided about what flag best represents them, with the 1990 'tino rangatiratanga' banner competing for allegiance with Te Kooti's flags, King Tawhiao's ensign, and various iwi banners.

It is difficult to see much merit to this claim: although the flags used during the nineteenth century wars have great mana, they have seldom appeared on latter-day expressions of pan-Maori unity, like the 1975 Land March or the 2004 Seabed and Foreshore hikoi. Banners representing particular iwi are seen more often, but their popularity in particular rohe does not affect the legimitacy of the pan-Maori 'tino rangatiratanga' banner. Just as the state of Texas flies its 'Lone Star' beside the United States' national flag, so iwi commonly fly their own flags beside the tino rangatiratanga banner. The Herald's editorial dismisses the one flag which might threaten the tino rangatiratanga flag as a symbol of pan-Maori unity - the banner created to mark the 1835 declaration of New Zealand independence. The Herald is quite wrong when it suggests that the 1835 flag is nothing more than a relic of history, and that the fact that it was designed by non-Maori makes it ridiculous. Like all symbols, flags have a way of taking on a life of their own. Is the Te Kooti battle banner reproduced above inauthentic, just because it borrows from the Union Jack and the Southern Cross motif found on New Zealand's official flag? Just as many Pakeha associate the name 'New Zealand' with their heritage, despite its Dutch origins, so many Maori see the 1835 flag as a symbol of their resistance to colonisation, despite its origins in the imaginations of Europeans.

In today's Herald, the paper's token liberal commentator Brian Rudman suggests that the tino rangatiratanga banner should fly alone over the harbour bridge, as New Zealand's new national flag. I disagree with Rudman, because I think that the many Pakeha New Zealanders who identify with the current flag deserve to have their history and culture acknowledged. For better or worse, the British Crown and its settler subjects have played a huge role in making New Zealand what it is, and their contribution needs to be remembered, even if remembrance sometimes takes the form of criticism. The messy story of Pakeha-Maori relations in Aotearoa/New Zealand can only be obscured by the politically correct substitution that Rudman advocates.

We need to both acknowledge and dehegemonise Pakeha history and culture. The talkback callers and letter writers who rave about 'one flag for one nation' and insist that 'we're all New Zealanders now' need to understand that many of their compatriots see the 'national' flag as the symbol of an alien power. These Pakeha will only be made angrier and deafer by the arbitrary abandonment of the current national flag and other symbols of their history and culture. By flying the current national flag alongside a Maori banner, we stand a much greater chance of making them think about the complicated nature of their country's history, and drawing them into a dialogue.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

is te kooti's flag influence by the basque national flag?

1:59 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Yes 2 flags! - an interesting idea!

10:26 pm  
Blogger Blaize said...

In a way, the controversy you describe reminds me of various arguments about display of the Confederate flag over here in the States. It's a different set of circumstances, of course, but the arguments over symbolism resonate with one another.

4:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the Confederate flag a symbol of racism?

9:58 am  
Blogger Edward said...

I'm all for flying or acknowledging two flags. I'm also all for the Herald needing to try and be a bit more objective and to do its research better.

12:30 pm  
Blogger Raul Capeda said...

I was very encouraged to find this site. The reason being that this is such an informative post.


2:30 am  

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