Tino rangatiratanga

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Tino Rangatiratanga flag, designed by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn. This image by James Dignan and António Martins of Flags of the World
The Tino Rangatiratanga flag flying alongside the Flag of New Zealand on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, Waitangi Day, 2012.

Tino rangatiratanga is a Māori language term that means 'absolute sovereignty', It is also the name of a flag that some Maori involved in contesting the classical translation identify with. It appears in the Māori version of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the British Crown and Māori chiefs (rangatira) in 1840. It has become one of the most contentious phrases in retrospective analyses of the Treaty, amid debate surrounding the obligations agreed to by each of the over 500 signatories.[1][2] The phrase features in current historical and political discourse on race relations in New Zealand, and is widely used by Māori advocacy groups. A flag based on tino rangatiratanga was designed in 1990, which has now become accepted as a national flag for Māori groups across New Zealand.[3]

Origins and etymology[edit]

A rangatira is a chief; the nominalising suffix -tanga makes the word an abstract noun referring to the situation, presumably the present; and the addition of the intensifier tino (meaning "essentially") in this context means the phrase can be translated as 'the chief here now', the intention of which was to 'emphasize to a chief the Queen’s intention to give the complete control according to them'.[4] The term's closest English translation is 'you are the chief now and forever more', although many also refer to it as self-determination[verification needed],[5] autonomy,[6] or Māori independence.

The term is traditionally understood to mean 'full chieftainship'.[4][7]

There are those[8] who believe that accrediting sovereignty to the word rangatiratanga is a long bow to draw.

The basis of such opposition is on two separate levels; The writers of the treaty used the word 'Kawanatanga' in the Maori version when referring to 'sovereignty'. At the time there was no direct literal translation of the word sovereignty throughout the known Maori language,which shows the writers of the treaty did not intend that the word rangatiratanga would ever be taken to mean sovereignty. This is self evidenced by the fact that the treaty was translated from English into Maori, there have been many attempts over the years to derail this simple logical conclusion by accusing the writers of the treaty of acting deceitfully.

On the second level the word Kawanatanga, although having no direct literal translation at the time, was widely in use and had at least been understood by the confederation of tribes as they had used it in an earlier document: The 'declaration of independence',[9] therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that the meaning of this word would have been widely distributed to the chiefs that eventually signed the treaty. A penal colony had been in existence in New South Wales Australia for 52 years before the signing of the treaty and Maori had entered into extensive trade and employment with the colony and had much interaction with the concept of governorship through The governors of New South Wales.[10] The term had also been explained to many Maori by missionaries when describing the role of 'Pontius Pilate' The Roman Governor of Israel in the Bible.

The Treaty of Waitangi[edit]

The emphasis on tino rangatiratanga draws from an inconsistency arising between Article One and Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi:

  • In the English text of Article One of the Treaty, the Māori signatories cede their sovereignty to the British Crown. For the Māori text, since there was no direct Māori translation for the idea, the missionary neologism 'kawanatanga' (= 'governorship') was used to represent the concept of sovereignty. This word was based on the transliteration "Kawana" (= 'governor'), which had been invented by Bible translators to explain Pontius Pilate's authority in Judaea. Kawana was also used prior to 1840 to describe the Governor of New South Wales.
  • In the English text of Article Two of the Treaty, signatories are assured that the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties would remain for so long as they chose. In the Māori text, signatories are assured that their tino rangatiratanga will remain undisturbed over their lands, kainga and other taonga (te tino rangatiratanga o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa, literally the absolute chieftainship of your lands, your homes, and all your treasures/taonga).

Based on the Māori text alone, in Article One the signatories appear to be ceding kawanatanga or governorship; while in Article Two the signatories are promised that their tino rangatiratanga or highest chieftainship would remain undisturbed. This apparent inconsistency has led to much debate as to whether the Māori signatories intended to cede their sovereignty to the British Crown at all.

Aside from the legal controversy of 'sovereignty' versus 'kawanatanga', many Māori see the Treaty as a charter to choose their own way of life within the framework of law, but free of external interference in taonga such as language and culture.

Ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani (All the People of New Zealand[edit]

The Maori treaty Article Two has the Queen making these promises and guarantees to three parties, the last of which seems to have been ignorate in debates about the meaning of the treaty:

The whole sentence reads "Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangitira ki nga hapu – ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. " (emphasis added)

  • Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite and whakaae means the Queen of England promises to guarantee
  • Ki nga Rangatira means to the Maori Chiefs
  • Ki nga hapu means to the tribe [defined as an extended family based on blood ties]
  • Ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani means to all the people of New Zealand

to all the people of New Zealand has had very little discussion in the public debate about the treaty. Yet a careful reading of the treaty in Te Reo Maori (the Maori language) will find that when the treaty wishes to be specific, it is. In the opening paragraph, the words "nga Tangata maori o Nu Tirani" are used, meaning all the Maori people of New Zealand. When it seeks to make a distinction between Maori and Whites (Pakeha), it says so: "te tangata Maori ki te Pakeha" (the Maori people, the Pakeha).


