Eight world flags and their stories

2014-02-25 08:46
We see them on a daily basis, but do we ever really look at them? Flags of the world can be super fascinating when one starts delving into their design, history and meaning.

We take a look at eight of the most interesting.  


Bearing similar colours and shapes to our own flag (and many others in Africa), there’s one thing that really sets Mozambiques national regalia apart. It features a firearm and not just any firearm, the notorious AK47. Although it supposedly symbolizes the country’s bloody battle for independence, it just seems rather dooming – especially in the light of recent outbreaks of violence in the northern parts of the country. 


If you take a good, long look at the Brazilian flag you will find that it’s actually rather whimsical. Especially the blue ball in the middle with its randomly sprinkled stars. Well, here’s an interesting tidbit: the 26 stars, not only represent each of the country’s states, but are actually positioned exactly as they would have been on November 15, 1889 at 8:30pm over Rio de Janeiro, when several well-known constellations twinkled above the city.  


It’s no secret that the English and the French aren’t each others’ biggest fans. Now imagine trying to unite the two nations under the same flag. This was pretty much the challenge that faced Canadian leaders in the 60s, as the Red Ensign with the Union Jack was unpopular in the largely French Quebec. A flag redesign was proposed, with the first version sporting a red maple trefoil on a white background with two blue bands along the sides. Not hugely attractive, however, a redesign was proposed, which finally led to the current maple leaf. It was proclaimed on January 28, 1965 by Queen Elizabeth II and inaugurated on February 15 of the same year.

South Africa

South Africa has seen its fair share of flags – the 'Transvaal Vierkleur,' the Orange Free State flag, a couple of ensigns featuring the union Jack, and of course the ‘Oranje Blanje Blou.’ The latter was, however, so closely associated with the Apartheid regime that a new flag was commissioned in the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1994. The current flag was designed by state herald, Frederick Brownell, and was only supposed to be an interim flag. Its central design begins with a "V" form, flowing into a single horizontal band to the outer edge of the fly - interpreted as the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity. The theme of convergence and unity is said to tie in with the motto "Unity is Strength" of the previous South African Coat of Arms.   


Interestingly enough, Australia’s flag is the result of a competition held in 1901 where citizens were asked to submit their designs in exchange for £200. They were asked to follow a set of criteria, which included: loyalty to the Empire, Federation, history, heraldry, distinctiveness, utility, and cost of manufacture. It attracted 32 823 entries. Five near-identical entries were awarded equal first and the designers shared the cash prize. The flag was first flown in September 1901. 


While most world flags sport rather simplistic lines, Belize broke all sorts of design taboos with their complex and detail-heavy flag when they finally gained independence in 1981. While it has a full 12 colours represented, the main ones are blue, red and white - a motif that is often associated with freedom. It is also the only flag in the world featuring prominent human figures – two shirtless woodcutters on either side of the country’s coat of arms. All in all, the flag represents the country’s battle for autonomy, freedom and their focus on industry and trade.  


Along with the star-spangled banner, the good old Union Jack is probably the most recognizable flag in the world… maybe because it has been flown over so many nations colonized by the Brits. Interestingly the flag is a combination of heraldic symbols belonging to the patron saints of Scotland, England and Ireland - the blue and white saltire of Scotland's patron Saint Andrew, the red cross on white of England's Saint George and the red diagonal cross of Ireland's Saint Patrick.  


Nepal is a special place, with a special flag to emphasise its specialness. Yes, Nepal is the only country in the world with a non-quadrilateral national flag. Instead of the usual 90 degree angles, this one takes the form of two triangles on top of one another, symbolizing the famous peaks that draw hundreds of mountaineers on an annual basis, as well as the country’s two major religions – Hinduism and Buddhism. Set on a crimson background, two white symbols dominate the flag – a crescent moon representing calm and a sun, representing fierce resolve.  The flag's basic design has been around for more than 2 000 years, but the current version was first flown on December 16, 1962 with the formation of the country's new constitutional government. 

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