Post 252

Sunburn: Reflections on the Flags of South America


Brazil’s flag is, well, strange. It features the stars arranged as they were at such-and-such a time on such-and-such a date in November of 1889. They’re not arranged the way anybody would have seen them, but rather, they’re arranged the way someone looking down from the other side of all the stars towards Rio de Janeiro would have seen them. That’s why the Southern Cross looks reversed. (It’s there, however, and that’s why it’s in this category.) Even with my limited knowledge of such things, I know that this gets tricky really quickly. Where, exactly, would you position this hypothetical observer? You have to make sure that all the stars are in front of him, which would mean that the stars closer to him would look really bright and big, while the stars further away from him would look smaller. These stars are on a deep blue background shaped like a sphere. This sphere appears tilted, as if on an axis, and reminds you of Earth, except that when you look for the land masses, you see none. This blue star-speckled sphere is then placed on a yellow rhombus. The background of the flag is green and a banner is wrapped around the blue sea or earth or sky.


The upper half of Colombia’s flag is yellow, and the lower half is equal parts blue and red. After looking at flags divided into equal horizontal thirds, the Colombian flag looks off-balance, but once you get used to thinking in terms of halves and quarters, it works. The colours are good here and suited to a South American country.


Ecuador’s flag has a coat of arms in the middle, the kind where you zoom in to see it better, and then you keep zooming because there are so many details. It’s kind of funny, because as I zoom in on the ship, finding details upon details, I half expect to see a loaf of bread with some cheese somewhere in this picture. I really like details in paintings. Do I like them in flags? Flags are trickier because you hope that the population could draw it reasonably well from memory, and if your flag incorporates teensy-weensy lines on the surface of a body of water to represent waves, and tufts of grass outlined just so, then getting it right isn’t easy. But more importantly, the success of details depends on what the details are. I don’t mind this steamboat on water scene, with the mountain in the back. I like the draping flags. There are a large number of pointy weapons, from what I can tell.

However, I could do without the smiley-faced sun and the astrological symbols and the Caduceus (staff with intertwined snakes). As for the big vulture atop the coat of arms, well, do I really need to talk about birds again?

Oh great. Bolivia has a condor too. I guess there’s no escaping him. Here’s another coat of arms featuring a mountain scene. This one has an alpaca standing next to a palm tree and some wheat. There’s a collection of weapons (two rifles and an axe), and the sun has two eyes. This sun is red, however, and has eyebrows. You can’t see the sun’s nose or mouth because he’s behind the mountain.

Argentina’s flag is blue and white, but in the middle is a golden sun with a face on it. He looks like the same guy who was rising in the Bolivian flag – same eyebrows and eyes. It’s not a good idea to have a face in the sun on your flag. It’s just not.

Uruguay’s stripey flag has the same sunshiney face that Argentina does, which wrecks it. Some say that this “Sun of May,” is a reference to the time the sun broke through the clouds when the new government was proclaimed, but I believe the alternate theory that the “Sun of May” is the Inca sun god Inti. The sun that broke through the clouds that day didn’t have a face.

Four countries have Inti on them: Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay. Argentina and Uruguay have him huge and on his own, but Ecuador and Bolivia have him as part of the landscape, sort of.

Venezuela’s flag is nice. It has three horizontal bands of equal size. The middle band is blue and has an arc of stars representing different states, which is one of these ideas which sounds good at first, but then winds up causing a hassle when new states are carved out of existing ones. Things get political and then you have to change your flag. Using your nation’s geography can work better, but borders of states and nations have been known to change from time to time, to put it mildly. Venezuela’s flag has its own anthem and student’s oath.

The flag of Suriname, which would have been pretty good in the context of the flags of Asia, is still not particularly appealing, looking like a less precise version of North Korea’s flag. On the plus side, it doesn’t have a sun with a face in it.

Paraguay’s flag is red, white and blue. It’s unusual because it has one style of emblem on the front and a different style of emblem on the back. There’s a lion on one side. He’s sitting up and looking to the left. He’s not happy. His tongue is sticking out and his teeth are on it. He’s biting his tongue, you could say. He has lots of pointy claws. On a pole is a little red hat, which is the Phrygian cap. Hats almost never work. I like the front side better – some leaves tied with ribbons, a yellow star and “REPUBLICA DEL PARAGUAY” going around the circle.


Guyana’s flag has a triangle on top of a triangle. All these pointy points seem pointless.


Peru has, arguably, one flag too many. The one that can be used by the citizens has a central vertical section of white, and red on both sides of this. The citizens are to use this one, which has no emblem. The other flag has an emblem in the middle, and that’s the one that is used for anything official. Let’s take a look at the emblem. The emblem has the vicuña, the national animal, the cinchona tree and a cornucopia with coins spilling from it. I think it’s the only flag we’ve seen with money on it. And how do you feel about cornucopias in general? The ‘horn of plenty’’ is quite filled with this and that mythology, which is not a plus. Here at the flag design school, students are discouraged from using them, especially with coins spilling out of them.


Chile’s flag has the elements of the American flag, but only one of each. One big red stripe, one big white stripe and one white star on a dark blue upper-left canton. The Chileans sometimes refer to their flag as the Lone Star. It’s the fifth oldest flag in the world, after Denmark, Netherlands, Nepal, France and the United Kingdom.


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