Protester with the Tino Rangatiratanga flag at a protest hikoi against the foreshore and seabed bill in 2004.

The Tino Rangatiratanga flag is often referred to as the Māori flag, one which can be used to represent all Māori. Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn designed this flag in 1990.[11] It uses black, white and red as national colours of New Zealand. The design of the flag references the Maori creation myth of Rangi and Papa, suggesting the sky, the earth, and the physical realm of light and being which was created when they were separated.[12]

The official recognition of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag resulted from a campaign by indigenous rights advocacy group Te Ata Tino Toa.[13] The group applied for the Tino Rangatiratanga flag to fly on the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day. Transit NZ, then the government agency responsible for the Bridge, declined on the basis that the flag did not represent a country recognised by the United Nations. After considerable debate in the public arena the group adopted a diversity of tactics to raise awareness of the issues including lobbying Transit NZ and Parliament,[14][15] submissions to the Human Rights Commission and holding an annual 'Fly the Flag' competition,[16] to more direct protest actions including bungee jumping off the Harbour Bridge, traffic jamming the Harbour Bridge, and flying the largest Tino Rangatiratanga flag ever made over the Harbour Bridge. Key organisers of the campaign included Tia Taurere, Gareth Seymour and Teanau Tuiono.

On 14 December 2009, Prime Minister John Key and Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced that the Māori Tino Rangatiratanga flag was chosen to fly from the Auckland Harbour Bridge and other official buildings (such as Premier House) on Waitangi Day. The announcement followed a Māori Party–led promotion and series of hui on which Māori flag should fly from the bridge. 1,200 submissions were received, with 80 per cent of participants in favour of the Tino Rangatiratanga flag as the preferred Māori flag.[17]

Key said the Māori flag would not replace the New Zealand flag but would fly alongside it to recognise the partnership the Crown and Māori entered into when signing the Treaty of Waitangi. "No changes are being made to the status of the New Zealand flag," Mr Key said. Monarchy New Zealand said the move would be "potentially divisive" and AUT University Doctor Paul Moon was critical of the move.[18]

Sharples said the Māori flag was a simple way to recognise the status of Māori as tangata whenua (people of the land). "However, the New Zealand flag remains the symbol of our nation, and there is no intention to change this, nor to diminish the status of our national flag."

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage published guidelines describing the appropriate way to fly the Māori flag in relation to the New Zealand flag.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1. – Treaty of Waitangi – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Teara.govt.nz. 2012-07-13. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  2. ^ Orange, Claudia (13 Jul 2012). "Story: Treaty of Waitangi: Page 1 – Creating the Treaty of Waitangi". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Archived from the original on 2015-07-09. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "Flags". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 2016-01-13. Retrieved 2016-03-07. 
  4. ^ a b Williams, Herbert W. A Dictionary of the Maori Language (6th, 1957 ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Government Printer. Archived from the original on 2015-01-29.  Herbert Williams Williams was the brother and uncle respectively of Henry and Edward Williams, who were the interpreters of the treaty.
  5. ^ Awatere, D. (1982). Maori sovereignty. Broadsheet, 100, 38-42.
  6. ^ Waitangi Tribunal (1996). The Taranaki report: Kaupapa tuatahi (Wai 143) (PDF) (Report). Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  7. ^ "Read the Treaty". Treatyofwaitangi.net.nz. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  8. ^ Newman, Muriel (November 16, 2014). "Re-writing History". New Zealand Centre for Political Research. Archived from the original on 2015-08-06. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  9. ^ "The 1835 Declaration of Independence". New Zealand History: Nga korero a ipurangi o Arotearoa (in Maori and English). History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 19 Sep 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-07-07. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  10. ^ "Taming the frontier Page 2 – New South Wales and New Zealand". New Zealand History: Nga korero a ipurangi o Aotearoa. History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 25 Mar 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-02-06. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  11. ^ Dignan, James. "Tino Rangatiratanga flag". Flags of the World. Retrieved 31 March 2015. It was designed in 1990 by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn, and was the winning design in a national contest to find a "Maori Flag". 
  12. ^ "New Zealand - Maori Flags". Crwflags.com. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  13. ^ "Te Haki - The Māori flag". Indigenous Portal. Retrieved December 14, 2011. 
  14. ^ Sina Ana Brown-Davis, Spokesperson for Te Ata Tino Toa. "Letter To Dr Sharples About Flying The Maori Flag". Retrieved December 14, 2011. 
  15. ^ Transit NZ. "Letter: Request for Support (Transit NZ and the Maori flag)" (PDF). Retrieved December 14, 2011. 
  16. ^ "The Maori Flag Flies On Waitangi Day". Scoop.co.nz. Retrieved December 14, 2011. 
  17. ^ Colin Espiner (14 December 2009). "Maori flag to fly on Waitangi Day". The Dominion Post. 
  18. ^ "Maori Flag Decision Defended By Prime Minister". Radio New Zealand. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "Ministry of Culture and Heritage guidelines". Mch.govt.nz. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 

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