Thursday, April 13, 2006

Four Hundred years of the Butcher's Apron/Rice Flag (*)

union jack
With its striking design and its long and chequered history associated with the British Empire, the union jack is one of the world’s most recognisable flags.

Four-hundred years old this week (yesterday to be exact), the union jack is one of the world's oldest national flags... if you overlook the fact it's only meant to be flown at sea, the proportions are wrong and no one can agree on its name.

Its striking red, white and blue design harks back to a time when Britannia ruled the waves, but the history of the union jack is as tangled as all the mothballed bunting it decorates.

It is a story about custom over clarity, assumption over assertion, anomaly instead of consistency.

In the words of union jack historian Malcolm Farrow, "a mish-mash - but what do you expect from the British constitution?"

Even its real name has been known to pitch grown men into heated argument, 400 years after the flag's creation.

On 12 April 1606, a new flag to represent this personal union between England and Scotland was specified in a royal decree, according to which the flag of England (a red cross with a white background, known as St George's Cross) and the flag of Scotland (a white saltire with a blue background, known as the Saltire or Saint Andrew's Cross) would be "joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects."

origins of the union jack
Even with the demise of the British Empire, the union jack still appears on the flags of four independent countries (Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu and Fiji) but also appears on a number of flags representing regions and British colonies:
Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Columbia, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Canadian Red Ensign, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Falkland Islands, Hawaii, Manitoba, New South Wales, Ontario, Pitcairn Islands, Queensland, Saint Helena, South Australia, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tasmania, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, Victoria, Western Australia

old south african flagUntil 1994, when the flag was completely replaced, it also appeared on the South African flag. As far as I know, there’s only one place in South Africa where that flag still flies in an ‘official’ capacity and that is over the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. The Castle (its foundation stones were laid in 1666) replaced Jan van Riebeeck’s fort, Cape Town’s first building and, as a result, has existed through all the South African political dispensations. To reflect this, six flags fly over the castle: Dutch, British, Dutch, British, old South African, new South African.

Although the union jack was more of a naval flag at the time of the first British occupation (1795-1803) and may not have been used to indicate land possession, for most of that period the union jack would have been the original union flag (the current one came into being in 1801) that didn’t incorporate St Patrick’s cross. As far as I’m aware, the two British flags flying over the castle are both the current union flag.

For those of you who are Rocky Horror fans, you'll remember the dinner scene where Eddie gets eaten. Little flags decorate the food, including the old South African one. It’s strange that it should be included as South Africa was already a pariah state at the time the film was made (1975). Ironically, however, much of that scene was cut when it was first shown in South Africa, the censors not being too fond of anything that smacked of cannibalism. A few months later, the film was banned altogether.

(*) Butcher's Apron / Rice Flag

  • Butcher's Apron: sometimes used by Irish nationalists.
  • Rice flag: nickname used by the Chinese as the pattern looks like the Chinese symbol for rice.


Blogger Babsbitchin said...

Noamd, I actually never knew all that. Very interesting and enlightening, really!xoxo

12:38 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

babs: it's very sweet of you to say that one of my dry, boring flag posts is enlightening! It's the anniversary of S Africa's first democratic elections in 2 week's time so you can expect to have another one soon.

Hey, stop, I caught you yawning there!!

12:46 pm  
Blogger Terri said...

Wow, you are just a mine of information, aren't you. The SA flag feature in The Rocky Horror Picture Show??? Hm, will have to watch it again sometime, must've missed that part.
And actually, this post is not boring, strangely enough :)

12:58 pm  
Blogger whatalotoffun said...

The old flag I still have one bought it at KKKNK stands for Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees its only Afrikaans artist that preforms in Oudshoorn. It runs for about 10 days. They block about 5 street off for the feist. Its a must not to miss feist.
I dont find your blog borring either. I learn alot from it. Its like being in school again I liked school alot.

2:43 pm  
Blogger whoami123 said...

We work like a horse.
We eat like a pig.
We like to play chicken.
You can get someone's goat.
We can be as slippery as a snake.
We get dog tired.
We can be as quiet as a mouse.
We can be as quick as a cat.
Some of us are as strong as an ox.
People try to buffalo others.
Some are as ugly as a toad.
We can be as gentle as a lamb.
Sometimes we are as happy as a lark.
Some of us drink like a fish.
We can be as proud as a peacock.
A few of us are as hairy as a gorilla.
You can get a frog in your throat.
We can be a lone wolf.
But I'm having a whale of a time!

