Monday, September 28, 2015

Guy Steward: The Symbolism of the Current NZ Flag


There is a diversionary aspect to the present flag debate. It’s not always easy to know what our attention is being diverted from though. An atmosphere of general bewilderment and indifference is emerging while our politicians try to outdo each other in their flag-changing frenzy. The semantics fly while the country is being divided. The political debate, we are told, is “won in the centre”, but the rhetoric comes from the extremes.

A university publication I read recently states that “Burning and other forms of dishonouring the flag are against the law and therefore a popular form of protest.”[i] Comments like these have the feel of legitimatising such actions and square with the whole move to dump what we have for something else.

In Canada, when the maple leaf flag was forced through Parliament, it was without adequate public consultation. The Union Jack was deliberately forced out. We could be in for something similar. It is clear that it is not going to be an objective debate. Of course if the majority want to go in a certain direction and are given a say then it is difficult to argue against, even though the majority is not always right. But at the moment the majority are just too ill-informed. We have come through years of being deprived of an understanding of our current flag and this is one reason why many people have not developed any strong reason to hold onto it. One could be forgiven for thinking also that some variety of Republicanism is waiting in the wings for the outcome of this debate.

In schools, students are given flag-changing activities such as “write a letter to the editor about whether the flag should be changed or kept as is”.  Even at this basic level, there is not always adequate discussion or research put in. But do 15 year olds, for instance, really care? Should they even be burdened with the issue? Are there not more important things to concentrate on? In fact, what often ends up happening is that the students just share their misunderstandings and drum up some drivel about colonialism, “cutting the apron strings”, unfairness and the Maoris…and ultimately they really don’t know what they are on about. It may be good for school art departments as they work on different designs and colours, but for astute observers of political history it is worrying since there are blatant ideological influences at work.

None of the various alternatives will satisfy everyone and there is doubt about the way some of them are being promoted. It is said sometimes that the current flag is an anachronistic relic of colonialism, “red, white and blue…speak of the colonial past”[ii]. In particular, blue seems to be under attack. The description of the flag’s blue background by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage is criticised as “a limp, after-the-fact justification”. Apparently New Zealand has moved on, the flag is old and we are not British anymore, so why keep it? But is “new” a satisfactory argument? The flag is only a little over 100 years old. It’s still relatively young. There are plenty of other flags which have been around longer. The Danish flag is the oldest at about 400 years old.

The move by the present Prime Minister to scrap the flag is a form of cultural vandalism. One thing which comes through loud and clear is a determination to change it. However there is no need. For those wanting to change it, the Union Jack has to go and at the heart of the matter is a dislike of the obvious symbolism of the existing flag and a strong desire to move away from our roots, including recent European, Maori and Polynesian Christian roots, and certainly from traditional European roots. Sadly, the most vociferous and ideologically-driven in our society give only lip service to representative democracy while vying for power, like bullies in a playground fighting over law-of-the-jungle power. People are tempted to avoid the word ‘conspiracy’ through fear of being labelled something or other, but sometimes it’s just plain fact. And it is correct to be concerned that it could it be the thin edge of the wedge - first the flag, then the national anthem, and, over time, the Westminster system of government, common law, and what else if we let it all go? The current push involves a clear attempt to deliberately dismantle New Zealand’s cultural heritage, along with the childish game of name-calling - “right wingers”, “rednecks”, “conservatives’, etc. and watch-this-space for new labels such as “flag changing sceptics” or the like. I have even heard some avid promoters of change (such as one radio commentator), say things like “I get so angry when people just don’t want to change!” i.e. for him it’s all about emotion, not rationality.

If the main goal is be totally multicultural and globalist then it is logical to change the flag. And why stop there? To be consistent it would also be necessary to change the national anthem to something more ordinary, the governmental system to some kind of republican mess, and British common law to the relativist values of global governance. And, in the process, attempt to represent every race under the sun - which really means representing no-one because you can’t represent a thousand disparate cultures. You can only do something like stick the equivalent of a maple leaf (fern or whatever) on to a flag to represent the environment because people groups can’t be represented in this context.

How can multiculturalism be represented on a flag? Firstly, the issue is not how much or little one appreciates other cultures. I appreciate many aspects of many cultures and engage with people of different cultures on a daily basis. Most of us do nowadays, especially in a city like Auckland. People close to me are from other cultures. You can have a lot of fun with other cultures. However, adopting or totally embracing a different culture from my own is another matter. They enjoy theirs and I enjoy mine, including whatever I want to mix in with it. But Kiwis now are becoming unsure of who they are and what their culture is. Your fellow-Kiwi now could be your cobber who you’ve known from way back, played rugby with and gone fishing with and whose family has known yours for several generations, or a foreign-clad figure dressed in black from head to toe and with hardly any knowledge of where they are. Both are now classified as “Kiwis” if they are citizens or are born here. It just encourages confusion. And what kind of culture do immigrants find here when they do come and look around? What kind of identity, character or example do they see in the people who have lived here for generations? Do they see a people who don’t know who they are and who appear to have no heritage? People who can’t agree on a flag? If so, then it’s a case of “anything goes” and “we have a right to do whatever we want”.

