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Saturday, September 26, 2020
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Mahogany Majeste

Dear Editor,
It was a time before artificial dyes; a time when European aristocracy craved the deep purple of logwood and the giddy gold of ochre. Belize had lots of both. The dyes cost a fortune and brought our forebears prosperity and easy living.

Why, then, when three masterminds from the rout at St. George’s Caye in 1798 decided to introduce a flag for Belize, did they choose a mahogany for the crest, and not a logwood? Both Tommy Paslow and Marshal Bennett had seen the shift to mahogany after the logwood stands were gone. Tommy Pickstock, the third lobe of this militant clover leaf triumvirate, was a newcomer. But was a flag even necessary?

Enter tradition. Britons were enamored with having a “Coat of Arms.” The banners flew from castle towers, cathedral spires and estate entrances. They set their owners apart. The gentry of Belize were mainly of British stock and understood the significance of heraldry. Pickstock had his ensign ready to fly. A little finagling and, wollah! The first Belizean flag appeared: 1821!

It may not have meant much in London, but it said a lot to the folks here at Rivermouth. Here was our earliest fire pass against being ceded by treaty after any one of the articulated wars of the time. That Bennett/Paslow/Pickstock flag was a work of art. The 1981 version presently being standardized, is a mere refinement of it.

Except for the tree—the crest, which in heraldry is the most important feature of a shield. The mahogany of 1821 looked like a true mahogany: tall, uniform, with a thick, glossy crown. The tree in the 1981 flag, however, looks like a logwood instead—stunted, pretzel-like branching, and a wind-blown bough.

My childhood memories include a mahogany in our yard in Crooked Tree. It rose 30 feet before branching, and seeing any sky through its foliage was a challenge! Three large “purs” anchored it.

There has been much to-do over getting the shape of the paddle and the men’s skin tones and physiognomies right! Even closer attention should be given to the tree. The artist needs to straighten the trunk and give it a leafier head. And some “purs.” That first flag can provide guidance, but a visit to Crooked Tree would be priceless. Our majestic mahogany, now decades on, is still there.

Hart Tillett,
Belmopan.

(PS: I am indebted to Mr. Nigel Encalada of NICH for his dissertation in 2019 on the story of the Belize flag. To hear his address, go to National Flag of Belize>Videos>Lecture. )

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