By Fabian A. Badejo
On any given day, at least five flags fly on this 37 square miles island of St. Martin that we all call home. They are, in no particular order of importance, the St. Martin Unity Flag (North and South of our island), the St. Martin (South) flag, the flag of the Republic of France, the flag of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, and the European Union flag.
The European Union flag is flown almost exclusively at the border points, and in Marigot since the Northern half of the island is an integral part of France, a member of the European Union (EU), whereas the South, referred to as an “autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands,” is not an EU member although some Dutch legal scholars contend that it is.
We all go about our daily lives without paying much attention to this phenomenon unless there is a major sporting event, a political rally or elections, a cultural or national celebration like St. Martin Day, Aruba Day, Dia di Himno i Bandera (Curacao), Semana Dominicana (the Dominican Republic), etc.
For several years now, I have observed that many people fly both the St. Martin (South) flag alongside the Unity Flag on their cars, homes and even businesses in the days leading up to St. Martin Day and on the day itself. There are also some people who fly only the St. Martin (South) flag, without the Unity Flag accompanying it.
This observation has prompted me to further examine the practice in a bid to understand why it is taking root and if it is appropriate to continue said practice. So, let’s start with the basics.
What is a flag and what does it symbolize?
The first known use of flags has been traced to ancient Egypt some 3,000 years BCE. Our African ancestors from Kemet (Egypt) used flags as military standards to differentiate between warring sides and as representative symbols for gods and deities.
About a 1,000 years later, the Chinese would use flags in a similar fashion to identify military groups with animal symbols.
Nowadays, flags have become unifying symbols around which people rally to express their togetherness, allegiance, and patriotism. They are national symbols which represent a particular group of people, their values, ideals, and aspirations. They embody their past, present, and future.
Flags are also as much symbols of power, conquest, domination and ownership as of resistance, freedom and solidarity in the face of adversity.
No wonder the first thing that soldiers do after conquering a territory is plant the flag of the conquering nation on such territory, thus claiming it for their own rulers. That Admiral who mistook our region for the East Indies, did the same on his murderous misadventures through the so-called New World, claiming the territories for the Spanish crown.
This planting of a flag on conquered or new territory is not limited to the Earth: one of the first things the astronauts of the USA did when they first landed on the moon was to hoist the Star-Spangled Banner, the USA flag, on it.
I go to all this length to underline the power of flags. So, what are we expressing when we fly one, two or more flags for St. Martin Day?
Perhaps we should first clarify what we are celebrating on St. Martin Day. The founding fathers of this celebration had one and only one thing in mind: to bring the people of the island together in acknowledgement of their unity as a people, without regard to their political division or constitutional or colonial status.
It is what Lino Hughes put so beautifully in music when he sang about St. Martin as our homeland made up of “One Island, One People, (with) One Destiny.” The emphasis is on ONENESS. ONE is indivisible. Our territory is ONE; our people constitute ONE nation, and our future remains ONE. This is what the patriot Felix Choisy meant when he regularly used what was during his time an already old traditional saying: “The gale does not stop at the frontier.”
November 11 was chosen as St. Martin Day not to celebrate the “discovery” of the island on that day by Christopher Columbus (which has been debunked as historically false), nor to celebrate Armistice Day (which is observed as a concession to France by the laying of a wreath at the foot of the border point obelisk—this is in itself material for a more probing study).
The date was chosen in the survivalist tradition of double entendre of our forebears—typically used by our Kaisonians—as the only date which was an official holiday on both halves of the island that would not attract the opposition of the colonial powers that rule the island. Seen in this context, the idea was revolutionary. It was an act of resistance. We must therefore be careful not to sabotage that idea whether knowingly or unknowingly.
As far as I know, there is only one flag that symbolizes the oneness that we are supposed to be celebrating on St. Martin Day and that is the Unity Flag. Thankfully, in 2022, the administrations in Marigot and Great Bay jointly adopted this flag as a cultural symbol.
Semantics aside, culture embraces every aspect of our being, of our very existence. In recognition of this fact, it becomes obvious that the St. Martin (South) flag does not and should not have a place next to the Unity Flag on St. Martin Day.
This is because it represents ONLY the southern half of the island. It therefore cannot be officially used by our brothers and sisters in the North (no more than our people in the South can officially use the French republic flag on our island’s St. Martin Day). Consequently, it contradicts the idea of ONENESS which is the essence of St. Martin Day. The same goes for flying any other territorial or national flag next to the St. Martin Unity Flag on St. Martin Day.
In conclusion, I humbly submit that on St. Martin Day—the one and only day out of the 365 days of the year when we celebrate our oneness, our togetherness and unity—we fly ONLY the St. Martin Unity Flag.
Happy St. Martin Day!
Ed. Note: Fabian A. Badejo is an author, journalist, cultural critic; “Culture Time” producer (PJD2 radio).