HISTORY OF THE CANARIAN FLAG
Throughout most of their history the Canary Islands have lacked a flag to represent the islands as a whole.
The first evidences of flags linked with the Canaries are the banners shown in the drawings illustrating the manuscripts of Le Canarien, common title of the two chronicles on the conquest of the islands by Jéan de Béthencourt and Gadifer de La Salle.
Later, when the Castilian Crown undertook the conquest, it was carried out in each island under a different ensign, the Banners of the Conquest, those still preserved being those of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Palma.
Banner of the Conquest of La Palma, preserved in Santa Cruz de La Palma Town Hall
These kinds are also the royal standards or guidons, such as the so-called "general flag", which the councilor Pedro de Vergara delivered to Francisco de Valcárcel, Alferez Mayor (high standard-bearer) of Tenerife, on 17 January 1561.It was made of white, blue and yellow silk and with a red cross, the first three colours coinciding with those of the current Canarian flag, a fact that, lacking any other data, can only be qualified as an astonishing historical coincidence. Some days later, the said Alferez Mayor also received the royal banner, made of red silk, having on one side the image of the Virgen de Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candlemas, patron saint of Tenerife) and on the other the royal arms. He also received the royal guidon with the arms of Castille embroidered in gold, silver and silk, with yellow edges.
Apart from these first examples of private and/or royal ensigns, throughout the following centuries the archipelago was not to know any more flags than those common to all the territories ruled by the Spanish monarchy, as can be seen in the flags of the Canarian Provincial Corps preserved in the Regional Military Museum (Santa Cruz de Tenerife), all dating from the 18th century.
The first legal stipulation with respect to a flag for the Canary Islands is the Royal Order of 30 July 1845, establishing the maritime registry flag for all the ports of the then single province, with its capital in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It was as a white saltire (Saint Andrew's cross) on blue background, a flag that eventually would remain as the symbol of the island of Tenerife.
In 1869 the registry flag of the Puerto de La Isleta or Puerto de la Luz, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is created as diagonally divided of yellow and blue; likewise, this flag would end up by representing the island of Gran Canaria.
Everything seems to indicate that the election of these colours and designs for the maritime registry flags, both the Canarian ones and those of the rest of the Spanish ports, was merely coincidental and with no other meaning than to tell each apart, though in the case of Las Palmas it has been said that the colour yellow is canary yellow (by the homonymous bird) and blue is for the sea.
On the other hand, the first literary allusion to a Canarian flag is included in a poem written by a journalist born in Lanzarote and resident in Madrid, José Betancor Cabrera, who published under the pseudonym Angel Guerra a narrative of local customs and manners. In his only book of poetry, titled Allá (There), written in the Spanish capital in 1902 and published in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in 1904, is included the poem A la Bandera (To the Flag), whose verses say:
In this poem Angel Guerra limits himself to describe the colours of what is for him the Canarian flag, whilst not specifying their arrangement. These colours coincide with those of the first registry flag, though blue is mentioned as of sky, and not as the traditional navy blue that will appear in all the flags from the registry ones to the current flag of the Autonomous Community (except the one hoisted by the independentist movement, indeed including the sky blue shade); however, this allusion to the sky could be a mere poetical resort forced by the rhyme.
Other literary allusion to a flag for the Canary Islands can be found in a poem by the federal republican politician from Tenerife Nicolás Estévanez Murphy, seemingly written in 1893 and published in the newspaper Las canarias y nuestras posesiones africanas (The Canary Islands and our African possessions), edited in Madrid, on 19 May 1907. In this poem the author exposes his idea of autonomy for the archipelago within the Spanish unity, according to his federalist and republican ideology:
Though there is no record of this design becoming an actual flag, we can hazard a guess of its appearance through this description:
The first flag with historical record of having ever flown in representation of the Archipelago was the so-called Flag of the Ateneo of La Laguna, for having been hoisted in the balcony of this institutions headquarters in the first decade of the 20th century, probably in 1907, remaining there for some time, until apparently it had to be removed to avoid further troubles (according to Domingo Cabrera Cruz, one of the founders of the Ateneo, in his Memoirs). This is the first time that stars appear in a flag intending to identify the Canary Islands, this time white and placed on a blue background in a distribution that schematically reproduces the position of the seven islands on the map.
It does not seem risky to suppose that the presence of the stars would be influenced by American models, imported by the many Canarian who migrated to the other side of the ocean spurred on the successive crises. We should not forget that the flag of Venezuela, one of the main coutries receiving Canarian inmigrants, contains seven white stars on a blue background, representing the original territories integrating the Federation in 1811.
