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Republic of the Fiji Islands, Viti

Last modified: 2008-12-13 by ian macdonald
Keywords: fiji | viti | cross: red | lion: passant guardant | lion: yellow | dove | bananas | palm tree | coconut palm | sugar cane | cocoa pod |
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[Fiji] 1:2 image by Željko Heimer
Flag adopted 10th October 1970, coat-of-arms adopted 4th July 1908

See also:

Description and history of the flag

From the Fiji Government Official Site:

Fiji's flag flew for the first time on Independence Day, October 10, 1970. It includes the red, white and blue Union Flag of Britain in the top left-hand corner and the shield from the Fiji Coat of Arms on a light blue background in the fly. The design for the national flag was selected as the result of a competition won jointly by Mr. Robi Wilcock and Mrs. Murray MacKenzie.

Dov Gutterman, 25 December 1998

See also: Interview with designer

As far as I can discover, there are no officially recommended or defined shades for the flag of Fiji, and there are quite a variety of alternatives. The UK Flag Institute recommend Pantone Process Blue, Bartram (2000) (the official British flag book) suggests 549C and the Album des Pavillons (2000) (the French naval flag book) 298C.
Christopher Southworth, 3 March 2005

Interview with designer

In the "Fiji Times", 12 October 2008, Sophie Foster pays a tribute to Tessa Mackenzie, also shown photographed with a table flag. Since the article contains words by Mrs. MacKenzie herself, we have reproduced it below

The year was 1970, and across the country there was a frenzied rush. The Queen had allowed the Fiji Independence Order on September 30th, which would come into effect just 10 days later. It didn't allow for much time to get ready, but in two aspects at least Fiji was raring to go. One was the new national anthem. The other was the national flag. Just months before, Tessa Mackenzie was one of the thousands who heard about the national competition to find Fiji's new flag. At the time she was a volunteer teacher in Veiuto, taking an art and craft class with primary school children. The prospect of designing the new national flag excited her, and she set about finding out more about how such flags are designed. Little did she know that her idea would result in one of the proudest moments of her life, watching her design being lifted to signal the start of a new nation. As she thought about what to put on the Fiji flag, Mrs Mackenzie says she wanted to keep something of Fiji's history in the design she submitted.

Her starting point was the national coat of arms, which has two Fijian warriors on either side of a shield.
"The shield I think was designed around 1906 by Lady Imthurne and she had put in several items with the idea that Fiji has a future in the new world. Coconuts did for a long time drive the economy of Fiji and bananas used to be great economic crop and of course sugar cane is still important. There was also the dove of peace, which was on Ratu Cakobau's flag before cession," Mrs Mackenzie says. Funnily enough, she says that if the coat of arms had been a bit fussier as in if it had more intricate designs in it she probably would have chosen something else to use for her national flag submission.

As for the inclusion of the Union Jack, Mrs Mackenzie says the decision to include it came about because that seemed to be how everyone was feeling at the time, sentimental about the past, optimistic about the future. "This was the mood of the time," she says.

Her choice of colour for the background of the flag, she says, was an attempt to show "a pale blue background to represent the sea".

Unbeknown to her, at the same time, another man Robi Wilcock was also thinking along the same lines. In fact, he and Mrs Mackenzie submitted exactly the same design to the competition. "I knew Robi Wilcock but we worked separately on the flag idea. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had submitted the same idea and that it had been accepted," she says.

In his book, "The Pacific Way: A Memoir", Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who was chief minister at the time, explains the decision. "The Fiji national flag had to be designed, and this was done by competition when two entrants Mrs Murray Mackenzie and Mr Robi Wilcock - produced identical designs with the Union flag in the top left quarter and the shield of Fiji's coat of arms in the fly - all on a background of Pacific blue," he says.

He says the choice of pale blue set Fiji apart from its neighbours. "At independence a visiting dignitary said to me, 'I'm very disappointed to see that you as an Oxford man have chosen Cambridge blue for your flag!' A Cambridge friend of mine is convinced that I still believe he realised this all the time and never said a word. But in fact it differentiated us from the dark blue of a number of our Pacific neighbours."

When the Fiji flag was raised for the first time at Albert Park on October 10, 1970, the ceremony broke somewhat with the norm elsewhere around the world.

