The Fiji government is seeking to change the national flag and wants all Fijians to participate in a national competition to design a new one. At the outset, it can be said that the government does have the authority to engage in this project, with the population at large, in a quest for a symbol of national unity. This was further anchored by H.E. The President’s assent, notwithstanding the divide it has caused, in the newest constitution of The Republic of Fiji.
As would be expected, the nation is divided on this matter. Part of the division arises of course from the adversarial nature of national politics. Statements from the Opposition in Parliament are querying the merit of such a project when the costs that will be incurred can be directed at more justifiable government development projects benefitting the wider population. There is also the need for a referendum for such an important project, echoes the Opposition. In the local media, the views expressed are mixed – some emotive. Others question the timing. This however raises the rhetorical question: when is the best time for such a project? The views can vary widely.
The division evident is not a good start to the project. Any national flag serves not only as a means of identity but also as a symbol for a country’s history and ideals – to engender unity, pride and service. The government must take note of the division that is emerging and take relevant actions that will bridge the divide and bring national unity in this important project, critical for nation building.
The task at hand is not only challenging. It is also exciting. The people’s sense of creativity and foresight are being solicited. The government has advanced its own criteria for the task: the Union Jack and the Coat of Arms (sic) are to be dropped. The latter should really refer to the escutcheon or the shield from the Coat of Arms. The full Coat of Arms is not depicted on the existing flag.
Dropping the Union Jack and the escutcheon implies that Fiji’s colonial history is not to be featured in the new flag. It is to be noted that the escutcheon contains the Cross of St. George with a gold lion on top: the latter is typically a British heraldic device. It follows also that iTaukei history cannot be reflected in the new flag. Removing the escutcheon from the new design also removes the ‘dove volant holding in the beak a branch of olive.’ The dove was taken from the flag of the Kingdom of Fiji (1871-74) under Ratu Cakobau, declared King of Fiji at the time. As such, it would be a safe bet that no history of Indian origin or of others would be acceptable in the new design. As per s.5.1 of the Constitution, all citizens of Fiji are now known as Fijians.
Removing the escutcheon also removes depiction of our natural resources and industries in the new flag. The ‘noble banner blue’ of the existing flag is also steeped in iTaukei history. It was the principal colour of the flag of the Kingdom of Fiji. It, too, has to be dropped. So essentially, dropping all those features will render the existing flag feature-less and colour-less. This means that designing a new flag is to start from scratch. It also means that we cannot ‘stand united under noble banner blue.’ The implication is that the national anthem needs changing as well.
What should be our modus operandi? We cannot look back to the past, at our history. That is declared a no-go-zone. Focusing at the present has its own challenges as well. Its transience only renders impermanency to any of our hankering of the moment, including of the utility we derive from our natural resources. The future is what we have to turn our attention to; to identify an ideal, an icon, an image that will serve the purpose to unify the nation and engender nationalistic fervor.
However, any future icon will still run the risk of transience if it is devoid of meaning, fascination and ownership. It is critical therefore that much thought and care should be directed at this national project. What is the ideal icon for Fiji? Sports have been unifying in the past. However, many people in Fiji do not play or are engaged in sports. In any case, it is doubtful whether such passion will continue if Fijian sports men and women stop getting into their winning ways. In the interest of constancy and fixity, we may have to resort to aspects of our geography or relevant cosmological features for an icon that will engender the unity, pride and willingness to serve that we all seek in our flag.
There is however a caveat. In the Pacific, our neighbors have gone through the process we are now undertaking. Should we be looking to capture an icon akin to our archipelagic and oceanic features, then we should at least be aware of what the iKiribati have on their blue/red/yellow/white flag, depicting the ocean and a rising sun. Should we be hankering for characteristic cosmological icons, then take note that the Southern Cross, including stylized forms, already appear on six flags of our neighbors; and various forms of stars appear on five others. This national project does indeed call for great imagination and creativity.