1. Saint Kitts and Nevis Coast Guard, since 1967?

    St. Kitts has a designated “naval ensign”, but no navy per se. The coast guard flies it instead, and even then only on the two largest of its five vessels. So I guess that means there are only two of these flags flying in the world?

    The design is on the model of the British white ensign: White field, red cross, and the national flag in the top left quadrant. This stretches the national flag out to a kind of ridiculous 4:9 ratio, which kind of messes up the star placement.

     
  2. Afghanistan, 1992-2001

    Afghanistan has only dispensed with its black-red-green tricolour a handful of times since it was first adopted in 1928. There was Bacha-i-Saqao’s unusual red-black-white tricolour from 1929, the red flag of the Khalq government from 1978, and then this flag, which was adopted by the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1992. The green stood for Islam, the white for purity, and the black for the country’s dark past. Once the Taliban took over they started flying white flags, and after they were forced out of power the old black-red-green was restored.

     
  3. Afghanistan, 1929

    Amanullah Khan introduced the Afghan tricolour in 1928 as part of his modernization program, but his reforms were far from universally accepted. The next year, a Tajik rebel named Bacha-i-Saqao (“Son of a Water Carrier”) usurped the throne and installed a new reactionary government.

    Sources are conflicted about what flags he used during his brief rule. Some say he restored the old 1919-1928 flag while others say he adopted this unusual red-black-white tricolour, allegedly based on colours used by the Mongols in the 13th century. The tricolour also looks suspicious similar to a flag attributed to Abdul Rahim’s largely autonomous government in Herat, which was black-red-white with a white crescent in the centre. And that flag may have actually been the flag of Purdel Khan, a former supporter of Bacha-i-Saqao who led a Tajik revolt in 1930. It’s difficult to sort it all out, and the lack of pictures of flags from this very short period doesn’t help any.

     
  4. President of Malawi

    Malawi’s Presidential Standard seems to be based on the old British-style Governor-General’s flag, but with the stuffy old British lion replaced with the more dynamic one from the Malawian coat of arms. Nice upgrade.

     
  5. Leeward Islands, French Polynesia

    Someone on Wikipedia has incorrectly labelled this as the flag of the Society Islands, but if they had been an attentive French speaker they might have recognized that ISLV stands for “Îles Sous-le-Vent”. The Leeward Islands are the western half of the Society Islands chain, where Bora Bora is. The other half is the Windward Islands (“Îles du Vent”), which includes Tahiti.

     
  6. Crown Prince of Iraq, 1930-1958

    I have no idea how you would even describe the shape of this pennant. “Pants-shaped” perhaps?

     
  7. Vanuatu, since 1980

    Vanuatu has what’s known as a “flag of convenience”, meaning its national ship registry is open to foreigners that want to avoid higher fees or stricter regulations in their home countries. A full 94% of ships registered in Vanuatu are from overseas, most notably the QE2.

    Vanuatu became independent from joint Anglo-French rule on 30 July 1980.

    (designer: Kalontas Mahlon)

     
  8. Guinea-Bissau Armed Forces

    Man, once you take away those yellow and green stripes, the flag of Guinea-Bissau flag looks a whole lot more sinister.

     
  9. Russia, 1858-1883

    It’s hard to imagine (non-communist) Russia using anything but the current flag, but they actually had quite a different one for a while there in the 18th century. The black and gold colours came from their coat of arms, and the white stripe was added to distinguish it from what was then the flag of Austria. The flag was designed under German influence and never really caught on with the Russian public.

    The old tricolour (often called the “Tsarist” or “Romanov” flag) is probably way more popular now than it ever was back in its heyday. Hardline radicals and nationalists have embraced it as some kind of symbol of Russia’s glorious past or something. There’s even a proposal to restore the flag to its former status as the national flag. Probably won’t go anywhere, but it’s certainly a sign of the times.

     
  10. Amazonas Department, since 1974

    The flag of this Colombian department perfectly captures the eternal struggle of Man vs. Jaguar. There they sit, immortalized, each preparing to kill the other, but neither ever reaching their prey. What majesty. What ferocity. What grace. Also there’s a star on it.