"I had seen films of independence ceremonies elsewhere, where the British flag had been lowered at midnight and the new independence flag raised, both to frenzied cheering. I did not think this appropriate to our relationship with the British Crown. We decided to have a final beating of retreat before independence, when the Union flag would be lowered with the quiet dignity and respect our long association warranted. It was a moving occasion," Ratu Mara said.

So it was that after the Union Jack was lowered on October 9, 1970, the way was clear for Mrs Mackenzie's design to be raised the next day as the symbol of a new nation.

Ratu Mara says: "At Albert Park, our ceremony began with a bare flag-pole, and the people were able to show their unrestrained enthusiasm when the Fiji national flag was unfurled for the first time, and thousands of schoolchildren excitedly waved a forest of newly minted Fiji flags". At that exact moment when the new flag was raised, Mrs Mackenzie watched with emotion from the rooftop of Government Buildings. "I was standing on the top of the roof because my husband Murray was a civil servant at the time. So we were fortunate that we had a nice view from there," she says. "I remember that I made a dress of pale blue for myself and two pale blue shirts for my sons to wear. I had embroidered my design onto the dress and the shirts, with the Union Jack on one side and the shield from the Coat of Arms on the other. It felt great to just be there watching history unfold. I think it does make a nice flag."

She is also a major advocate for keeping the flag. "After so many years, this flag has become well known worldwide. It's everywhere tourists T-shirts, documents, international papers ... It symbolises Fiji. If we change it, then we will have lost about 40 years or so of publicity."

In fact, when the National Council for Building a Better Fiji was considering the pros and cons of changing the national flag, Mrs Mackenzie told them just that. "It's our history and you can't ignore it."

Today, though the items have turned the palest of blues, Mrs Mackenzie still has that Fiji Independence Day dress and shirts that she embroidered for her sons. She says she will treasure them always, along with the flag that signalled the start of a new nation.
Ivan Sache, 17 October 2008

Detail of shield

[Fiji shield] image by Clay Moss, 2 January 2007

Discussions about flag changes

Chris wrote, "Fiji got kicked out of the Commonwealth as a result of the coup d'etat in (I think) 1987. Didn't change its flag, which is a defaced pale blue British ensign." Apparently (according to The Flag Bulletin) a public design competition was held in Fiji in 1990 for a new flag. A committee narrowed down the entries to six designs. But for some reason, the (now) republican government went cold on the idea, and dropped plans to change the flag. The six designs have never been made public. So Fiji retains the pale blue British ensign as its flag, despite it being a republic and, after being kicked out of the Commonwealth, having absolutely no relationship with Britain whatsoever other than historical. This struck me as being quite bizarre — after a coup to make Fiji a republic in 1986, why such timidity in changing the flag?
Brendan Jones, 10 August 1995

Fiji still retains very close economic and political ties with the UK, which may possibly have influenced its decision to retain the old flag. Remember that the British Foreign Office does not recognize Fiji's withdrawal from the Commonwealth and therefore treats Fijian citizens as through they were still in the Commonwealth. The Fijian ambassador is still the High Commissioner, for example, and Fijian students can still apply for Commonwealth scholarships (I know this because I used to help administer one). I think the Foreign Office is basically turning a blind eye to the problem (something they are very good at!) in the hope that it will somehow disappear.
Stuart Notholt
, 23 August 1995

Fiji held a competition on independence to design a new flag. The fact that they ended up with one so similar to the colonial ensign suggests a certain lack of imagination either on the part of the competitors or the judges! Anyway, the only main differences made were that the white disk behind the coat of arms was removed and the colour changed to light blue. A dark blue version, which must look virtually the same as the old colonial flag was adopted for use as the state ensign.
Stuart A. Notholt
, 9 February 1996

Colours of the botanical specimens on the shield. They are probably emblazoned 'natural', so there's plenty of scope for artistic licence, but suggest that the trunk of the coconut-palm in the second quarter should be brown rather than blue, and that the stem and 'dead flower?' at the ends of the bunch of bananas in the fourth quarter, should also be brown.
David Prothero
, 27 May 1998

The new Constitution (1998) altered the official name of the country to Republic of the Fiji Islands. No reference to any discussion concerning national symbols is apparent from Fijian sources. Probably nobody is aware of the obsoleteness of the Fijian flags.
Jan Zrzavy
, 16 September 1998

