The three flags of Waitangi
The three flags of Waitangi include the New Zealand flag, the British Union flag or Jack and Te Kara, also known as the United Tribes flag.
A flagstaff was erected to mark the spot where Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed, in 1840. And every year three flags are raised to mark the occasion. Now, Pou Tiaki explores the history of each flag and how they came to be at the grounds.
Why is the Waitangi flagstaff important?
The Waitangi flagstaff marks the approximate spot where Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840.
Read this story in te reo Māori and English here. / Pānuitia tēnei i te reo Māori me te reo Pākehā ki konei.
“They erected the tent out on the lawn where the flagstaff is today,” Waitangi Treaty Grounds curatorial and guide manager Caitlin Timmer-Arends said.
* Treaty House name signifies importance of house on the hill
* Explainer: Why was the Treaty signed in Waitangi?
* Waitangi Day: What does it mean to modern New Zealand?
The first flagstaff was given to James Busby, who was the leading British official in Aotearoa at the time, by Ngāpuhi chief Hone Heke Pōkai.
It was soon shifted across the bay to Kororāreka, now known as Russell.
February 6 acknowledges the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840.
The Royal New Zealand Navy erected a flagstaff at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in 1934, replaced it in 1947, and has been the caretaker of the flagstaff since.
Three flags, that at one point in history have each been the official flag of Aotearoa, fly from the flagstaff at Waitangi.
What are the three flags flown at Waitangi?
Te Kara o Te Whakaminenga o Nga Hapu o Nu Tireni, or Te Kara, is the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, and has been an official flag of Aotearoa since 1834.
The origins of the flag lie in an incident involving a ship called the Sir George Murray, which was part-owned by a pair of Māori chiefs.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Crowds gather around the flagstaff on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a Waitangi Day dawn ceremony.
The vessel was seized in Sydney, Australia in 1830 because it didn’t fly a national flag.
Following this debacle, Busby called together the chiefs from the north of the North Island to vote on a national flag.
Te Kara was chosen on March 20, 1834, and it became the first official flag of Aotearoa.
Te Kara was never decommissioned by the Crown and remains a legal New Zealand flag. It is viewed by some as a symbol of Māori independence.
“That flag was given a 21-gun salute by the HMS Alligator that was out in the Bay, and accepted internationally as the first official flag of our country,” Timmer-Arends said.
The second flag is the British Union flag or Union Jack that was flown by British officials following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
But in 1902 it was determined that Aotearoa would need its own unique flag, to differentiate it from other Pacific nations which were often also flying the British Union flag.
The official New Zealand flag, bearing the red stars, was chosen in 1902.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
All three flags are flown every day at Waitangi.
Why do we fly all three flags?
“We fly all three flags every day because they are the three flags we have or have had in our history,” Timmer-Arends said.
The flagstaff directs Te Kara to the north and the British Union flag to the south, with the New Zealand flag at its centre.
“We fly Te Kara and the Union Jack together at the same height as symbols of that partnership, as kind of was intended with the Treaty,” Tmmer-Arends said.
“Tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti came together.”