Thursday, January 21, 2016

What the flags mean

The latest video from the Flag Consideration Project, above, tells us about the symbolism of both the current New Zealand Flag and the alternative silver fern flag design that will be in the referendum in March. It’s a useful video.

In the course of the flag debates, I’ve run across plenty of people who are absolutely convinced that the silver fern is nothing but a symbol for the All Blacks. When told that it’s on all the tombstones of New Zealand soldiers lying in war graves overseas, such people deal with that fact by simply ignoring it. This video underscores how the silver fern has been a symbol of New Zealand since long before the All Blacks ever existed.

The current flag is a creation of New Zealand’s colonial past and cements the country as a colony of the British Empire. That the story in the symbolism, particularly for the Southern Cross, evolved doesn’t change the fact that the flag of the nation of New Zealand is basically the flag of the colony of New Zealand.

Partly because of that, the colours are important. The brighter blue of the silver fern design furthers the break from the country’s colonial past made most noticeable by removing the United Kingdom’s Union flag and adding the silver fern symbol of New Zealand. Yet the red and white of the Southern Cross stars—the only part of the original flag to remain unchanged—unites this new flag with the current one, and even nods toward the British flag’s red and white elements.

This video is too long to be a commercial, and being a web video, I don’t know how many people will actually see it. That’s a shame, because to make a considered choice between the two flags, it’s important to know what the symbolism means and refers to. For the same reason, it’s also important to understand both the history of the current flag, and of the silver fern as a symbol of New Zealand.

In any case, this could be an interesting couple of months.

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