Cuba, Revisited: The Cuban Flag Decoded

image1 The history of the Cuban flag is a bit obscure; there are two tales of its origin and design. One has it designed – apparently out of whole cloth, as the saying goes – in 1848. The banner was carried by the Venezuelan general Narsico López in his first attempt to free Cuba from Spanish rule. His wife sewed it, and the symbolism is explicit: The blue stripes are for the three original provinces, the red is for the blood of the Cuban patriots, and the red triangle is a Masonic symbol for liberty, equality, and fraternity.

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It was called “La Estrella Solitaria,” or “The Lone Star,” and its design, wherever it came from, was successful enough that it was raised after Cuba’s eventual independence in 1902. At any rate, in this version of the story, it just shows up with López.

The other version has the advantage of taking place in New York City, instead of Texas as you might have thought, and of providing the dramatic origin story. In this version, it is 1849, a full year later than the presumed original first appearance of the flag. (Records keeping for revolutionaries are spotty at best.) General López was living in New York City as he planned his attack. Symbolism was on his mind; he felt the revolutionaries would be best served with a flag to rally around.

The story entails a walk in the park and a quick nap on a bench. Then the general woke up to a vivid blue sky, which encapsulated his idea. He immediately brought the concept to a poet friend of his, one Miguel Teurbe Tolon, who would become a revolutionary himself later on. Tolon designed the flag, and his wife, Emilia Teurbe Tolon, sewed it. The symbolism is a little different in this version; that’s what poetry will get you.

The blue stripes still represent the three sections of Cuba: Eastern, Western, and Central. Originally a light blue, they were later changed to “ocean blue,” likely because Cuba is an island in the middle of the ocean. Just a guess there; stories lack that detail.

Now, however, the white stripes separating the blue are given the symbolism of the purity and justice of the revolutionaries. The red triangle is the blood spilled by the patriots, here divorced of any Masonic association, and the white star represents the unity of the Cuban people as they give that blood.

Nowadays, there are still slightly differing “official” versions of the interpretation of the flag’s symbolism. This site gives the explanation for the blue stripes, but says the white stripes indicate peace, gives the red triangle the “liberty, equality, fraternity” definition, and says the white star stands for freedom and independence.

Another theory on the meaning of the Cuban colors, however, agrees with the blue stripes and the triangle, but states the white stripes stand for the “strength of the independent ideal,” with the white star representing “the absolute independence of the Cuban people.” You may be interested to recognize that those sites are in fact the same site, just drawing from different sources.

Still, the basic idea is the same: The blue stripes stand for Cuba’s geographic history, the white stripes for an abstract concept of independence and peace, the red equilateral triangle for the treble concepts outlined by the French Revolution and the blood of those fighting for those concepts (as red frequently tends to be on flags), with the white star symbolizing the Cuban people as a united, independent people.

Vexillology and heraldic traditions allow for a bit of flexibility on the nature of colors and shapes for flags; obviously the people designing a flag are allowed to declare a particular intention they have for a certain color or for a specific element. The various interpretations by later scholars, whether they are drawn from an historical study of the notes of the flag’s design or whether they are utilizing classic heraldry rules, allow an interesting glimpse of the blending of intent and tradition.

General López may have taken some inspiration from Old Glory, but clearly the intent for inspiration and reverence has come through in a flag that serves her people admirably.

 

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