Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Colourful pieces of cloth

The new Venezuelan flag (left) annoys me. I have no business with Venezuela, except that President Hugo Chavez is a fellow traveller. He can count me as an admirer simply for his left leaning politics, and antipathy to US foreign policy, including most recently, his threat to ban US airlines from flying to Caracas. So you can imagine how upset I was when he decided to change the Venezuelan flag, and from what I gather, without much public consultation.

It is wrong to go around changing peoples flags, even if you're president. Changing a flag is equivalent to rewriting history, which is what Chavez desires to do with this flag. He's added another star, supposedly representing freedom fighter Simón Bolívar. This eighth star also represents the eighth Venezuelan province which hadn't been founded at the time of the now old flag (left). As Venezuela is a Bolívarian country, it's understandable that they'd want him to be represented on national iconography, but it smells af if Chavez hijacked the whole process. It's like George the Younger being allowed to put a thorny headed Jesus Christ on Old Glory. After all, Bush is a fan, and Jesus was involved in the founding of America (founding fathers left Europe in search of religious freedom). That said, Bolívar is forgiveable.

Most upsetting is the coat of arms, which have been there since 1930. Coat of arms are militant. Coats of arms are only relevant for matters of the official state, e.g. military insignia (in defence of the state), and official documents (property of the state). The state is not the people. The state might undertake actions that provide services for the people, but it is still separate from the people.

To cap it all, the Chupacabra de Caracas made one of the horses on the coat of arms to face left, instead of its original right-facing position. Mr Chavez says the horse has been "freed". Claptrap. Freed from what? He obviously knows the power of symbolism, and has chosen to imprint his personal politics on the people's symbol, the flag. The horse is now facing left because the country is now left-leaning, politically speaking. Or at least the president is left-leaning. However, he shouldn't foist his politics on everyone in the country by default. Is the next right wing president supposed to change the direction the horse is facing? And what happens when a centrist president takes over? I'd like to see an artist draw that.

A country can be represented by a flag if the flag represents ideals universal to is people. Take the Nigerian flag (left). It is the drabbest flag on the African continent. The continent's flags are so bright and colourful, from South Africa's rainbow nation, to Ghana's black star. Nigeria's is green-white-green. It was designed by a student, Michael Taiwo Akinwunmi, who must have been smoking something strong when he designed it. However, the green stands for forests (must have been the stuff he was puffing), and the white stands for peace. No sane person can argue with that., peace and forests. Put in a hammer and a sickle, a crucifix, or a moon and star, and you're asking for trouble.

If you look around the world you can see the importance of flags. As soon as you hear "death to America" in the so-called Arab street, the next thing that follows is the US flag in flames. When I was in Nigeria a couple of years ago, I went to visit my dad in the east of Nigeria. And flying all over Awka (capital of Anambra state) were Biafran flags (left), fluttering blatantly in the dry harmattan wind. So it came as no surprise when the Nigerian government arrested Ralph Uwazurike, the Biafran separatist leader. During the recent spells of civil unrest in the East, reports spoke about graffiti with the words, "this is Biafra, rejoice". People need to wake and see what the symbols are saying. I have the Biafran flag up as my msn messenger picture. I didn't do it because I support the break up of Nigeria, but because I believe that the issues which resulted in the Biafran Civil War still exist, and still threaten our "one Nigeria". I have the flag up as a reminder. But do people care? Do they heck.

Something I support, oddly enough, is the "Union Black" (left). This a reworking of the British Union Flag by Reflag, to have the colour black added to it. The black is supposed to represent the ethnic minority contribution to British society. While I wouldn't ordinarily agree with rewriting history in the form of reworking such an emotive flag (represents three of four British countries), I appreciate that British history has been whitewashed of the black contribution and expression. Mary Seacole in the Crimea, Olaudah Equiano during anti-slavery, and many more. On this principle, I support it. But the more convincing reason, is that I think it looks good.

We might harp on about the symbolism of flags, but every day they are reduced to fashion items. I have been known to wear a Black Star flag in my time. A drunk girl from Oz said I was a traitor, and I told her it was just a cloth which looked good, nothing more. Geri Halliwell wore that Cool Britannia dress (left) that showed her bloomers. I also see that the Brazilian flag is very popular, even with people who know diddly squat about football.

Flag waving is not my thing, in the sense that the ultra-nationalism it tends to provoke is anathema to me. But people's attachment to flags is rooted in human history, and her relationship with symbols. That is one of the unique things about being human, thinking beyond ourselves, and almost giving credence, or even life to an inanimate object. Which animal can do that? But to the fashionistas out there, flags are just colourful pieces of cloth. Perhpas they're right.

9 comments:

Dilch said...

I much prefer the pictures in this Blog - They add to the story, which is a good one by the way..........

tori said...

actually, green on the Nigerian flag represents agriculture, not forests. I can just imagine the northern hulabaloo that would have started if they dared insinuate that a forest was a good representation of what nigeria was.....

.....but then, peace was a stretch too.

Jeremy said...

great post. Someone should run a competition to redesign the Nigerian flag to liven it up a little. Nigeria never had its revolutionary moment, like SA and the end of apartheid (love their flag by the way). Perhaps the ultimate rebranding of the country should begin with a new flag and a new concept (trees/agriculture and peace is a bit thoughtless).

chibs said...

yeah, the nigerian flag is actually quite raz.

Monef said...

excellent post, well thought out and insightful!

I'll expect the book any day now....

TRAE said...

hey, we ain't the only country with a simple flag. what of France and italy? admitedly the flag poorly represent's our national attributes; but what the heck, i'm used to it and i do love the Super Eagles in green white green. At least we're better of than many African countries with the same type of flag: Mali-Cameroun-Senegal-Guinea. Hugo Chavez you did wrong man.

RC said...

interesting post...thank you for sharing...I like the nigerian flag...

when flags are complicated i start to think "ugh."

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

Josephine said...

Thank God, someone who sees the world through my eyes. The Nigerian flag is the dries most boring flag and the one taking second place is the Libyan flag. Its just the colour GREEN!!!

Hopefully, Nigeria will change its flag, heres is me designing new flags but I'm all out of ideas!!

Anonymous said...

The UK empire flag was designed by greedy elitist scottish and english merchants back in the 1700s....under this flag an ethnic group - the tasmanian aborigines were exterminated...the only time an empire has done this

Its meaningless to me as someone living in Wales....England's oldest colony

Flags are just pieces of cloth used to control the individual