About five years after the 1987 coup, Fiji decided to return to the Commonwealth, following at least a partial return to democratic rule. Interestingly the committee of Rautu (Chieftains) decided to make a formal apology to the Queen, for dispensing with her services (at least temporarily). They presented her with a sharks tooth [whalebone?] as a sign of deep apology.
J.B. Oates
, 5 April 1999

Fiji was ultimately re-admitted to the Commonwealth quite recently, I think it was in 1997, but it remains a republic. There has been talk that Fiji will seek to become a monarchy under the House of Windsor again, but as far as I know it has not been acted upon yet.
Roy Stilling
, 6 April 1999

In "The Fiji Times", 23 October 2008, Verenaisi Raicola reports a debate on the Fiji symbols:

"The National Council for Building a Better Fiji is contemplating changing the country's national anthem and flag. NCBBF member Desmond Whiteside said there was a proposal to feature the three main languages - English, Indian and Fijian - in the national anthem and a local theme on the flag, which he says currently reflects more of British rule. Mr Whiteside said there was a lack of initiative during Independence and that was why there was no change to the anthem and the flag design. While taking to the streets of Suva to distribute copies of the draft People's Charter yesterday, Mr Whiteside said members of the provincial councils in the NCBBF supported the move for "Fijian" to be the common name for all. While addressing staff members of Carpenters, Mr Whiteside said the NCBBF had not forced anything on the people.
Ivan Sache, 23 October 2008

Flag Change Proposal (2005)

The Fiji Times website reported that the Great Council of Chiefs is discussing the possibility of changing the flag of Fiji, to replace the shield of the coat of arms on the flag's field, with the full coat of arms.
I have created a rough image of the proposal from the flag and coat of arms on the Fiji page of FOTW
Devereaux Cannon, 1 December 2005

Presidential Standard

I do not know whether the President of Fiji continues to use the old Governor-General's flag or not.
Roy Stilling
, 6 April 1999

The car flag of the President of the Republic is a 3:5 dark blue flag with the full coat of arms, outlined in golden only, set above a golden 'knot'. Source: Album des Pavillons 2000. Michel Lupant reported about this flag in his lecture at the XIX International Congress of Vexillology 2001 in York, and showed a photo he took from the presidential car in Suva.
Željko Heimer
, 1 September 2001


[Coat-of-Arms (Fiji)]  image from the Fiji Government Official Site
Coat-of-arms adopted 4th July 1908

According to Smith 1985, the specimens depicted in the Fijian coat-of-arms are three sugar canes, a coconut palm, a dove with olive branch and a bunch of bananas. The lion in the chief is holding a peeled coconut. The coat-of-arms was granted by Royal Letter Patent on 4th July 1908 and confirmed on 30th September 1970. Other elements which appear in the coat-of-arms when depicted on its own (and also in the Colonial Flag) are:

  • the supporters, two Fijian warriors dressed in mulberry bark skirts, one of them holding a lance and the other a pineapple mace, all proper;
  • the crest, on a wreath Argent and Gules a canoe with outrigger all proper;
  • the scroll, Or with the motto Rere vaka na kalou ka doka na Tui ('Fear God and Honour the King').

Also according to Smith 1985, the dove with olive branch and the motto were pre-colonial Fijian symbols.
Santiago Dotor
, 20 November 1998

From the Fiji Government Official Website:

Fiji's flag flew for the first time on Independence Day, October 10, 1970. It includes the red, white and blue Union Flag of Britain in the top left-hand corner and the shield from the Fiji Coat of Arms on a light blue background in the fly. The design for the national flag was selected as the result of a competition won jointly by Mr. Robi Wilcock and Mrs. Murray MacKenzie.

Fiji's national Coat of Arms consists of the images of two Fijian warriors on either side of a shield and the motto Rerevaka na Kalou ka Doka na Tui below the shield. These words mean 'Fear God and honour the [King or] Queen'. The shield from the coat of arms has the image of a heraldic lion holding a cocoa pod across the top. Sugarcane, a coconut palm and bunch of bananas are represented in three of the shield's sections. The fourth contains the reproduction of a dove of peace, the main feature, of the Cakobau Government's flag before cession.

Dov Gutterman, 25 December 1998

According to Crampton 1990 p. 38, the motto was adopted by the independent Kingdom of Fiji before colonisation by Britain (which was in 1874). (...) This remains the motto of Fiji, despite becoming a republic.
Roy Stilling
, 19 January 2000

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