Flags today are primarily something to wave while yelling something at a sporting event, or something to roll yourself up in before attending a town council meeting, or to express yourself in some other, more subtle way. While most flags are fairly simple and convey a clear message, others can be a little busy… or just plain incoherent. Here are ten notably weird flags from today, yesterday and tomorrow.
Strictly speaking, this is the flag of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, a confusing mouthful of Communist and Muslim buzzwords that represented Muammar Gaddafi’s desire to unify the two opposing systems of Soviet totalitarianism and Islamic theocracy. Or at least his desire to continue receiving money and arms from both systems while never really supporting either.
The color green has deep significance to many Muslims, being associated with the color of paradise and with the flags of the original prophet Muhammad, and by lucky coincidence was closely tied to the Tripolitania region of Libya.
So ,when it came time to roll out the philosophies of Gaddafi’s “Green Book," the old Republic triband was dipped in green and Gaddafi started making speeches in a keffiyeh. After Muammar had an unfortunate encounter with a bayonet, Libya went back to the flag of the Kingdom of Libya, a rather classy red-black-green triband with white star and crescent.
BENIN (OR ITSEKIRI)
The best and most concise description of this flag probably comes from the British National Maritime Museum which displays it: “A red wool bunting flag with a linen hoist, machine sewn with a rope halyard attached. The design is applied in white fabric with painted details, representing a naked man decapitating another with a sword.”
Yes indeed, that is totally two naked dudes in a very one-sided fight; one wonders why the naked dude without the sword didn’t just run away. The origin of the flag is much more confusing: While popularly labeled “Flag of the Benin Empire” and indeed captured during a British raid on said city, the flag is said to be very similar to flags born by the allied Itsekeri forces.
At this point, the issue is moot, as Benin has long since been absorbed by Nigeria and by now everyone understands that the proper reaction to a nude man with a sword is to flee immediately.
Guam — a Western Pacific American territory covered in tree snakes, Japanese tourists and the military — depends primarily on tourism for its income, so the design of their flag makes a certain amount of sense.
“You want palm trees? We got palm trees. How about a sailboat? Bam, sailboat right there. Now, just in case you forgot where you’re going, we’re gonna print the name of the island right there in the center, see? G-U-whoops, tree’s in the way-A-M. What about the rest of the flag? Eh, whatever, we don’t have much else to talk about on this island. Watch out for snakes, I guess.”
While having absolutely no legal or official bearing, this oddly clashing tricolor has been adopted by the Mars Society and the Planetary Society as a sort of publicity stunt for Martian colonization efforts, and as such flies proudly over Mars simulation and research stations in Utah and Devon Island, Canada.
The three colors are supposed to represent the three stages of colonization: settlements on a bare, rust-red unterraformed Mars; the creation of green spaces under domes and craters, and finally the blue oceans of a fully converted Mars.
These colors recall the popular SF trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars by author Kim Stanley Robinson, but we can’t help but feel it would be a bit more compelling if it had some sort of ravenous space dragon on it.
ISLE OF MAN
Yeeaugh! The Isle of Man, a pleasant island in the Irish Sea known for cats and motorcycle races, is represented by one of the oldest and weirdest European symbolic motifs: the triskelion.
The triskelion is typically a combination of three spirals but in this case is represented by three bent, armored legs, for reasons which have been lost to history but were probably still weird even at the time.
Dating back to the European Iron Age, the triskelion is popularly associated with early Irish and Gaelic cultures but has been seen as far south as the Mediterranean, possibly due to the three legs jumping off of the flag and running at incredible speeds across the Iberian Peninsula.
A huge and sparsely populated municipality of Quebec containing the world’s largest and most powerful hydroelectric power complex, the Municipalite de Baie-James was recently dissolved and reorganized as the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory after an agreement with the local Cree natives.
As a result, the municipality’s oddly unsettling flag—combining the terrifying power of hydroelectricity with the knowing gaze of an Arctic owl—is now a collector’s item.
Will the fierce Hydroelectric Owl swoop down on the dreams of Quebecois and Cree legislators like they were so many terrified raccoons? It’s hard to say for sure, but we will go ahead and say that yes, that is absolutely what is going to happen.
Nepal’s flag is the only one in the world that isn’t quadrilateral. Why? Because screw you, that’s why, and also because the tiny country’s location on the peaks and high valleys of the Himalayas are echoed by the jagged twin-pennant design.
The blue border symbolizes peace while the red is the color of the rhododendron, Nepal’s national flower; the moon represents both soothing calm and the cool temperature of the Himalayan highlands, while the sun represents fierce resolve and the relatively warmer temperature of Nepal’s lower foothills.
Fun fact: The sun and moon both used to feature little people faces until 1962, when the decision was made to “modernize” the flag by making it much less cute. Boo!
Those of you who still have retinas might remark on how remarkably, uh, colorful the flag of the Province of Antwerp is. Up until 1997, the province was represented by a rather blah tricolor that saw so little use that some provincial authorities were said to have forgotten it existed.
Recognizing a need for a memorable flag, historians looked to Antwerp’s past as part of the Brabant provinces, known for their colorful checkered flags, and combined the three color combinations of Antwerp (red-white), Mechelen (yellow-red), and Turnhout (blue-white) into an … arresting … display of regional pride.
The flag is now a crucial part of the Belgian defense system, being flown at times of national emergency in order to stun and confuse invading armies.
There are many good options when you’re looking to put together a really threatening flag—lions, dragons, eagles, lion-dragon-eagle hybrids—but when Mozambique’s Soviet-influenced FRELIMO party gained power in June of 1975 they decided to really embrace modernity with a silhouette of a big dang Kalashnikov with fixed bayonette right on the flag.
They accompanied the Kalash with a jumble of Soviet imagery: a huge cogwheel, an open book of learning, the Marxist revolutionary star, and a hoe (somewhat difficult to identify in silhouette) all over the traditional Mozambican colors of red, black, yellow and green. Today’s flag has gone unchanged since 1983, when they ditched the cog-wheel, and while many in the Mozambique parliament would prefer not having a huge Communist rifle on their flag, the country has yet to find a suitable replacement.