Cat Flag Answers YOUR Flag Questions!

I love flags. You probably knew that, given that I named my blog Cat FLAG, and that I have written numerous blog posts about flags over the years. Today, however, I’m sharing my love of flags with you by answering YOUR questions about these magnificent sheets of colored cloth.

What’s the story behind Australia and NZ’s flags – why are they so similar?

The Flag of New Zealand…
…and the Flag of Australia!

Because the original plan was for New Zealand to be a part of Australia!

Back in the days when the sun never set on the mighty British Empire, the Royal Navy was in need of more ships to defend and support the Empire’s far-flung colonies across the globe, so Parliament passed a law allowing the Royal Navy to use local ships funded, built, and crewed by the colonies themselves as a reserve force. The Royal Navy then advised the colonies that any ships they maintained for this purpose should fly a variation of the Blue Ensign – a plain blue banner with the Union Jack in the upper-hoist quadrant – that included some identifying local symbol. New Zealand decided their local symbol would be the Southern Cross constellation, owing to its location in the Southern Hemisphere.

Later, a plan was put in place to unite all the British colonies in the region known at the time as “Australasia” into one colonial federation. Negotiations were held between the colonies of Fiji, New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia to hammer out the details of this federation. Ultimately, Fiji and New Zealand both backed out of these negotiations. Even so, when the new “Commonwealth of Australia” was formed from the remaining six colonies, their constitution listed New Zealand as one of the “States of Australia.”

Shortly after the Commonwealth’s creation, a competition was held to design a flag for Australia. Five entrants were declared “co-winners” for all designing something very similar to the flag Australia adopted. The new flag featured the Southern Cross, just like New Zealand, but had an additional star called the “Commonwealth Star” on the lower-hoist side representing the union.

The similarity to the New Zealand flag bothered nobody for two reasons. First, the flag had two variants – one with a blue background, and one with a red background. The Australian Red Ensign was actually the more widely-used design until the 1950’s, when the Australian Blue Ensign became more popular. The second reason was that everyone expected New Zealand to eventually relent and join Australia, but New Zealand never did. They wanted guarantees that the rights of the Maori people, enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi, would be honored by this new Australian government. Given how Australia ended up treating its aboriginal population in the 20th century, it seems New Zealand made the right choice.

Why does Greenland have it’s own flag? Aren’t they someone’s protectorate?

Yes, Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. For now.

However, it is actually quite common these days for colonies, protectorates, and autonomous regions to have their own distinct flags asserting their local identity. Around the world, most “dependent territories”, as these political entities are called in diplomacy-speak, have a flag of their own. Here are just a few:

The flag of Aruba, a Dutch protectorate
The flag of Easter Island/Rapa Nui, a colony of Chile
The flag of French Polynesia
The flag of Gibraltar. Note that it gets its own flag even though it insists on remaining under British rule.
The flag of Hong Kong, a “Special Administrative Region” under Chinese rule, whether they want to be or not.

Why was Libya’s old flag just straight up green?

Yes, this was once the flag of Libya.

For that, Libyans had their former dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi to thank. When he seized power in 1969, he was one of many political leaders in the Middle East inspired by the then-popular idea of Arab nationalism – unifying all Arab countries into a single super-nation that would be strong enough to resist the West. When this idea fell apart, Qaddafi decided to invent his own ideology, publishing a manifesto called The Green Book to promote it and indoctrinate the Libyan people. Perhaps you can see where this is going.

Green is a color commonly associated with Islam, since it was the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite color. In the early history of Islam, the Fatmid caliphs who ruled in North Africa (including Libya) used a plan green banner. By adopting this flag, an increasingly eccentric Qaddafi was trying to symbolically link himself with his nation’s Islamic past. Of course, as soon as he was overthrown and killed, the Libyan people promptly ditched the flag of his brutal regime.

Why aren’t more flags nonrectangular, like Nepal?

Once upon a time, flags could be all kinds of shapes. Ancient Roman legions used a square banner called a “vexillum” that hung horizontally from a special pole affixed to a lance. In feudal Japan, a samurai would affix a tall, thin, rectangular flag called a “Sashimono” to his back while on the battlefield. The Venetian Republic used a flag with streamers trailing from it:

St. Joan of Arc’s armies fought under this banner:

During the 18th and 19th centuries, however, the idea of nationalism started rising to prominence in Europe and the Americas, and horizontally-oriented rectangular flags became one of the standard symbols of these new nation-states. Everyone had to have one! As the idea of nationalism spread, every new country that was created or gained its independence adopted a rectangular flag, since that was just the expectation of every nationalist movement.

This occurred at the same time as the Industrial Revolution, as mass production became the norm for the manufacturing of most goods, including flags. Then and today, the vast majority of flags are sewn in factories that pump out thousands of flags to meet public demand. The equipment used to manufacture these flags is pretty standardized as well, making manufacturing easier and cheaper. This means that a standardized shape for all flags is just easier on flag-makers. Oddly-shaped flags like that of Nepal or Ohio are a real pain for the companies that make flags, as they would have to adjust their equipment to be able to print a non-rectangular shape. That is, unless the manufacturer just prints the design on a plain white flag, expecting you, the customer, to cut off the excess cloth yourself. Yes, this is a real practice among flag-makers.

Which are your top 5 favorite flags and why? I’m guessing you have several favorites.

Yes, I do! I’m not entirely sure I could narrow it down to five favorite flags of all time, but what I can do is list my favorite flags from five categories.

My favorite U.S. state flag would have to be Arizona:

Not only does it look cool, it is packed with symbolism of Arizona’s history. The copper star represents the mining industry, the red and gold represent Spain, the 13 sunrays represent the original Thirteen Colonies, and the blue represents the Colorado River.

My favorite tribal flag is that of the Oglala Sioux:

It’s a circle of tipis in the shape of a sun! I love that.

My favorite flag of a foreign country would have to be the Union Jack:

So iconic! It is also very neat because it fuses three flags, representing England, Scotland, and Ireland, without looking like a broken mish-mash.

My favorite historical flag would have to be the Cross of Burgundy:

This was the flag used by Spanish explorers and conquistadores in the 16th century. I like how it is a creative variant of an otherwise simple saltire (X-shaped flag)

My favorite proposed flag is this suggestion for a future Flag of Mars, currently used by the Mars Society:

This flag was designed by Pascal Lee, a NASA engineer. It represents the possible stages of terraforming Mars from a red, hostile, alien planet to a hospitable blue planet like Earth.

Lastly…

Do you have a “spirit” flag? Like a spirit animal, but with flags?

Thank you to all you Cat Flaggers who sent me questions!

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