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Reflections on Maui County's Official Flag
September 23, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama
Hawai’i has had a flag since the early 1800s. This iconic flag design has the British Union Jack in the left-hand corner and eight stripes, the colors from the top down: white, red, blue, white, red, blue, white, red, symbolizing each island, including uninhabited Kahoolawe; it has continued to become the State flag of the 50th State of the United States.
The British Union Jack on the Hawaiian flag (actually, it is featured in a dozen flags, linked to the British Commonwealth) had its origins on the influence of British mercenaries and advisors in the early Kamehameha period of the 1790s and early 1800s.
If Hawai’i had been discovered by North American subjects of the British Crown in the 1770s, it may have become embroiled during the American War of Independence, and probably never had a flag to feature the Union flag of the United Kingdom. That is, since the Thirteen Colonies rejected British monarchy, the new nation also banned the British flag. So Hawai’i is the only American State to have the British Union Jack on its flag. Since the Hawaii flag resembles the American flag with stripes (the U.S. flag has 13 – one for each original State that established the Union), one can see how the Hawaiian Kingdom tried to balance the two dominant powers in the Pacific, creating a hybrid of the two nations’ flags and trying to play off one against the other (and earlier France).
Other nations recognized the flag representing the kingdom (in the early 1800s a Hawaiian Kingdom naval vessel even traveled to Guangdong, China, on a trade mission, flying the Hawaiian national flag, and the Hawaiian flag accompanied King David Kalakaua on his round-the-world trip).
Interestingly, Maui County does have its flag. Maui has distinctive “regions”, like Central Maui (Wailuku-Kahului-Pa'ia), and South Maui (Ma'alaea-Kihei-Wailea-Makena), and Up-Country (Makawao-Kula-Pukalani), the far east coast (Hana), and the Lahaina semi-autonomous northwestern region.* Plus the islands of Molokai and Lana’i.
Officially, the Maui County flag is: “a blue rectangle with a circular, central insignia consisting of maile wreath within which is inscribed in black, the names of the islands: Lanai, Molokai, Maui and Kahoolawe. The area within the circular maile wreath shall have a centrally located ahina-ahina or silversword, dominating and in the foreground. Immediately flanking both sides of the lower third of the silversword shall be stalks of ti leaves. The left upper portion of the silversword shall be flanked by outlines of the islands of Molokai and Lanai and the right upper portion flanked by the islands of Maui and Kahoolawe. Each island shall be in its designated island color. A banner containing the words "County of Maui" shall be centered at the lower part of the central insignia and the word "Hawaii" located immediately below the banner.” The color red is for Maui, yellow for Lana’i, green for Molokai, and pink for Kaho’olawe.
Reviewing flags of the world, some flags of countries are quite simple. The oldest national flag – dating back to the 13th century -- belongs to Denmark: a white cross on a red field. That’s it. Of course, Japan’s flag is also simple: a red ball, denoting the rising sun, on a white field. The oldest tri-color flag belongs to the Netherlands: red, white and blue bars horizontally. Nothing more, and that’s from the 9th century. France has three colors, as well – in three vertical bars. No crossaint or bottle of wine image to denote that the flag represents France.
Other flags have a lot more design elements: In its national flag Mozambique throws in a Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifle image and a scythe, plus four colors – a lot of symbolism here, regarding its recent colonial war of independence, fighting and re-building and agricultural development.
Also, animals also are a frequent design motif: the California State flag has a bear, so does the City of Berlin. Birds, especially strong, militaristic eagles, are on many flags, ranging from Albania, Egypt and the state of Louisiana has a pelican motif.
Now, since Maui is about sustainability, perhaps green would have been a good design color, plus gold (recall Maui’s prominent Haleakala, the “the house of the rising sun” – sun rays are prominent for the Tibet and Arizona State flags). Blue, though, is appropriate – since it symbolizes the ocean around Maui and other islands. At this point Molokai and Lanai’i residents would want to add their symbols. The pineapple may have been a good design element in the past, but that image is not that symbolic of reality (and future) anymore. The nene came to mind, but again, the endangered Hawaiian goose is more Maui-centric, and so the beautiful silversword plant was chosen to symbolize hardy beauty. I would have thought a turtle (honu) would be a good compromise animal symbol across all Maui County islands, since it travels to each Maui County island and may have homes on each island.**
Another compromise was evidently to be to be graphic-oriented, and put a map of all four islands on the Maui flag (there are many flags with maps, like the Korean unification flag– the latter is making a big point about oneness and unity). My own symbolic design element would have been a simple four-pointed star in the middle of the flag – denoting each of the four islands in Maui County (I like this one, since it is just a optimistic symbol that connects with many; people can put the star symbol on bumper stickers and T-shirts, or even tattoos).
Since Maui County has an official flag, we should use the flag more, like putting up a third pole at malls, buildings or homes, plus take the flag along on future official Maui County delegation on trips to Honolulu, Mainland, or international capitals. Imagine foreign dignitaries at the Kahului Airport greeted by the blue Maui flag waving in front of a brass band. Then the assembled people cheerfully sing the Maui County anthem – but that’s another topic . . .
*I did an earlier tongue-in-cheek post on Lahaina.
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Notice the pink-colored Kaho'olawe Island.