The appearance of this ephemeral Canarian flag takes place in the years when the crisis of the political system of the Restoration begins, and the struggle between supporters and enemies of the provincial division reaches an unusual peak. As a consequence of this, in the intellectual discussion, in the press and in the political scene there is a flourishing of autonomist ideas, and even of several regionalist movements which, however, were always minority and had an ephemeral existence. The flag of the Ateneo of La Laguna would be thereinafter assumed by the Canarian Nationalist Party (PNC in Spanish), created in connection with the Canarian Association of Cuba and founded in Havana in 1924. The flag appeared in the cover of all the issues of their bulletin El Guanche (second era). In the first issue an article was published entitled The flag where it was said: The same ensign, with its seven stars in blue field like its sky", this last expression not to be taken in a literal sense, since the shade of blue shown in the drawing of the cover is clearly the same navy blue of the registry flags. Before the foundation of the PNC, the Canarian Association of Cuba had already used this flag in some of its acts, as did some private individuals in this Caribbean island and in the North American state of Florida. In recent times the flag of the Ateneo has resurged as the flag of the reborn Canarian Nationalist Party recently integrated in the Canarian Nationalist Federation .
In 1931, the "Tierra canaria" magazine, published in Havana by the forementiones Canarian Association, reproduces in its cover a flag very similar to that of the Ateneo, but with six stars put in a circle around a central one. It seems that the cover's author, Manuel Martín González, wanted to re-interpret the flag of the Ateneo, putting one the stars, the one representing Tenerife, in a central position.
By the mid fifties, in Venezuela, Canarian inmigrants founded an organization named Movement for the Independence of the Canary Islands (MIC in Spanish), and probably not knowing the flag of the Ateneo and other previous proposals, designed a flag with two horizontal stripes, the upper blue and the lower yellow, and superposed a white Saint Andrews cross. It was, evidently, a combination of the two registry flags of the Canarian ports.
A quite similar flag, though it does not seem that it had any relation with the previous one, was designed by members of the self-proclaiming 'Independent Republic of the Atlantic' (RIA in Spanish), created at the beginning of the 60s by a group of students of the University of La Laguna. Though these did not become a politically organized group, they proposed independence as a political solution for the Canary Islands, and thus designed a flag that, like that of the MIC, was based on a combination of those of the two provinces: diagonally divided into four triangles, upper and lower blue with yellow laterals, and with a superposed white saltire and, in the center, a circle of seven red stars. This last colour may well have a revolutionary meaning, and the arrangement of the stars in a circle seems to represent the equality of all the islands, as the MPAIAC would later propose for its green stars; on the other hand, it does not seem that the members of the RIA had any knowledge of the flag of the Ateneo or any contact either with the Canarian Nationalist Party or the MIC.
The Canarias Libre (Free Canaries) movement was created in 1961 by a group of Gran Canaria lawyers and young professionals, one of the most prominent members being Fernando Sagaseta. Other militants, Carmen Sarmiento an her sons Arturo and Jesus Cantero Sarmiento, being unaware of the preceding flags, designed a tri-colour flag made up of three vertical stripes of equal size, in the colours white, blue and yellow. Again this design combines the representative colours of the two provinces, but in such a way that it reproduces their situation on the map, that is, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (white and blue), on the left as the western province, and Las Palmas (blue and yellow) on the right as the eastern province.
Surely ignorant of the fact, the creator of this flag followed the same cartographic criterion of that of the Ateneo of La Laguna, albeit changing the stars by the chromatic representation. By this means the conflict over which colours should prevail was avoided, unlike with the proposals of the MIC and RIA. Subsequently Fernando Sagaseta tried to add an ideological explanation to the chosen design, by saying that the revolutionary flags always had their stripes vertically placed, while the monarchists ones were horizontal. An argument which is obviously groundless.
This tri-colour flag, in the form of paper sheets, twice the length of its width, was scattered around by its creator and other CL members in the town of Teror, Gran Canaria, on 8 September 1961, during the feast of the Virgen del Pino (Our Lady of the Pine-tree), patron saint of Gran Canaria. The sheets had no explanatory text, and in spite of that they were spontaneously recognized by the public as the Canarian flag. There has been some disagreement over if the three stripes all had the same width or if the blue band was wider. All seems to indicate that if the first exemplars showed a central wider band, this was due simply to a defect in the cutting of the sheets on which they were printed. It is not very clear either the shade of blue, navy or sky blue, but it seems that this was a detail not greatly considered by the author, and in subsequent copies there was no uniformity, but a more or less dark navy blue prevailed.