You have a riveting web log
and undoubtedly must have
atypical & quiescent potential
for your intended readership.
May I suggest that you do
everything in your power to
honor your encyclopedic/omniscient
Designer/Architect as well
as your revering audience.
As soon as we acknowledge
this Supreme Designer/Architect,
Who has erected the beauteous
fabric of the universe, our minds
must necessarily be ravished with
wonder at this infinate goodness,
wisdom and power.

Please remember to never
restrict anyone's opportunities
for ascertaining uninterrupted
existence for their quintessence.

There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity
under heaven. A time to be
born and a time to die. A
time to plant and a time to
harvest. A time to kill and
a time to heal. A time to
tear down and a time to
rebuild. A time to cry and
a time to laugh. A time to
grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones
and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a
time to turn away. A time to
search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to
throw away. A time to tear
and a time to mend. A time
to be quiet and a time to
speak up. A time to love
and a time to hate. A time
for war and a time for peace.

Best wishes for continued ascendancy,
Dr. Whoami

P.S. One thing of which I am sure is
that the common culture of my youth
is gone for good. It was hollowed out
by the rise of ethnic "identity politics,"
then splintered beyond hope of repair
by the emergence of the web-based
technologies that so maximized and
facilitated cultural choice as to make
the broad-based offerings of the old
mass media look bland and unchallenging
by comparison."

4:33 pm  
Blogger andrea said...

That last one was quite a comment! As for me, I come here to be edu-ma-cated and am never disappointed. I have a funny video clip (hot dogs for homophobes) if you're interested: email me.

5:42 pm  
Anonymous patita said...

I also enjoy the flag posts. It's the kind of stuff that normally gets ignored, but can reveal a lot about a place. We should understand these strange symbols! Never heard of the rice flag, but I like it.

8:05 pm  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

I don't know how you do it, but you make even the story of the flag interesting.

I enjoyed the post too about the Dutch and Founders Day in St. Africa.

What got me was that comment that they changed the names of the streets, costed thousands, people starving, but they did it.

2:10 am  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

Nomad, absolutely no lip service here. That was a publishable piece. I found it interesting in presentation with a slather of intrigue and what if's such as St. Patricks never being added. I'm in to stuff like this it is the South African history that you have such a clear advantage in. It is rather complex and as I get older it seems more understandable but still eludes me. You have that home field advantage too Nomad! MWAH!
P.S. But I wouldn't take me too seriously. Did you see how I spelled your name before? Damn that vodka, damn it to hell, ooooooooh!

5:03 am  
Anonymous xmichra said...

Wicked post. You know, things like this is the reason i come here! Honestly.. you trudge up some seriously cool stuff.

My brother and I were facinated with the se encyclopedias my mother bought.. and for fun (we were silly) we would 'test' each other on the flags of the world. So this info on the Union Jack (which is what we call it) was really captivating to me.


5:11 am  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

Now how does this flag correspond the national anthem?

7:17 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

terri: now I know how to turn you on...I'll whisper sweet flat trivia into your ear ;-)

whatalotoffun: you loved school????!!!! You mad woman, you!

whoami: I'm a bit stunned after that.

andrea: I love edu-ma-cating you! And, yes, I am interested so I'll email you soon.

patita: I hadn't heard about it either and I also like the image.

guyana-gyal: they haven't changed all the names, only those of really dodgy apartheid figures like Verwoerd. I can see why some names get changed but changing all just for the sake of it is stupid - it negates the past and is too expensive for a country that needs the money for other things

babs: NEVER damn vodka! It's the saviour of many a man (and woman)! :-)

xmichra: glad you enjoyed it. I also call it the union jack as, I think , most people do.

rob: which national anthem? God save the Queen?

10:47 am  
Blogger JP said...

You continue to educate me, I enjoyed reading about our flag...although I have no loyalty to it.

1:08 pm  
Blogger Rob7534 said...

Yes, the history of God Save the Queen.

1:15 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

jp: I'm glad that you are still receptive to education! :-)

rob: I'll look into it.

5:18 pm  
Blogger Phidoux said...

Thanks for the info on the Union Jack - I've always thought it was one of the world's nicest flags.


2:46 am  
Blogger whatalotoffun said...

not the books all the nonsense we could come up with. All my friends. Now you dont even see half of them. Mad you calling me mad!!! watch it ok JOKES

9:14 am  
Blogger CTG said...

Hi Nomad. Thanks for this information. Brings back vague memories of History classes at school. The old SA flag still flies at the Castle. Hope your Easter was good. CTG

3:18 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

You should check out pics of my classroom here in Beijing at for flags- the old SA flag is hanging among them all.

11:43 am  

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