Post 251

Star Crossed: Reflections on the Flags of Oceania


In Oceania, the cross shows up in many forms.

Everyone knows the flag of the International Red Cross. They adopted it in 1863, but it was already Tonga’s flag at the time. Did they know that Tonga already had that as its national flag? In response, Tonga changed its flag to its current design, which features what is called a Greek cross in the upper left canton. Tonga doesn’t want to change its flag again, however, and the constitution says the flag can never be altered.

The following flags get a cross by incorporating the flag of the United Kingdom (“the Union flag”): Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue and Tuvalu. As I said in the previous post, I’m not keen on flags that incorporate other flags. It’s too large a tribute to pay another nation. Do something else. Send them flowers or a fruit basket once a year or put a plaque at the base of some tree in your capital city.

Speaking of fruit, I honestly thought that the closest I would come to a banana would be the flag of Mauritania. The yellow crescent moon, in that position, reminded me of a banana. I didn’t tell you that before, but now I abandon my usual reserve. Little did I know that I would not get far before encountering genuine bananas and several other food products. The coat of arms placed on the flag of Fiji is busy. Wikipedia explains: “At the top of the shield, a British lion holds a cocoa pod between its paws. The upper left is sugar cane, upper right is a coconut palm, the lower left a dove of peace, and the lower right a bunch of bananas.” That sounds fabulous. What can you make with coconut, sugar, cocoa and bananas?

You can make a lot, seriously.

The cross also shows up in several Oceania flags in the form of the constellation known as “Crux,” or the Southern Cross. Australia has this, as does Papau New Guinea, New Zealand and Samoa. What do you think of having a constellation in your flag? While a cross works better than other shapes, I don’t think a flag is the place for a constellation. A constellation is not particular to one region; it represents the broadest of areas.

Tuvalu, however, has the right idea. They have an arrangement of stars, and at first sight, you believe that you’re looking at a constellation. However, those stars show the quantity and geographical position of the nation’s islands. The islands are represented by yellow stars, and the background is a light blue. Another point in Tuvalu’s favour is the colour of its stars; they’re yellow. Stars should be white or yellow, not red with white outlines (New Zealand’s flag has that).

Papau New Guinea has a disturbing black and red flag. To look at it is to wonder what type of creature is flying against the red background. I’ll tell you. It’s not a butterfly and it’s not a moth. This floppity thing is the Raggiana bird-of-paradise, which shows there’s a lot to be said about having a more recognizable bird on your flag if you need to have a bird (you don’t). As I said, it’s not easy to get animals right. Once you stylize them (here the bird is a yellow silhouette), they usually lose their attractiveness. On the opposite side of this flag is the southern cross.

Niue, which has the Union flag in the top left canton, added more stars to it, to represent, among other things, the Southern Cross. The technical name for this further decoration is to say that the Union Flag is “defaced.” Wikipedia comments: “It is very unusual for a flag based on a British ensign design, in having not only a yellow background, but also a defaced Union Jack in the canton.” I dislike it.

The Southern Cross is so commonly used in this region that other flags, almost subconsciously, feature a diamond-style arrangement of stars as well, and you have to look twice to see if it’s the constellation. The designer of the Solomon Islands flag specifically said that his arrangement was NOT the Southern Cross, thank you very much.

Constellations have always been a stretch for me. There’s a whole bunch of dots, and even when I connect them according to the package instructions, I still don’t wind up with that glorious image of a bear or an archer or a waiter walking in carrying champagne (and those stars right there are the bubbles).


Nauru’s flag looks strikingly upside-down. Is it the only flag with its primary emblem in the lower left section? I guess there was Cape Verde’s flag, but in that case, the emblem extended closer to the centre.

Why is it there? Okay, so this is the deal. That skinny line going across the middle is the equator. The star just below the equator represents the island nation of Nauru. Naura is just one degree south of the equator. Why is the star is so far to the left? WiseOne suggests that it might be because Naura is to the left of the nearby international date line. Let’s go with that.

I think this flag is highly amusing, in a good way. It begins as a complete mystery, but once you know what it depicts, you say, “Ohhhh!” and then you laugh.


Vanuatu’s flag looks like it has a snail on it, but it doesn’t. That’s a boar’s tusk. Boars are big on this flag. The top part is red in order to represent the blood of men and boars. Alrighty.


The flag of the Solomon Islands has five stars in the upper blue diagonal half. These are the stars that are not in the shape of the Southern Cross. It’s pretty good.

The flag of Marshall Islands is visually strong. So many flags try so desperately hard to be dynamic or exciting, but not many flags are. This one was designed by Emlain Kabua, the first lady of the new republic. The star manages to look bright, and the diagonal stripes widen as they go from the bottom left corner to the top right, creating a sense of motion. It’s similar to Nauru’s flag in that it refers to the island’s geographical position. The stripes represent the equator and the star represents the island.


There are three countries whose flags don’t fit.

The flag of the Federated States of Micronesia is blue and it has four stars representing the member states: Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap. They’re arranged on the flag like the points of a compass, but that’s not how they appear in reality. In reality, they are in a line. It’s fine.

Palau’s flag is blue with a big yellow disc on it. Nothing is what you expect with this one. The blue doesn’t represent the sky or the sea. It represents the transition from foreign domination to self-government, somehow. The big yellow disc is not the sun. It’s the moon. And worst of all, that big yellow disc isn’t in the middle. It’s ever so slightly to the left. Odd.

Kiribati has a bird and a sun and lotsa wavity waves. Big blue and white lines go up and down and up and down and the sky is red and the sun with wiggly rays is yellow and the bird is flyin.’ The bird is yellow from beak to tail and goes flap flap flap. The flag will flap and so will the bird. It’s a frigatebird. You don’t want the frigatebird on your flag – trust me. You’ve seen his type on those animal video documentaries, and I think I saw you laughing when you saw that “the males have inflatable red-coloured throat pouches called gular pouches, which they inflate to attract females during the mating season.” I heard your dismay when you heard that frigatebirds are known for their stealing of baby birds from other birds nests, and you seemed grossed out when I told you that they “will rob other seabirds of their catch, using their speed and manoeuvrability to outrun and harass their victims until they regurgitate their stomach contents.” Strange birds. The females are up to 25% larger than the males.

Kiribati is, you could say, a strange country. Until January 1, 1995, part of it was on one side of the International Date Line, and the other part of it was on the other side, which meant that one side was 24 hours ahead of the other. Kiribati decided that enough was enough and moved the International Date Line, which means that the International Date Line is now quite a bit stranger.

Up Next: Flags of South America