Some years later, on 22 October 1964, Antonio Cubillo founded in Algiers the Movement for the Self-determination and the Independence of the Canarian Archipelago (MPAIAC in Spanish), derived from the Canarian Autonomist Movement. This adopted a tri-colour flag based on that of the Free Canaries, though adding a circle of seven five-pointed green stars on the blue band; this is the first time that green appears in a Canarian flag. As a consequence of it, they had to change the original navy blue of the central band into sky blue to allow the superposed stars to be distinguished.
Point 25 of the final Resolution adopted by the MPAIAC at the day of its fundation stated in this regard: the National Flag will consist of three vertical bands of the same size, the first white, the second, that is, that of the center, light blue, and the third yellow. On the central band and in a circle there will be seven green stars that will represent the equality of the seven islands in the blue sea. White, blue and yellow will be the national colours. The contradiction must be pointed out that the text makes the sky blue shade represent the blue sea, instead of the navy blue shown in the provincial flags; on the other hand, when it establishes the national colours the green of the stars is not mentioned, and blue is not identified either as either light or sky blue.
Antonio Cubillo explained the presence of the stars as a reminder of those of the flag of the Ateneo of La Laguna, and he said that green represented the African continent, where the Canary Islands belongs geographically and -according to the MPAIAC- ethnically and cculturally.
According to Manuel Suárez Rosales (see Bibliography), the flag of the MPAIAC is yellow with a white disk in its center bearing a green symbol corresponding with the initial of the amazigh (Berber) word azarug (independence). The Canarian radical nationalists think that the Canariy Islands are part of the Berber community, and therefore the amazigh or Berber language should be the official language of a hypothetical independent Canarian nation. Proportions are 4:7
Nevertheless, in MPAIAC's website (www.mpaiac.org) it is said that this organization considers as its own symbol the flag with the green stars.
Another flag seen in acts organized by independentist groups shows this same symbol, together with two other amazigh letters.
On the other hand, another independentist group claims to have been proclaimed a "Republic of Taknara" (www.diariodecanarias.com), that would encompass not only the Canarian Archipelago, but also part of the south of Morocco and the north of Western Sahara. Its flag, based on the one created by Cubillo, includes an aboriginal pintadera (a piece of pottery used to decorate vessels, clothes, etc.), instead of the stars.
With the arrival of the political transition, in 1975, a strong controversy broke out over the flag to be used by a would-be self-governed Canarian entity. It was evident that nobody was thinking about the retrieval of models such as the flag of the Ateneo which by now were neither widely known nor remembered. The left-wing parties supported the constitutional option of considering the Canary Islands as a nationality, while the right and the center upheld the concept of region. The independentists were reduced to several small groups with hardly any presence in the Canarian political life. The left as well as the nationalists agreed in proposing the use of the flag with the seven green stars, while the right and the center, whose alliance constituted the legislative majority, opted for the plain tri-colour flag. A certain practical spirit and a wish of consensus gradually prevailed amongst all the parties with parliamentary representation, ending in the general acceptance of the regional option and Cantero Sarmiento's flag.
The use of a flag with red stars by some left-wing groups during these years has been also reported.
Finally, the Statute of Autonomy of the Canarian Autonomous Community, approved by Organic Law 10/82, 16 August 1982, stated in article 6: The flag of the Canary Islands will be made up of three equal stripes in vertical position, whose colours are, from the hoist, white, blue and yellow.
Lacking a legal rule developing this article and specifying the characteristics and shade of the colours of the Canarian flag, for many years the colours used, specially in flags of official institutions, were similar to these:
Nevertheless, by Decree 184/2004, 21st december (BOC 07-01-2005), modified by Order 24th november 2005 (BOC 02-12-2005), the Canarian Government approved a Handbook of corporate identity where, among other issues, it was specified the exact shade of the colours of the flag:
Together with the simple tri-colour established in the Statute, a model is officially used which includes the coat-of-arms of the Community, defined as well by the forementioned Handbook.
On the other hand, it is quite common to see an unofficial model in public festivities, fairs and other celebrations. This consists of the same colours but in a horizontal arrangement, the only reason for this seeming to be that they are made in long pieces of cloth with longitudinal stripes that are transversely cut.
To end up, the Decree 123/1990 (BOC of 30-7-1990) established the procedure for the approval of coats-of-arms and flags in the Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands