On our way back down the mountains to the Haitian capital Port au Prince, we run into a group of enthusiastic young people. They’re dressed mainly in red and blue – the colours of the Haitian flag – and some of the young women even wear matching eyeshadow (see right).
That’s patriotism of a sort not generally seen.
The exuberant crowd was marching, playing trumpets, riding a couple of frisky horses up and down the route.
It was, we learnt, a preview of Haitian Flag Day, adopted on May 18, 1803 at Arcahaie, a municipality about fifty miles north of Port au Prince.
The story goes that Haiti’s great revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines created the flag by taking the French tricolor and ripping out the white centre (perhaps to signify the end of white dominance?). He asked that the red and blue bands be sewn back to together – the blue representing Haiti’s black citizens and the red for the people of colour.
It is always heartening to see the love a people bear their national flag, the US and Turkey being particularly important examples.
Interesting to note that the whole idea of having a flag at all grew out of the battlefield, when shields were painted with emblems to identify friend or foe. In order for warriors to know where their leaders were, – the custom of carrying a pole with an emblem was adopted. Those emblems were the forerunners of modern flags, the Romans becoming the first to use cloth flags. More interesting still, the very word ‘flag’ is derived from the old Saxon word “fflaken,” which means to fly or to float in the air.
For Haiti’s flag day, May 18, many dreams and aspirations will float in the air too – just as much as the flags.