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Rich symbolism in Zambia’s heraldry

Rich symbolism in Zambia’s heraldry

Zambian Flag and coat of arms
Zambian Flag and coat of arms


The flag of Zambia was adopted on 24 October 1964, when the country gained its independence from British colonial rule and changed its name from Northern Rhodesia to Zambia. It was first hoisted on the eve of Independence, replacing the British Union Jack. The flag is unusual in having the eagle and stripes elements at the fly end, as most emblems on flags are placed at the centre or the hoist end.

The flag is reflective of Zambia’s geography, showing different aspects of the country’s life and history and symbolises the nation’s patriotism and wealth. Green stands for the lush vegetation and natural resources, red for the nation’s struggle for freedom and independence, black for the Zambian people, and orange for the land’s mineral wealth, particularly copper. The eagle flying above the coloured stripes is a symbol of freedom and represents the people’s ability to rise above the nation’s problems.

The flag was designed by Gabriel Ellison, a government graphic artist who worked for the Northern Rhodesia Information Services and who also designed the national coat of arms and many Zambian stamps. The flag incorporated some ideas from the flag of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the movement which led the struggle for independence.

At Independence a new coat of arms was also adopted. The black and white wavy lines represent Victoria Falls. The hoe and pick represent the country’s economic backbone of agriculture and mining. The eagle, as in the flag, signifies freedom and independence. The man and woman, dressed in Western-style clothing to emphasise modernity and to minimise ethnic differences, embody the African family. The man wears a safari suit, favoured by white male civil servants in the colonial era, while the woman wears a traditional ‘Chitenge’ outfit. The miniature maize cob, mine shaft head and zebra on a green background symbolise the country’s natural resources -  agriculture, minerals, wildlife and land. The country’s motto, ‘One Zambia, One Nation’, emphasises the need for unity in a country with over 70 ethnic groups.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 13, June 2013)

Read more on Zambian history from the Zambezi Traveller:
Gabriel Ellison, Author, artist and woman of courage (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
That versatile chitenge (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
Zambia’s national anthem: a history (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
The first newspaper in Zambia (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)