As of November 30th, 2021, Barbados became the latest country to become a Republic. Quite a few sections of the media have stated that Barbados and its Bajans effectively kicked the British Monarchy to the curb after quite a few hundred years. On taking a broad look at the process timeline, some may even say that this may have been started somewhat around the declaration of Independence back in 1966 when the country first became independent.
Of course, when you look at this you saw the emergence of the national symbols and one clearly distinct brand of Barbados is its flag. This national emblem raised for the first time in 1966 to signal an independent nation was raised yet again on the first minute of November 30th, 2021. However this time Barbados was now a republic, but let’s take a closer look at the Flag of Barbados, home of the latest national heroine Rihanna.
Over 1000 Designs Submitted
More than 50 years ago, and the year was 1966, and the government of the time obviously had to choose a flag to represent the island. Why go through this process? Barbados was at that time breaking away from being a dependent territory of England, thereby giving up the British flag as its standard. It now meant that Barbados now needed its own identity.
How do we do this? A brilliant idea occurred, where the nationals were asked to come up with a design, Whew!!!, no pressure, but guess what now, just a bit more than one thousand flag designs were received. In fact, the selection committee chosen had to go through 1,029 different design entries.
An Art Teacher
Designs were received by all and sundry yet of all the entries submitted, it was that of an Art Teacher that came out on top. That creative individual was no other than Mr Grantley Prescod, who was just about 40 years of age at the time. He seemed to have used the formulae KISS, (Keep It Simple Silly) in his creation of the National Symbol of Barbados. Additionally, the simplicity of the flag meant that a child can draw it from memory and it is easily relatable, and no complex symbols. The dimensions of the design made it that there is a height to length proportion ratio of 3:2.
The First Flag
The designer of the flag thought his job was done. That was until the prime minister of Barbados at that time, Errol W. Barrow, tasked Mr Prescod to – Go shopping – Choose suitable fabrics and respective colours, and make the very first flag of Barbados. In a 2002 interview with Prescod, he recalled that he had chosen “yards and yards of fabric material” and rather than make just one flag, he made seven. He had to engage his neighbour to sew the pieces together.
The flag of Barbados was said to have met the essential elements for good flag design, and this was according to vexillology standards. But what are these principles that seem to be so elusive in designing a flag, and as followed by our art teacher, Mr Prescod?
Keep It Simple: Yep – Got That! The flag of Barbados as designed consists of three vertical panels. Two of those panels are blue, or as many Bajans may tell you “Ultramarine” and one Gold Panel in the middle.
Use Meaningful Symbolism: Yep – Got That As Well! The Gold panel in the middle has sat on it a Broken Trident
The Blue (Ultramarine) Colours
Ask any citizen, and they will proudly tell you the symbolism and the inspiration behind the Barbados flag. One of the first things they will speak of is the significance of the ultramarine. Barbados is an island nation and when you visit it at any time of the year, it is always summer, and therefore you have blue skies. What better way to represent this year-round blue sky than in the flag. With such an intensely blue colour in the sky, then the pristine waters surrounding the island reflect this very same colour as well. Often on a very clear day, one can stand on any beach and look out to the horizon and see the blue sky meeting the blue waters.
The Centre Panel – Gold
Meanwhile, the gold in the centre vertical panel represents the golden sand beaches. In the centre of that golden colour is also found the broken trident. This is symbolic in a few ways. The Trident of Poseidon is the magical weapon that grants power and the right to rule over the sea, and its tidal flow as well as to control the creatures of the sea. Barbados is surrounded by water, as it sits simultaneously on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. If you notice, however, the trident is broken.
The Broken Trident
The three points of the trident represent three principles of democracy, those points being 1) Government of the people; 2) Government for the people and 3) Government by the people. The trident symbol originally was much longer and represented Barbados’ colonial insignia and its ties with Britain. Why is the trident broken? Its lower shaft is broken to signify the breakaway of Barbados from Britannia or the separation from the British Colonies, thereby representing independence, quite poignant for the birth of a nation.
On Raising the First Flag
Raising the flag some 55 years ago was Hartly Dottin, who was a young lieutenant of the Barbados Regiment. This occasion took place at the historic Garrison Savannah, and on that night in 1966, it was torrents of rain and the area was flooded. Some persons reflected that they stood so long as the first flag raising occurred that they as young soldiers became stuck in the mud by their boots.
It is even said that the prime minister, Errol W. Barrow told a young Lieutenant Dottin, “Best of luck to you” on the signal of raising the flag. Quite symbolic every year is that some amount of rainfall occurs. This also happened this year even though the showers were light, as Barbados transitioned into a Republican status.
The Largest Barbados Flag
In 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Barbados, there was a ceremony held on the historic Garrison Savannah, the original site where the flag was first raised. It was now at this time that an oversized and also recognised as the largest Barbados flag on the island was raised. The flag on this site actually makes up part of a sun-dial. During the ceremony, a time capsule was planted here and is set to be opened in 2066. The location of this oversized Barbados flag is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Barbados Flag Etiquette
As with anything of significance you have to have some general guidelines of how you treat the flag of Barbados. As such the flag is not flown beyond 6 pm in the evening on the outdoors unless it is floodlit. Where several flags are flown from one general area, the Barbados Flag shall be at its peak. As with recent celebrations, if the flag is carried in a parade and with any other flag, the Barbados flag should be on the marching right of the other flag. However, if it is part of a collection or line of flags the flag of Barbados should be in the centre and to the front line of that entire collection/line of flags.
On the night of Barbados transitioning into a new republic, these last bits of rules were observed, and of very much pride was the point on the peak of the parliament buildings and having the national flag blowing in the wind. It was quite well lit and at midnight when the island has declared a republic – many eyes turned towards the flag as the clock struck midnight, in the capital city of Bridgetown.
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Ryan is a born and bred bajan musician, composer and arranger, who also owns several lifestyle blogs.