Six Facts about the Haitian Flag
- The flag of Haiti consists of two different colored horizontal bands, and a white panel bearing the national coat of arms at the center. The top band is bright blue in color, while the bottom band is red. The coat of arms of Haiti is made up of two yellowish-gold-colored cannons faced in opposite directions on top of a green hill. A drum with two axes is located between the cannons and six flags are located behind the cannons, with 3 on each side. Running down the center of this image is the Royal Palm which represents the ‘POTO MITAN’, [the central column] that support figuratively the weight of the nation’s freedom. A white banner sits at the bottom of the hill with the Latin phrase: L’UNION FAIT LA FORCE, meaning “Strength in Unity.” Just above the ribbon with the motto are two pieces of chain with a broken link symbolizing the broken chain of slavery. As a former French colony, the blue and red colors are modeled after the French Tricolore.1,2
- Haitian communities around the world celebrate National Flag Day on May 18th of every year, which is a day for Haitians to celebrate the original creation of the flag. The original design is believed to have been created by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led the Haitian revolution. Oral histories suggest that the revolutionary figure ripped apart the French flag, removing and discarding its white center band. Dessalines gave the remaining blue and red pieces to his goddaughter, Catherine Flon, so that she could sew them together. Maintaining this story and two of the three colors of the French flag symbolizes the history of Haiti and its ability to achieve independence. Some accounts suggest that the blue and red colors are meant to represent the ethnicities living in Haiti. Blue represented Haiti’s African residents while the red represented those of mixed European and African descent. Additionally, the coat of arms is said to represent independence and freedom, which are symbolized by the palm tree at its center and the weapons on the hill.1,3
- Although May 18th, 1803 is the formal acceptance date for the creation of Haiti’s first flag of independence, most historians acknowledge that, “Dessalines created the first flag of the Armée Indigène, blue and red, in the month of February 1803. To this were added the words LIBERTÉ OU LA MORT[Liberty or Death].”4
- Unlike revolutionary icons such as Louverture, Dessalines and Christophe, Catherine Flon’s story is fragmented and largely ‘unverified’. Nonetheless, the popular story of the creation of the flag still renders visible and tangible acknowledgement to women’s contributions to the military campaigns and invites them into the public revolutionary arenas from which they were typically precluded in the written historical record. Regardless of whether or not Catherine Flon’s story can be accepted as fact, she represents the multitude of nameless women of colour who were involved in the flag’s creation, and the country’s independence.5
- From the Embassy of Republic of Haiti in Washington D.C.
Flags of Haiti 1697-1986
The names below the flags were the leaders in power at the time. After the assassination of Dessalines at Pont Rouge on October 17, 1806, the country was divided in two for 14 years; the north ruled by Henri Christophe and the south and west ruled by Alexandre Pétion.6
- The rebel army (Armée Indigène) used various flags at the start of their open struggle against the French. The two bicolor flags, blue-red and black-red, were both widely used during the wars of independence. As some contemporaries would explain, “The blue and red symbolized the forces at the summit of the social pyramid while the black and red reflected those at the base. The struggles for power have obliged the protagonists to favor one or the other possible interpretations of the colors of the national flag. * * * From blue and red to black and red, we see a remaking of history as the pendulum swings between the élites who control political power.”4
- World Atlas. (2021). Flags, Symbols, & Currencies Of Haiti. Retrieved May 12, 2021 from https://www.worldatlas.com/flags/haiti
- The Haitian Times. (2012). The Meaning of the Haitian Flag. Retrieved May 12, 2021 from https://haitiantimes.com/2012/05/05/the-meaning-of-the-haitian-flag/
- Restavek Freedom. (2020). The History of The Haitian Flag. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from https://restavekfreedom.org/2019/04/04/the-history-of-the-haitian-flag/
- Odette Roy Fombrun. The Flag Heritage Foundation. (2013). The History of the Haitian Flag of Independence. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from https://www.flagheritagefoundation.org/fhf-publications/history-of-the-haitian-flag-of-independence/history-of-the-haitian-flag-of-independence-full-text/
- Nicole Wilson. Slavery & Abolition. (2020). Unmaking the tricolore: Catherine Flon, material testimony and occluded narratives of female-led resistance in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Retrieved May 13, 2021, doi:10.1080/0144039x.2019.1685254.
- Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC. (2021). Flag and Coat of Arms. Retrieved May 13, 2021, from https://www.haiti.org/flag-and-coat-of-arms/