Flags, emblems, and revolutions

White collar conservative flashin down the street, pointing that plastic finger at me, they all assume my kind will drop and die, but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.

Jimi Hendrix (If 6 was 9 )

I’ve never been a flag waver, or at least not in the literal sense, as someone who is conspicuously patriotic. Put down to being a bit of a gypsy, born in one land, raised in another, then moving to a third. So while I consider my current land to be my home, the land of my birth still tugs at my heart, and where I spent my early childhood holds a mysterious allure.

New Zealand – where I reside

England – where I was born


Nigeria – where I was raised


which used to have this flag   200px-Flag_of_British_Colonial_Nigeria.svg

One country so different from the other two, and yet even the two that are similar and familiar are different, and half a life time away makes the differences even keener. So, no extreme nationalist am I.

But give me a cause that heats my blood, and I will stand on the battlements and wave a flag of righteous indignation with vigour.

I was less than enthusiastic about the proposal by our prime minister to replace our national flag. In my mind there needed to be a valid reason to do so, such as cutting the apron strings of mother England and becoming an independent nation, no longer under another nation’s queen.

But no, we have a prime minister who is still in the thrall of royalty, who reveres lords and ladies, and who on a whim has decided that we need a national brand, which will be depicted on our flag for marketing purposes, not for nationhood.

Enough has been written about the process and the disappointing outcome of the final 4 options we were to vote on. I was contemplating registering my protest by choosing the worst option or spoiling my ballot paper. 12049616_1037176282981730_248669186624422444_n

Then a quiet revolution started,  and a cause that stirred my apathetic bones was born. The narrative around the “First to the Light” (now popularly nicknamed Red Peak“) design has both charmed my sensitivities and strengthened my determination to make a stand against banality and wrong-mindedness.

I say wrong-minded because much of the debate has centred around the idea of the silver fern representing our national identity.

images-1 It is the brand of our great sportsmen and women (Rugby and Netball).

It is used by our military forces in various ways. And as such it is an emblem.

Historically emblems were often used on coats of arms, painted on shields and representing an abstract symbol of the person to whom it belonged or was affiliated. slide_432176_5625324_free

An emblem is a pattern that is used to represent an idea or an individual and is usually worn as an identifying mark or patch (consider biker gangs)

It is interesting that the panel that chose our flag options decided that as a nation, New Zealanders find abstract concepts difficult and that was why the final 4 were stylised depictions of a fern.

The question is, what does a fern represent? What are the qualities of a fern that reflects our national identity?

Fern species, numbering several thousand, are found throughout the world, and are especially abundant in tropical rain forests. They are considered largely as being specialists in marginal habitats, often succeeding in places where other plants don’t.

So, not unique, but common, and survivors – I guess that is quite a good quality for an individual, but is it inspiring for a nation?

The history of heraldry is complex and the evolution of emblems and coats of arms to pennants and flags is a study beyond my blog capability. For my purposes, it is enough to know that, in a discussion about nationhood, we need more than just stylised emblems to represent our multi-cultural diversity. That is why even an elementary knowledge of the symbolism of heraldic colour is helpful.

redGules: Old French word for “throats” (English gullet).  Symbolic of nobility, boldness and ferocity and has strong military connotations.

blue      Azure: From Old French, signifies piety, sincerity, loyalty and chastity.

green     Vert: From the Latin ‘viridis’, symbolic of joy, youth, beauty, and loyalty in love.

black     Sable: Signifies knowledge, piety, constancy, serenity and work.

silvershield    Argent (silver): Represented by white, signifies peace, sincerity, innocence and purity.

purple    Purpure: Signifies justice, temperance and sovereignity.

goldshield Or (gold): Signifies glory, generosity, constancy and elevation of the mind.

First to the Light (Red Peak) is made up of: 11951393_1026136120752413_3264179686129089035_n
A Red ground symbolising boldness
A Black ground symbolising constancy
A Blue ground symbolising sincerity and loyalty
A Silver chevron symbolising peace

Those are the qualities of a nation I would be proud to call mine.

emblemsA country may have both a national flag and a national coat of arms, and the two may not look alike at all. Many nations have a seal or emblem in addition to a national flag and a national coat of arms. There is no reason why we cannot have the fern as our seal, coat of arms or emblem and have a different flag with colours symbolising the nobler qualities of our country as peace-makers, conquerors of mountains, and down to earth good sense.

The problem with having a national debate on changing the flag is that the tendency is toward simplistic side taking, whereas there is so much more to be considered. Flags are more than just pieces of coloured cloth used to create division amongst people, or to be waved at sporting events or commemorations

Flags were useful in wars, so you knew which side to kill. Sometimes flags are used as a form of protest against or in favour of a political idea. There are great revolutionary flags.

I have a family history of revolution.AxCoatBig My ancestors were Roundheads, three of whom were regicides involved in the execution of Charles I of England. My 9th great grandfather Daniel Axtell, who was hung, drawn and quartered for his actions, had a coat of arms which depicted 3 axes on an azure ground with the motto “Sub cruce gloriore” – “I glory in the cross”.

Standard_of_Oliver_Cromwell_(1653–1659).svgOliver Cromwell my 10th great uncle seemed to hedge his bets with his standard incorporating several symbolic concepts.

A flag can rally or it can divide, it can inspire or terrorise. When we vote on our nation’s flag, let us do so thoughtfully, carefully considering what we want it to say about us a people. Resist the temptation to settle for a gimmick, a marketing logo or a ‘patch’. Let the choice be for enduring qualities that speak of noble aspirations.

Here are some thoughts to bear in mind:

“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” Howard Zinn

“We have two … flags always: one for the rich and one for the poor. When the rich fly it means that things are under control; when the poor fly it means danger, revolution, anarchy.” Henry Miller

“The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” Paul Cezanne

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” John F. Kennedy

I will let Jimi Hendrix have the last word, his interpretation his nation’s flag.