The story behind our national symbols
THE NATIONAL FLAG OF DOMINICA
This is the national flag of Dominica with its most
recent design as of 3 November 1988. The history of the changes that
were made to our flag is given below. Dominican artist and playwright
Alwin Bully designed the flag in early 1978 in preparation for the gaining
of independence from Britain later that year and the cabinet made certain
small alterations to the original design.
Alwin Bully was born in Roseau in 1948 and was educated at the
Convent Preparatory School, the Dominica Grammar School, the St. Mary's
Academy and The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. He returned
to teach at his old Alma Mata, eventually serving as its headmaster.
During this time he was deeply involved in promoting all aspects of
the arts in Dominica including drama, painting, dance, folk traditions,
creative writing and Carnival. In 1965 he had represented Dominica at
the Commonwealth Arts Festival in Britain along with members of the
Kairi and Dominica Dance troups. In 1978, with the encouragement
of then Minister of Education, H. L. Christian, he established the ‘cultural
desk’ in the Ministry of Education that eventually developed into
the Cultural Division in the Ministry of Community Development. In 1987
he left Dominica to work at the regional office of UNESCO in Jamaica,
applying his creative skills to the wider Caribbean.
The flag was legally established by Act No. 18 of
1978, The National Emblems of Dominica Act, signed by the Governor,
Sir Louis Cools-Lartigue on 31 October 1978, Gazetted 1 November 1978
and effective 3 November 1978.
I give here a simplified description of the flag. The official one
published in 1978 can be seen below. The flag has a green background
representing the forested island. A cross, made up of three bands representing
"the Trinity of God" is white, black and yellow in colour, and the cross
itself "demonstrates belief in God". According to the designer, Alwin
Bully, the colours of each band represent aspects of the land and the
ethnic origins of its people: the yellow for the sunshine, the main
agricultural products of the island at the time, citrus and bananas
and the indigenous Carib/Kalinago people, the black for the soil and
the African heritage, the white for the rivers and waterfalls of the
island and the European influence.
This was Alwin Bully’s original intention, but the official description
reads that the white band represents "the clarity of our rivers and
waterfalls and the purity of the aspirations of our people" and the
Europeans are not mentioned at all. This is an ironic exclusion, because
a large percentage of Dominicans, mixed as they may be, are descended
from Europeans, particularly the early French settlers such as Royer,
Le Blanc, Dubios, Laurent, Darroux, Anselm, Giraudel, Sorhaindo, Peltier,
Sabroache, Rolle, Brument, Fontaine, Dupigny,Vidal and many others and
not forgetting such British ancestry as the Shillingfords, Greens, Garraways,
Bells, Pembertons, Nixons, Warringtons, Senhouses, Musgraves, Winstons,
Macintyres, Grells and many others. The European cultural influences,
for better or for worse are all around us. But then again the flag is
a product of its time, and the mood of 1970s ideology was very much
aimed at downplaying the white presence.
Similarly, in 1978 the red sun was described as carrying "the connotation
of socialism", which was the political ideology of the ruling party
at the time, but by 1988 it simply represented the "rising sun of independence"
or in another version, The red central emblem symbolises Dominica's
commitment to social justice. The ten "lime green" stars the "traditional
symbol of hope" bordered in yellow, represent the ten parishes of the
island "each with equal status, thus the equality of our people", while
the centerpiece is the Sisserou parrot, (Amazona imperialis)
or the Imperial Parrot, the national bird of Dominica.
Here is the Official Announcement of 3 November 1978:
new Dominica independence flag is now on display at Government headquarters.
Dominicans are invited to view the flag on the third floor of the building.
flag in an amendment of a design submitted by Alwin Bully for a flag
competition held early this year. It consists of a circular emblem of
red bearing a Sisserou Parrot (Psittacus Imperialis) standing on a twig
encircled by ten lime green stars. This is superimposed on three vertical
and three horizontal stripes of yellow, white and black forming a triple
coloured cross against a general background of forest green.
central emblem presents the National Bird of Dominica, the Sisserou
Parrot, also a symbol of flight towards greater heights and fulfillment
of aspirations. The Parrot also comes from the Dominica Coat of Arms
thus symbolising the official seal of the country.
ten lime green stars - the traditional symbol of hope - represent the
ten parishes of the country, each with equal status, thus the equality
of our people. The red central emblem carries the connotation of socialism.
yellow, white and black stripes form a triple coloured cross representing
the Trinity of God. The cross itself demonstrates belief in God since
the Commonwealth of Dominica is founded upon principles that acknowledge
the supremacy of God.
yellow stripe represents the sunshine of our land, our main agricultural
products: citrus and bananas and also a symbol of the Carib people,
the first inhabitants of the Island.
white stripe represents the clarity of our rivers and waterfalls and
the purity of aspirations of our people.
black stripe represents the rich black soil of our island on which our
agriculture is based and also our African heritage.
general background of dark green symbolises our rich verdant forests
and the general lushness of the island.
flag can be seen during normal working hours. Citizens may, if they
so desire, use the colours of the flag for making buntings to decorate
their houses and surroundings during Independence Celebrations.
(Note that the scientific name of the parrot is incorrect)
A number of minor changes have been made to the design of the flag
since independence. Just after independence, when the flag was to be
registered by The College of Arms, the traditional institution that
oversees heraldry in Britain, there were certain parts that did not
conform to the rules of the heraldic layout of colour dating back to
medieval times. The main objection was that "an enamel cannot lie against
an enamel" so that certain colours could not rest next to each other.
On the night of independence the bands on the cross on the flag
were in the order of black, yellow, white. The black line was next to
the green of the main body of the flag. In this case black and green
were "enamels" and so the black line had to be placed between the yellow
and the white line to be separated from the green. The same thing happened
with the stars: green and red are enamels, so to solve this, yellow
lines or ‘fimbriation’, to use the technical term, were put between
the green of the stars and the red of the rising sun. This new flag
came into use on 3 November 1981.
Then there was an issue with the positioning of the parrot. There was
no hard and fast rule as to which direction it should face. It was decided
that the parrot should always face the flagpole. And this form of the
flag came into use on 3 November 1988. Most national flags have a maximum
of four colours but the Dominica flag has eight, making it more complicated
and expensive to produce.
The office of the President of the Commonwealth of Dominica has its
own standard. The President’s Standard is a plain forest green flag
with the national coat of arms in the center. It is flown on the car
of the President when he is a passenger, while the national flag is
flown on the vehicle transporting the Prime Minister.
FLAGS THAT HAVE FLOWN OVER DOMINICA
The first French settlers who occupied Dominica were a disorganized
bunch with no proper government until a commander was sent from Martinique
in 1727 to install some form of order. The flag he arrived with was
the French Royalist flag with yellow fleur de lis on a white
background with the royal coat of arms in the center.
This was replaced with British Union Flag or Union Jack when Britain took
over Dominica in 1763.
A French flag flew here again from 7 September 1778 to 1 January 1784
when France occupied the island. By this time the flag of France had
been changed to one with a dark blue background and white cross in the
center of which was the royal coat of arms.
When the British forces marched into Roseau from Point Michel to repossess
the island, the historian Thomas Atwood reports that at Fort Young "As soon as the British troops were in possession of the fort, they hoisted
the standard of England on the flagstaff, which being a sight few of
the inhabitants had seen before, and being elated with joy on the occasion,
they were so eager to lend assistance to hoist it, that they were nearly
pulling the halliards by which it was raised, to pieces, and breaking
down the flag-staff by force of their numbers."
The Union Jack flew supreme over Dominica for the next 194 years with
one brief interruption, when for a few days in 1805 an invasion force
of French republican troops took over Roseau and raised the revolutionary
tricolour from the flagpole at Fort Young. Within days however the
French departed because they were unable to dislodge the British governor
and his regiments and militias from the Cabrits Garrison in the north
of the island.
Versions of the Union Jack were sometimes flown with the crest of the
Leeward Islands upon the background of a blue ensign, when Dominica
was put with the Leewards from 1871 to 1940 and with the Windward Islands
crest in the center when Dominica was placed under the Windwards government
from 1940 to 1955.
From 1955 to 1965 Dominica adopted the blue ensign with its own colonial
coat of arms upon it.
From 1958 the Union Jack or Dominica ensign flew side by side with
the Flag of the Federation of the West Indies until the collapse of
the federation in 1962. This flag was distinguished in its simplicity,
being a sun symbolizing unity in the centre of a wavy Caribbean Sea.
When the first National Day was celebrated on 3 November 1965 a flag
was adopted with a plain blue ensign, with the Union Flag in the left
hand corner and the new national Coat of Arms in the center within a
In 1967 when Dominica became an Associated State of Britain with full
internal self-government, the same flag was adopted except that the
white circle was removed. Other Associated States such as Antigua,
St. Lucia and St Vincent adopted unique statehood flags which they took
into independence with them, but Dominica’s flag had maintained the
colonial symbol and therefore was lowered in Windsor Park at midnight
on 2 November 1978 while the new national flag was hoisted.
THE COAT OF ARMS
The coat of arms of Dominica follows the medieval tradition of heraldry
in Europe. When armed knights went onto the battlefield they were covered
from head to foot in body armour and chain mail and their troops could
not tell who they were. So they wore their family symbols as a ‘coat
of arms’ on their shields and capes and breastplates to identify themselves
in battle. These coats of arms were designed according to rigid rules
laid down by the College of Arms and each part of the design represented
a particular aspect of that family or royal house.
Dominica had a previous coat of arms during the colonial period in
the form of an illustrated shield that was designed by the British after
gaining the island by the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The
story of this is given below. It was used up until 1961 when it was
replaced with the present coat of arms that continued to be used after
independence in 1978.
Our coat of arms was designed in 1960 by three people: The first Chief
Minister of Dominica, Franklin A. Baron and the British Administrator
of Dominica, Colonel Alec Lovelace and his wife Eleanor. It was assigned
to Dominica by royal warrant, signed at Buckingham Palace on 21 July
1961, and was registered at the College of Arms in London on 16 August
1961. As the declaration of the warrant says, it is to be borne "on
Seals, Shields, Banners, Flags or otherwise according to the Laws of
Its formal description as handed down by the College of Arms, is virtually
incomprehensible to the modern reader:
"Quarterly Or and Azure a cross filled counterchanged in the first
quarter on a Rocky Mount Sable a Coconut Tree fructed proper in the
second a Dominica Crapaud also proper in the third on Water Barry wavy
a base a Carib canoe with sail set all likewise proper in the forth
quarter on a Rocky Mount also sable a Banana Tree fructed also proper
and for the crest. On a Wreath Argent and Azure a Rocky Mount Sable
thereon a Lion Passant guardant Or and for the Supporters. On either
side of Sisserou Parrot (Amazona imperialis) proper beaked and membered
or together with the motto Apres Bondie C'est La Ter."
A more understandable description would be that the central shield
is divided into four quarters with a background of blue and gold representing
the sun, sky and sea. Each quarter has an object representing some aspect
of the island. The top left and bottom right quadrants have a coconut
palm and banana plant respectively that represents the agriculture of
the island. In the top right quadrant is a frog, locally called ‘crapeau’
(Leptodactylus fallax) representing the wildlife. In the lower
left quadrant is a Carib/Kalinago canoe representing the indigenous
people. On the top or crest of the shield stands a lion representing
the two centuries of British rule over the island.
The shield is supported by two Sisserou parrots (Amazona imperialis).
They are perched on a strip of parchment on which is written in Creole,
the national motto: "Apres Bondie C’est La Ter". In the established
form accepted by Creole linguists today it would be written: "Apwe Bondye Se La Te." It means, "After God it is the Land". However "La Te" can
be translated to mean, the land, the Earth or the soil. But the message
of the motto for the people of a mainly agricultural island is that
after praising God first, the next most important thing is the land
in the form of bearing fruit. It can also be extended to mean the land
in the nationalist sense that after your commitment to God then comes
your commitment to your country. The use of Creole represents also the
influence of France on the island and the part played by African traditions
and language in the creation of the Creole heritage.
The origin of this motto is thanks to the folk research of the Roman
Catholic priest, Fr. Raymond Proesmans, a member of the Redemtorist
order based for many years in the village of Pointe Michel. He went
among his parishioners recording many of their traditional sayings,
which he noted down in a book. This motto comes from an unidentified
farmer from Point Michel. Fr. Proesmans told me that one evening he
was out walking when he met a farmer coming down from his garden in
the hills. On greeting him and commenting on the variety of fruit and
vegetables he was carrying in his back-pack or "conta", the farmer replied,
"Wi mon pe, apwe Bondye se la te". When the Administrator and Chief
Minister were designing the new coat of arms, he called on Fr. Proesmans
to provide a selection of these Creole sayings out of which the national
motto was chosen.
THE COLONIAL COAT OF ARMS
For most of its history, Dominica had a coat of arms that was designed
shortly after the island was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris
in 1763. In those first years of British colonization, Portsmouth had
been laid out as the capital of Dominica. The first dock for shipping
was constructed at the Cabrits on the site where the Cabrits Cruise
Ship Berth now stands. The first coat of arms was simply a painting
of sailing ships tied up to this dock with the sun rising behind the
nearby mountains and a fort in the distance. It is believed that it
was devised by the famous Italian artist resident in Dominica, Agostino
Brunias, under the direction of Sir William Young who was then Commissioner
of the Sale of Lands in the Ceded Islands, and later the first governor
The motto of the colony appeared on a scroll below the shield and was
written in Latin : "Animis opibusque parati", which translates into
English as: "Ready with our lives and our resources" or put simply,
"Ready for anything". It is also the motto on the coat of arms of the
US state of South Carolina. In the 1760s Dominica was a new colony,
freshly settled by colonists eager to open up plantations in the virgin
forests and the motto was a call to action. It reflected the spirit
of the times, but it was still relevant even in the first half of the
20th century, when farmers were trying all sorts of new crops
to replace sugar cane.
This coat of arms can still be seen on the brass plaque on the cenotaph
or war memorial on Victoria Street in Roseau. The public library also
has a wooden plaque with this coat of arms painted on it. It had originally
been presented by the colony of Dominica to a British warship, a Colony
Class Frigate, active in World War II, called H.M.S. Dominica. The warship
was decommissioned and broken up after the war and the plaque was returned
to Dominica. When the Dominica Grammar School was founded in 1893 it
took a version of the colonial coat of arms as its school crest and
this is still in use today.
THE NATIONAL FLOWER
Bwa Kwaib, Bois Carib (Sabinea carinalis)
This small deciduous tree with brilliant red flowers that grows in
the wild mainly along the dry scrub woodland of the west coast, was
chosen as the national flower around the time of independence. Its claim
to this title is based on the botanical fact that it is endemic to Dominica
with only one related species found in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Some years earlier the Dominica Horticultural Society had chosen the
balizier or heleconia (Heliconia bihai) as its choice for the
national flower. It was selected by the popular vote of people attending
one of its exhibitions. Another contender was the beautiful mauve Petrea
(Petrea kohautiana) that blossoms on vines throughout the rain
forest. But there was the view among the selectors that it was not endemic
to Dominica and the uniqueness of the Bwa Kwaib gave it the edge. The
flowers have a form typical of pea flowers with a long keel. Scattered
bushes grow all along the west coast and make a short-lived burst of
colour from February to April and sometimes as late as June. The flowers
die within a few days so that this is a rather illusive national flower.
During this time it attracts an abundance of insects, hummingbirds and
banana quits. Since being declared the national flower the Bwa Kwaib
has been spread across the island by human propagation. In many cases
it has been planted well out of its natural vegetation range such as
in mountain villages and on the east coast. Because of this its flowering
is affected according to the micro climate of its location. Schools,
churches and government departments were encouraged to plant the national
flower in their grounds and so it is now well established around the
THE NATIONAL BIRD
The Sisserou Parrot (Amazona imperialis)
Sisserou is the original Carib/Kalinago name for this, the largest
of the Amazona parrots. It is endemic to Dominica, being found nowhere
else in the world. It is the ancient remnant of a species of parrot
once found in South America that came to Dominica thousands of years
ago. Locked into its island habitat, it remained the same while the
original species on mainland South America changed by natural selection.
It is therefore a perfect example of Charles Darwin’s findings on the
evolution of species. Dominica is the only island in the Lesser Antilles
that still has two surviving Amazona parrots, the Sisserou and the Jacko
or Red Necked Parrot (Amazona aurasiaca). The indigenous people
tamed some of these birds and their feathers were also used to decorate
their bodies. The Sisserou, particularly, became a prize collector’s
item during the 19th century when naturalists came to shoot
samples for their collections. The carcasses of many long dead Sisserous
lie in drawers in museums in Europe and North America. For much of the
20th century the Sisserou was threatened by hunting and loss
of habitat due to the forests being cleared for agriculture. But since
being declared the national bird, protective legislation and educational
programmes have been initiated to ensure its survival. Its image appears
on the flag and the coat of arms and national postage stamps. The Dominica
State College has it on its crest. More popularly it has given its name
to a wide range of products as well as being adopted by a singing group
and a former hotel. It appears on T-shirts and a wide range of tourist
souvenirs. In January 2000 a national park was established around the
highest mountain, Morne Diablotin. The Morne Diablotin National Park
protects watersheds and thousands of species of plants and animals,
but perhaps, most particularly, it protects the main habitat of the
THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
Lyrics by W. O. M. Pond
Music by L.M. Christian
Isle of beauty, isle of splendor,
Isle to all so sweet and fair,
All must surely gaze in wonder
At thy gifts so rich and rare.
Rivers, valleys, hills and mountains,
All these gifts we do extol.
Healthy land, so like all fountains,
Giving cheer that warms the soul.
Dominica, God hath blest thee
With a clime benign and bright,
Pastures green and flowers of beauty
Filling all with pure delight,
And a people strong and healthy,
Full of godly, rev'rent fear.
May we ever seek to praise Thee
For these gifts so rich and rare.
Come ye forward, sons and daughters
Of this gem beyond compare.
Strive for honour, sons and daughters,
Do the right, be firm, be fair.
Toil with hearts and hands and voices.
We must prosper! Sound the call,
In which everyone rejoices,
"All for Each and Each for All."
The National Anthem was composed as Dominica’s national song for the
first National Day celebrations in 1965. Popularly known by its first
line, "Isle of beauty", it was formally established as such
when Dominica gained Associated Statehood in 1967.
At official functions during Associated Statehood (1967 – 1978), the
British National Anthem "God Save the Queen""was played at
the arrival of the Governor and the National Song was played at the
arrival of the Premier. It was adopted as the National Anthem at independence
Lemuael Mc Pherson Christian
(1913 –2000) was the composer of the music of Dominica's National Anthem.
He was born in St.Kitts and was brought to Dominica as an infant and
grew up at Delices where his father was stationed as a teacher. He began
his public service as a police officer in the Leeward Islands Police
Force serving in Antigua and Dominica. He later worked in the Agricultural
Department and in administration at the Carib Cinema and Astaphan’s
He opened Dominica's first music school in 1944, The Christian Musical
Class. He ran it conjunction with typing classes and his deep interest
and dedication to music provided some of the only training for many
of our aspiring musicians.
He was primarily a guitarist but was very versatile and could play
25 instruments. He was a founding member of the Music Lovers Government
Band. In 1963 he was commissioned to write the Dominica Grammar School
song "The Greatest of All Builders" and in 1965 the music for the national
song. He married in 1943 and had five children, all of whom he named
He fostered his love of music among them, and two daughters, Peganni
and Palestrina, became professional musicians in Britain. His son, Purcell,
continues to teach music and play in the Music Lovers Government Band.
His niece Pearl is also an accomplished musician who heads the music
section of the Cultural Division and is leader of the Sisserou Singers.
He was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) medal in the 1960s,
The Sisserou Award of Honour in the 1970s and the Golden Drum Award
in 1984. He also received awards from numerous groups and organizations.
Wilfred Oscar Morgan Pond
(1912 – 1981) dedicated his life to education, serving as teacher in
the communities of Clifton, Soufriere, Giraudel and Roseau and as an
education officer before retiring.
He wrote poetry for many years, specialising in acrostics, a form whereby
the first letter of each line in the poem makes up a word when read
from top to bottom. He produced these to mark special events such as
national anniversaries. He wrote a variety of verse poems as well, mainly
on aspects of Dominica life, and the lyrics of the National Anthem reflects
Like the composer of the music for the anthem, L.M. Christian, Rev.
Pond was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) medal in the
1960s and the Sisserou Award of Honour. During retirement he became
increasingly involved in ministering in the Anglican Church, serving
as lay reader and deacon before his full ordination to the priesthood.
He is best known as the composer of the lyrics of Dominica's National