The World Cup of Rugby is going on as I write this, and defending champions New Zealand look like they just might win it again. This is within the natural order of things: the New Zealand “All Blacks” (from the color of their strip) are one of the consistently best teams in the world, the only one with a winning record against every other national team. So far, in this tournament, they have defeated Argentina 26-16 and Namibia 58-14, and will likely make short work of Georgia and Tonga, their two next opponents.
One honored tradition of the All Blacks is that of the haka, a Maori war-dance that the team performs before every game as a challenge to the other team. I confess that I was taken aback when I first heard about this: I attended a college that dropped its Indian mascot in 1974 for the familiar reasons, but here are a bunch of white people performing an actual native ritual?! (Although the All Blacks usually do include numerous players of Maori descent.) And yet, every New Zealander I’ve ever met says that it is not controversial at all, that it’s something that all New Zealanders, Maori or otherwise, take great pride in (this includes a Maori dance troupe that performed at Reinhardt back in 2004). The custom provides a very interesting contrast to North American anxiety about cultural appropriation.
One national symbol that many New Zealanders would like to change, however, is their flag, a relic of the glory days of the British Empire. From Wikipedia, here it is:
Not only is this flag not reflective of New Zealand Today, it is famously quite close to the flag of Australia, the only differences being the number, color, and shape of the stars:
A shortlist of four alternatives to the current NZ flag has been announced (there were originally forty). New Zealanders will vote on which of these they like, and the winner will go head-to-head in a referendum against the current flag next year.
Clockwise from top left: Silver Fern (Black and White), Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue), Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue), Koru. Photo: EPA/NZ Flag Consideration Panel, via the Telegraph.
The silver fern is a classic New Zealand symbol (the All Blacks bear it on their jerseys), and the koru is a Maori design element reminiscent of a fiddlehead. Two of the designs retain the Southern Cross, although this is too common in Southern Hemisphere heraldry in my opinion – and I’ve always thought that the red stars outlined (“fimbriated”) in white don’t contrast enough with the blue background. Furthermore, black might make for an intimidating sports uniform, but you’d think that for a flag a country would want something a little more colorful.
But I’m not a New Zealander and this is not my decision to make. (Although I am sympathetic with the impulse, given that my own country changed its flag fifty years ago, for many of the same reasons.)