There are Kiwi qualities to be justly proud of and to aspire to, even though we don’t always attain to them, things like ingenuity, resilience, pragmatism, self-sufficiency, fairness, honesty, egalitarianism, integrity, empathy, a dislike of formality and pretentiousness, friendship for genuine and not ulterior motives, love of freedom and the outdoors and of adventure and achievement, loyalty, a pioneering spirit, independence, and individual ownership of land. Some of these are the qualities we admire in the All Blacks, in our farming communities, and in various sporting or business achievers who do well and contribute back to the community. And there are negatives – too easy-going in certain instances where you need the opposite, shyness and reserve, cynicism, hedonism, etc. However, we also have the English language and a host of English-based institutions. From these, primarily, came our governmental system, our respect for freedom, and our distaste of corruption, nepotism and control. The blessings of freedom were hard fought for and won over centuries, and the struggle mostly took place in that little country in the Northern Hemisphere which, whether we like it or not, we are still intimately connected with. How many true-blue Kiwis, or anyone living here, would cold-shoulder the Queen if she popped in for a visit? Even those who hate the monarchy will normally show a modicum of respect. The nation must acknowledge its heritage, while also respecting the newcomer who is willing to contribute towards it and towards building it into something even greater in the future, in cooperation with neighbour countries and cultures.

So what does the current flag really say? There is some rich symbolism in it. Here is the crux of the matter. Here are the main points of contention.  
  • The Southern Cross which seafarers used, the traditional mariner’s guide in the Southern Hemisphere and a symbol of the beauty and promise of a new land, relevant to both European and Polynesian.
  • The crossed cross. This was, in ancient language[iii], the first and last letters of the alphabet and represented one of God’s names (“the first and the last”). It also has eight points, eight being the number of perfection, of completion, and the number of Jesus Christ. The crossed cross goes back to antiquity, beyond the political entities of England, Scotland and Ireland, and some say it goes back to the times of Stonehenge. Either way there is deep symbolism in it.
  • The colours are symbolic of the Trinity – blue for the God the Father, white for the Holy Spirit, red for Jesus Christ. These colours were also used symbolically in the old tabernacle of Moses. Blue represents love and heaven and freedom (an open sky and the beauty of the sea), white represents purity, and red represents sacrifice and justice.
  • The three crosses are symbolic in Christian theology: the white cross of the Abrahamic covenant and Jacob’s crossed hands blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, the red broken cross, (broken because the commandments were broken) representing the Mosaic covenant, and the red cross of Calvary, superseding the others and representing forgiveness, hope, redemption, and new life arising out of the New Covenant of Christ’s blood.
  • The three Union Jack crosses represent historic persons who actually lived: St Andrew of Scotland, St Patrick of Ireland, and St George of England. They were real national figures, not just legends.
If New Zealand is to be a totally secular society then the current flag is irrelevant. Those New Zealanders who are not Christian may be content with a different flag but not necessarily. There may be enough general history and heritage in it for the religious aspect to just not be an issue. Extreme anti-religionists will definitely find fault with the Union Jack and possibly the Southern Cross so a new flag would, understandably, be preferable for them. However, if New Zealand is to respect its heritage then there is no need for change.

Finally, it seems that at a time when we should be being a little careful with our national debt levels, expenses and things, I would have thought that a budget shouldn’t really be wasted on changing something unnecessarily. While some think it is worth it, spending millions on a flag change is almost offensive when we consider the needs in other areas such as health. It also seems a rather pathetic example for others (refugees/children) to follow…but then I’m not an economist. Someone will find a reason.

We have worked hard in this country at building a sense of fairness. By all means keep it. Be kind to the “strangers in our midst”. But don’t compromise our heritage. Will our children thank us for ditching our culture and history? Or will they, or our great grandchildren, follow our example and indulge in more cultural destruction, maybe calling for yet another change of flag at some future date. Perhaps they might even look back and criticise this generation for a lack of common sense.

I suggest a vote with the feet – a boycott of the first referendum. The country and future generations will have to live with what is changed now, so if New Zealanders must change the flag then they should make sure that’s what they really want. They also should know exactly what they might be letting go of.

Guy Steward is a teacher, a musician, and a freelance writer. He has degrees in music and theology.


