SBC unanimous over return of Maori war flag

Maori flag
Maori flag

For nearly a century, a Maori war flag captured during the 19th century’s bitter ethnic wars in New Zealand lay almost forgotten in Hawick museum.

But last summer, on one of the rare occasions when the banner was removed from storage and put on display, it was spotted by a Kiwi visitor.

The result was a request from Wairoa museum in the Hawke’s Bay area of the country for the repatriation of the flag – and this week Scottish Borders Council members unanimously agreed.

A key element of the request was accompanying letters of support from descendants of those involved in the 1865 battle, when the flag was captured.

The Battle of Omaruhakeke on December 25, 1865, was part of the New Zealand wars which saw Maori communities divided, with some siding with the Crown and New Zealand Government, against others who wanted to maintain independence.

The flag has only been on display a handful of times since donated in 1921 by local artist Tom Scott, who was presented with it by the Secretary at Government House in Hawke’s Bay, although for reasons unknown.

It was Mike Spedding, director of Wairoa museum, who made the plea on behalf of descendants of noted Maori leaders involved in the Battle of Omaruhakeke.

These descendants stated their hope that the return of the flag would prove a powerful symbol for the resolution of 160 years of social, economic, political and spiritual turmoil for Maori people in this area of New Zealand.

In his letter to Hawick museum, descendant Nigel William How said the ghosts of the past were finally being laid to rest through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.

“This is not only between Crown and Maori in general, but also between Maori ourselves in acknowledging the different decisions and actions our ancestors undertook. Genuine resolution of all these matters has been a long time coming,” he said.

Councillor Vicky Davidson, SBC executive member for culture, said there was a strong spiritual, social and political case for the flag to be returned to New Zealand.

“Descendants of those involved in the 1865 battle believe it will be a powerful symbol in resolving long-standing grievances between the Crown and Maori, and between Maoris themselves,” she told us.

“We have been assured that this artefact will be carefully conserved, displayed and interpreted in the museum.”