     
  11. Chaco Province, 1995 proposal (top); since 2007 (bottom)

    The ’90s were an… interesting time for flag design. This is one of the more out there flags I’ve seen from that decade, and it came very close to being adopted. The design won a provincial flag contest, beating around 120 other proposals (I can only wonder what they must have looked like.) But as soon as it got out there, it was utterly blasted by the public. The outcry was so total that the province passed the flag off the Association of Ceremonial Professionals of the Argentine Republic, who decided in 1997 that it was not appropriate for use. A new contest was eventually arranged, which led to the adoption of a much more traditional-looking flag ten years later.

    (designer: Jorge Alberto Esquível [top], Mario Orlando Gadotti [bottom])

     
  12. Governor General of the Belgian Congo, 1936-1960

    Now this is an interesting reversal. Normally the colonizer goes on the top left and the colony goes on the bottom right, not the other way around.

     
  13. Washitaw Nation

    If you’ve ever seen this flag anywhere, there’s a good chance it was on a fraudulent document or license plate. See, the Washitaw Nation is big on the whole sovereign citizen thing — the quite inaccurate idea that any individual can declare independence from their home country and live under their own separate sovereignty. If you’ve heard of “freemen on the land”, it’s basically the same deal. 

    The Washitaw claim to be a sovereign Black (or as they say, Moorish) Native American nation, a claim that has been roundly rejected by the American court system. They also claim that they’re the world’s oldest indigenous ethnic group, that they’ve been registered as such at the United Nations, that they’re descended from the inhabitants of the lost continent of Mu, that they built the mound city of Cahokia, and that the Atlantic Slave Trade either didn’t exist or actually went in the opposite direction. But hey, at least they’ve got a nice flag.

     
  14. Southern Nationalism, since 2013

    Having decided, I suppose, that the Confederate flag was insufficiently sinister-looking for their purposes, Southern (read “White Southern”) Nationalists in the United States have adopted this stark black and white flag. According to an explanation on southernnationalist.com (a website I would advise against visiting if you don’t want to end up on a watch list), the white stands for European heritage, hierarchy and tradition, while the black stands for nationalism. The cross is obviously a reference to the Confederate flag, but it’s also said to be reminiscent of the Cross of Burgundy (which is often used as an “official” explanation for Confederate-style imagery on a flag when a direct reference to the Confederacy would be inappropriate.) It’s also supposed to represent the number 10, which has no meaning in and of itself, but is written as “dix” in French. Dix, Dixie. Get it?

    There is an interview with the semi-anonymous creator of the flag on YouTube, which is both fascinating and a little creepy. He’s standing next to his own home-made version, which appears to be a white sheet with black paint on it. He talks about how he was first inspired by the flag of Alabama (itself ultimately based on the Confederate flag), which he found striking in its simplicity. He says the design is very European and you’re not going to find it anywhere else. (“Other than Jamaica,” the interviewer quips.) The two go on to talk about how white has traditionally symbolizes “purity”, “opposition to forced equality”, anti-communism, and royalism.

    Perhaps most interesting is his comment that the flag is a “total rejection of the red, white and blue,” which he incorrectly says was borrowed from the French revolution. That colour scheme, he says, symbolizes a nation founded on a philosophy of democracy, equality, and liberty. And doesn’t that just say it all?

    (designer: Jon from Augusta”)

     
  15. Wallachia, 1848

    June 26 is Flag Day in Romania, and it commemorates the first official adoption of the Romanian tricolour as a national flag by Wallachian revolutionaries in 1848. The inscription in the centre of the flag read “Justice” in Wallachian and “Brotherhood” in Moldavian.

    The tricolour was actually already in use before that date; it had been used on military flags since 1834. And it continued being used even after the revolution was quashed. A similar flag was adopted by the United Romanian Principalities in 1859, and it eventually evolved into the plain vertical tricolour we know today.