[i] Ingenio, Autumn, 2015.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] The ancient Hebrew Aleph and Tau.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

No country has ever changed its flag unless it has been exposed to religious or ethnic takeover or division, are we to be expecting a takeover in years to come, even the changing of the Canadian flag was done quickly and forcefully by the French majority in parliament at the time, the answer is yes we are bringing is so many of the Islamic faith that they could control the country in a few years through numbers alone they have 4 times the birth rate that others have.

Peter said...

Thank you, Guy, for the most informative comment on the flag I have read since the issue was announced. The symbolism, history and the values inherent in the present flag are entirely absent from the curriculum in almost every school. Many I have spoken to have only the vaguest notion of its origin or relevance. I sincerely hope the content of your message is widely distributed and appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Please let us think very carefully before we sit by and let our original flag be replaced by the whim of our Prime Minister, who seeks this as an everlasting legacy to his ego.

Our flag, like our country, is still new, and holds traditions and ideologies, which we would want to be handed down to our children and their children. By all means, let us be proud of our silver fern and all black flags representing our excellence in the sports field and cultural achievements.

I am sure the majority of our immigrants are only too happy to acknowledge the existing flag as the one they accepted when choosing this country as their new home.

Anonymous said...

Mostly OK until it goes off the rails by making the simple symbolism of our flag into a convoluted theological exercise. Having lived under that flag for 83 years I have never been exposed to such extreme nonsense before. The Union flag shows where we have come from, the stars where we are going and blue the oceans that surround us.
What could be easier to understand, or more fitting?

Anonymous said...

Maoris chose and begged Britain for years to look after them after Hongi Hika started the Maori Musket War which was on its way to the extermination of the Maori race, eventually Britain agreed and Maoris were granted peace for the first time in their existence.

After the treaty came Hone Heke's Flagstaff War, another Maori war quelled by the British.

Third came the Maori Wars for Sovereignty, started by Ngatiruanui of South Taranaki 1853 who was joined by Te Atiawa in 1854. It took a whole 7 long years for Taranaki settlers holed up in New Plymouth before Government finally faced up to its responsibilities and counter attacked in 1860 and it is this overdue counter attack which is now twisted to become the so-called "Land Wars". Never-the-less, Britain regained peace.

Fourth came the Waikatos storming north to take Auckland in 1860, with the written and vocal promise to kill every White man, woman and child. Three long years later in 1863 Government finally pushed them back over the Maungatawhiri Stream to return peace only to be blamed in later years as being the first to cross the Maungatawhiri Stream in the so-called "Land Wars", resulting, as in Taranaki, apologies and $multi-millions of tax-payer funding in compensation to the perpetrators, the Kingites who started the wars in the hope that "Maori Law will prevail".

Now the politically correct have brainwashed the public into believing the British are to blame for these Maori Wars, they are attempting to remove the symbol from our flag responsible for retaining peace and order to our beautiful country, the Union Jack.

If the Union Jack is removed, what will be next? Constitutional change?

The Constitutional Advisory Panel last made attempt to encourage Constitutional change to that of Bolivia. In Bolivia private property and cars were confiscated, put into the Community and if previous owners wished to retain their use it is necessary to rent from the Community, proceeds of rent split 50/50 between Government and indigenous people. Tribal Law was also installed. Bolivia is now the poorest country in South America.

New Zealanders greatest problem is that they do not know their own history, allowing corruption to trample them. The above history authenticated by "The Realms of King Tawiao", by Dick Craig.

You are fooled into believing the Treaty is our founding document. Write to Archives NZ, Wellington, requesting Queen Victoria's Royal Charter of 16-11-1840; the document which split us from New South Wales, founded NZ a separate British Colony, gave us our first constitution, own Government, English law only and our own courts to administer English law only
G. Graham

Chris Mullane said...

A very academic treatise of doubtful quality! Guy Steward uses more ‘engineered’ & wildly imaginative explanations for our current flag’s design than even the Red Peak supporters have managed to invent for theirs!
If he’s right, the original flag designers must have spent a considerable amount of time researching and pondering the design in great detail. In reality, here is what happened as described on the MCH site:
By 1865 Britain was worried about the legal status of naval ships being used in the New Zealand War. So they passed a law that ordered all ships used by the colonial government to display the Blue Ensign with the badge of their colony in the fly. This led Governor Grey to establish what that badge should be.The Seal of New Zealand was suggested, but was too complicated. The Southern Cross was also put forward. The words ‘New Zealand’ were suggested, which were shortened to good old ‘NZ’ and agreed to by Grey. But in 1869 Governor Sir George Bowen,5th Governor of New Zealand, thought we needed a permanent badge. So he tasked Lieutenant Albert Hastings Markham to come up with a design. Markham was based in Australia on the HMS Blanche where some flags were already using the Southern Cross.

Guy said...

Chris, you have only given a little history of how it was chosen in NZ. The article was focusing mostly on some of the history and meaning of the Union Jack part of the flag, which is what was most researched about.