For the love of flags

A recent TED talk caught my attention, primarily because the presenter is seemingly as obsessed with flags as I am. Roman Mars waxes eloquent about design concepts as applied to flags, and talks about how banners are unifying instruments which can bring groups of people together in various situations. I have always loved learning about flags and their symbolism. Growing up, one of my favourite games during long car trips with my parents and my brother, was describing and guessing flags. Another one was guessing capital cities. There was also I-spy and another favourite – adding up the numbers on car registration plates, as a competition between my brother and I to see who was fastest at mental computations (I usually lost). Suffice to say though, with such an upbringing, it’s no surprise that I’ve gone on to have a career in academia. But I digress.

Back to the topic of flags. One of the most-thumbed encyclopaedias in my house is The World Encyclopedia of Flags: The Definitive Guide to International Flags, Banners, Standards and Ensigns. I remember spending hours upon hours pouring over the fascinating world of pennants, banners, standards, ensigns, streamers, and the symbolism associated with colours, emblems, representations and images. Who knows – I might very well have possibly grown up to become a vexillologist (from the Latin word vexillum, meaning flag or banner) were it not for the innate educationist in me. Nevertheless, vexillology still remains a hobby for me, and indeed others too. There are some fascinating resources for those who might be interested in funny trivia about flags, anecdotes of flag mix-ups and world records and historical overviews of the flags of British counties. Despite the vast array of flags that we as individuals align ourselves with – be they national, civil, provincial, diplomatic, social, religious, linguistic, professional or institutional – the main representation which most of us proudly associate with, is that of the country to which we belong.

The Kenyan flag, that I am proud to represent, was officially adopted on December 12, 1963. The colour black represents the indigenous people of the Republic of Kenya, red for the blood shed during the struggle for independence, green for the country’s natural resources and fertile landscape and the white fimbriation was added later to symbolize unity, peace and honesty. The black, red, and white traditional Maasai shield and two spears symbolize the defence of all the things mentioned above. Growing up in Kenya, I fondly recall, following the offical flag-hoisting ceremony and recitation of the National Anthem, chiming in collectively with the rest of the school during Friday morning assemblies to recite the (now-withdrawn) ‘Nyayo Philosophy of Peace Love and Unity and the Loyalty Pledge‘:

“I pledge my loyalty to the President and the nation of Kenya. My readiness and duty to defend the flag of our Republic. My devotion to the words of our National Anthem. My life and strength in the task of our Nation’s building. In the living spirit embodied in our national motto – Harambee!* And perpetuated in the Nyayo** philosophy of peace, love and unity.”

*Harambee: Kenya’s national motto; Swahili for “Let us all pull together”

**Nyayo: Motto for Kenyan’s original political party, KANU; Swahili word for “footsteps”

The pledge was withdrawn after Kenya evolved into a political multi-party state in the 90s. Nevertheless, the pride and self-identity instilled in me with respect to hoisting the flag of my country, and accompanied singing of the National Anthem whilst standing at attention, remains as indomitable as ever. I leave you with a rendition of it:

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

One thought on “For the love of flags

  1. Pingback: Life is short, make it count | Saneeya Qureshi

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