Hauhau Battle Flags

The Pai Mārire movement (known as Hauhau to Pakeha at the time) was a Maori religious movement that arose in the 1860’s and is of primary interest to this blog due to its syncretic nature that included in its mixture elements of pre christian Maori beliefs and British military and navel drill, as well as (the focus of this post) the adaptation of European symbolism and media (in the form of war banners)


Te Ua Haumene. Ua Rongo Pai. GNZMMSS 1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries – With thanks to the Auckland City Libraries

“Services were held at a niu, a tall pole, often about 18m high, with yard-arms from which hung ropes. The first of these niu was the mast of the Lord Worsley. Members of the congregation circled the niu several times a day, chanting and touching a decapitated head mounted on a pole while priests conducted prayer services. Historian Babbage wrote: “The worshippers worked themselves into a state bordering on frenzy during the procedure of the ritual, until catalepsy frequently prostrated them.” The chants as devotees circled the niu were described as “a jumble of Christian and ancient concepts, of soldier and sailor terms, of English and Māori language with the barking watchword of the cult interspersed”. The “angels of the wind” were said to be present during the service, ascending and descending the ropes dangling from the mast’s yard-arm. By the end of 1865 a niu stood in almost every large village from Taranaki to the Bay of Plenty and from the north of the Wellington district to the Waikato frontier.” –Wikipedia


From Margret Orbell‘s  important “Maori Flags and Banners” the first article to bring them to wider attention

“Te Ua taught that the divine service and strict adherence to his instruction would make them impervious to bullets if, when under fire, they would raise their right hand and cry, “Hapa! Hapa! Pai Mārire, hau! Hau! Hau!” “Hapa” meant to pass over, or ward off, while the exclamation “Hau!” at the end of the choruses – said by one soldier to uttered in a way that sounded like the bark of a dog – had a literal meaning of “wind” but referred to the life principle or vital spark of man, while the wind angels were named “Anahera hau”.” – Wikipedia

This page contains A contemporary appropriation of the right hand figure in the colours described



Also worthy of your attention are Laurence Aberhart‘s beautiful and moody black and white pictures of HauHau flags from museum collections around the country. Unfortunately these do not appear to be collected on his site. Though a small selection (including photographs of Niu poles) can be found Here.

Some nice watercolours of various Maori flags (including HauHau flags) can be found on the te papa website starting at the bottom of page 2 . Unfortunately  due to laziness, mean spiritedness or  indifference they assert copyright over these images despite the fact the artist died in 1936 (making them long out of copyright). This kind of shoddy attitude to public domain is unfortunately par for the course in many public collections in this country having a chilling effect on those who wish to inform those interested about their history and heritage.

It is hoped we will in future be able to revisit  The Pai Mārire movement and examine their ritual in greater detail and encourage anyone with knowledge to contribute in the comments.

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