PAN AFRICAN COLOURS: WHAT DO THE COLOURS GREEN/YELLOW/RED MEAN TO YOU?
Growing up, it bothered me when people associated these colours with Jamaica, hippies, or even marijuana, yet were not able to locate Ethiopia on a map. However I couldn’t blame others for not knowing, as Pan Africanism isn’t a topic young people tend to talk about at lunch time (unless you’re like me). These colours in fact represent Pan African ideologies. Pan Africanism is a cultural/political movement calling for African unity. The tri-colour scheme stems from the colours of the Ethiopian empire, dating back to the Solomonic dynasty in the early 19th century.
Ever wondered why so many national flags include the colours green/yellow/red? During the Scramble for Africa, Ethiopia was the only African country other than Liberia that retained its sovereignty as a recognized independent country. After having gained independence from colonial rule, newly established African countries adopted the colours of Ethiopia’s flag, as a sign of solidarity towards its resistance against colonial occupation. Addis Ababa became headquarters of several international organisations, being one of only four African members of the League of Nations, and a founding member of the UN.
Ghana was the first African country to adopt the Ethiopian colours, only inverting the order to avoid confusion. President Kwame Nkrumah also added a black star to the central stripe of the flag, symbolising the UNIA’s Black Star Line. (Scroll down for more on Marcus Garvey and the UNIA). Several Caribbean countries that gained independence during the 1960s and 70s also adopted the Pan-African colours in their national flags.
The emblems on the Ethiopian flag have changed over time. During the Solomonic Empire it carried the Lion of Judah across its midsection. The crowned lion carrying a cross illustrates the link between the Ethiopian church, the peoples, and its unity.
The Derg regime (1975-87) used the plain tri-colour. The People’s Democratic Republic government (1987-91) later added its coat of arms on the flag.
The current flag consists of a yellow pentagram radiating rays of light on a blue circle. The green represents fertility of land, yellow represents the harmony between ethnic and relegious groups, and red represents the lives sacrificed and blood spilled in the defence of national honour.
The colours Red Black and Green are also often associated with the Pan African colours, due to individuals such as Macus Garvey. Marcus Garvey was a spokesman for Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanist movements in America. His Pan-African philosophy inspired a mass movement, known as Garveyism. Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) aiming to unite the African diaspora to “establish a country and absolute government of their own.” His work is what later inspired others such as Malcolm X, and the Rastafari movement.
When creating the “African American” flag, it is said that Marcus Garvey thought he was using the Ethiopian colours, and later became aware of his mistake at the time of Haile Selassie’s coronation. However, by that time the red/black/green flag was already an established and recognized flag, and so it was not changed. As a result, the red/black/green colour scheme was adopted by African countries such as Kenya and Malawi. H. Vinton Plummer, director of the UNIA’s Bureau of Publicity and Propaganda, stated: “The Red is emblematical of the richness of the blood; the Black symbolizes the millions of Negroes scattered throughout the globe; the Green is designed to keep before the mind’s eye Africa’s verdant fields”. Thus, this flag intended to serve as a symbol for people of black African descent worldwide.
The Rastafari colours of green, gold and red are very commonly displayed on the Rastafarian flag.
“Red is said to signify the blood of martyrs, green the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia, and gold the wealth of Africa.”
Rastafari is an Abrahamic belief, it’s name embodying that of the Ethiopian Emperor, Ras (his majesty) Tefari Makonnen (Haile Selassie’s name before his coronation). Rastafarianism developed in the slums of Jamaica, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as Emperor in 1930. The belief is based on Judaism and Christianity, placing emphasis on the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. They believe that Haile Selassie was a reincarnation of God upon earth, whom they call Jah. Rastafari culture has given the Ethiopian colours global recognition with the help of artists such as Bob Marley. The lyrics for his song “War” were taken from a speech performed by Haile Selassie to the UN. The emperor gave the “War” speech in October 1963, calling for world peace.
Until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned – Everywhere is war – Me say war. That until there no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes – me say war. That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race – dis a war. – War, Bob Marley
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