The Wavy Symbolism of Potamological Vexillology—in Puerto Rico

By Carlos Alberto Morales Ramírez
Vexilloid Tabloid #63

Potamology—a branch of physical geography—is the study of rivers (think hippo-potamus, “horse of the river” in Greek).

Within physical geography (the subfield of geography that studies natural phenomena in Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere through space and time), the study of rivers is found under hydrology (the study of water in all its forms) or under geomorphology (specifically fluvial geomorphology, which deals with the formation and functions of streams).

Continuing my interdisciplinary approach in vexillology, I’ve explored the representation of rivers in flags through wavy bands.  For this inquiry I looked at the flags from Puerto Rico’s municipalities as a case study.

Wavy bands in flags can be seen at the national level—Kiribati and British Indian Ocean Territories—and at the municipal level—St. Louis (Missouri, U.S.A).  The symbolism of these wavy bands is typically associated with a body of water—ocean, sea, or river.

This is not the only way that a body of water can be symbolized on flags; however it is the most frequently used.  Of the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico, six have wavy bands alluding to a river in the area.  In addition, Río Piedras, a former municipality now part of the capital municipality of San Juan, also has a flag with a wavy band.

camuyCamuy’s flag has a white wavy band interrupted by the Taíno sun.  This band represents the Camuy River, which runs east of the municipality and serves as a boundary between Camuy and Hatillo (the municipality directly to the east).  This river submerges for a stretch and then re-emerges to the surface within the municipality.

quebradillasQuebradillas, the municipality to the west of Camuy, has a flag with two quarters with green and white wavy bands.  These represent the small streams, the Guajataca Lake (a manmade lake south of the   municipality, shared with San    Sebastián and Isabela), and the  river of the same name.  The river here also serves as a boundary   between Quebradillas and the   municipality to the west, Isabela.

san-sebastianThe flag of San Sebastián places the wavy band diagonally, dividing the green and red sections of the flag.  The band represents the   Culebrinas River, which originates in the mountains of the municipality of Lares and runs diagonally through the center of the municipality southeast to the west.

mayaguezSimilar to San Sebastián, Mayagüez has bands that represent a river that runs through the municipality, the Yagüez River.  This river originates in the mountains of the municipalities that border Mayagüez to the east, Maricao and Las Marías.  The Yagüez River runs east to west, emptying into Mayagüez Bay.

juncosThe Valenciano River is represented by blue wavy bands on the flag of Juncos.  This river flows northwest through the municipality until it meets the Gurabo River, a tributary of the Río Grande de Loíza (literally “Big River of Loíza”), the largest river in Puerto Rico.

rio-piedrasRío Piedras also has a wavy blue band representing the river that gives the location its name, Piedras (stones) River.  This river marks the boundaries of this area in the municipality of San Juan.

I left the Corozal flag for last because a variant version includes river symbolism.  The shield on the flag incorporates wavy bands representing the Corozal River.  This river is a tributary of the Cibuco River that empties in the Atlantic Ocean in the municipality of Vega Baja.  According to the Flags of the World website, the official flag of the municipality does not have the shield on it, nor does the municipality’s official website mention the shield on the flag.  However, images of variants of the flag bearing the shield can be found.

As “honorable mentions” I include the flag of Guánica, where the bands represent the Guánica Bay, and the flag of Loíza, where the wavy bands allude to Loíza as a coastal municipality and having the widest and most abundant river on the island.

Rivers are an important system for humans—as a source of drinking water, food, transportation, ecosystem dynamics—and play an important role in the hydrological cycle.  Puerto Rico has 224 named rivers—most of them tributaries of other main rivers—the majority rising in the island’s central mountain range Cordillera Central.

When using flags as instructional tools, it is interesting to explore the ways in which rivers are given importance and symbolism throughout vexillology.  Not only do they refer to their local importance or natural phenomena, but they also serve as tool for understanding the concepts of political geography (concerning boundaries and subdivisions) and location.

On each of these flags—literally “a river runs through it”.

Carlos Morales is a PhD student in Geography, currently studying at the National University of Singapore


“Hello Internet” on Flags

Hello Internet is a popular podcast on a variety of topics by CGP Grey and Brady Haran. Flags are a recurring theme. Mike Burnfire has been animating a number of their vexillological discussions on YouTube:

Learning from Labrador

By Scott Mainwaring
Vexilloid Tabloid #63

The flag of the Canadian region of Labrador—the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador—is enjoying a resurgence of interest and adoption, flying at the border crossings with Quebec and at the city hall of the provincial capital of St. Johns.

The flag is documented particularly well in the online Flags of the World database (, thanks to a concise 2002 essay posted there by its designer, Labradorian and former provincial legislator Michael S. Martin.

The case of Labrador’s flag provides a number of useful lessons for flag adoption.

First, the 1974 flag was a labor of love by Martin, his wife Patricia, and a close circle of friends—not the result of a bureaucratic process or referendum.

Second, the Martins did not initially make just a few flags to display.  Patricia, “the Betsy Ross of Labrador”, sewed 64—enough for every town and village in Labrador… and then some!

Last, it provides a word of caution about copyrighting a flag.

A copyright-avoidant variant

Annoyed by sloppy versions being used on souvenir items, Martin attempted to enforce conformity to the original design by copyrighting it.  But this only resulted in manufacturers purposely varying the design to avoid infringement, resulting in confusion and inconsistency.

(The holders of the flag’s copyright actually encourage people “to use the flag whenever and wherever possible”.)

See also:

Your Flag (Is Wack)

Heath Cottengim has created this epic vexillological rap video.  Enjoy.


[Hook: Heath Cottengim]
Your flag is wack, your flag is wack, your flag is wack
Belgium just Germany taking a nap
I’d take it all back
If you’d just change the flag
I be on the attack
‘Cause your flag is wack

[Verse 1: Heath Cottengim]
Indonesia and Monaco, one of you has gotta go
How’s the public supposed to know
Who’s who when that shits on the pole
You’re no better Poland, looking
Upside-down like Spiderman
Next time hire a designer
So your flag don’t look so stolen
You may think I’m mad, you may think I’m absurd
But it ain’t my fault Netherlands looks like Luxembourg
So many bad flags I can’t tell them apart
Which one of these is Ireland and
Which one’s Cote d’Ivoire?
I be in the stadium
Watchin’ the game
Chad and Romania
Look exactly the same
You’d be none the wiser
If I asked you to squint
It’s like the designer
Threw out the blueprint
Not tryna to make enemies
Half the Middle East looks Yemeni
Throwing flags out like a referee
Don’t care if it’s a felony
Extortion, genocide, organ shortages, yellow fever
Are not why I take the time to call up every foreign leader
(telephone rings)
Hello, you’ve reached Prime Minister of Australia
Hey Malcolm, how come you still stealin’ from New Zealand?
I mean it. I’ll break these Union Jack’s backs
Like the Bane of flags
I’m not insane, I’m just statin’ the facts
Let’s bring it back for you amnesiacs

[Hook: Heath Cottengim]

Your flag is wack, your flag is wack, your flag is wack
Norway is okay if you can do math (do math)
If you can’t take the flak
Take it off the map
It’s as simple as that
‘Cause your flag is wack
Your flag is wack, your flag is wack, your flag is wack
Greenland pretends to not be an app
Don’t tell me to relax
I’ll watch your country collapse
Nepal gets a pass
But your flag is wack

[Verse 2: Heath Cottengim]
I want flags different, distinct and unique
Think Canada, Panama, Zanzibar and Mozambique, ayy
Wait, Mozambique has an AK?
They’re not so scary, their military’s
Smaller than Notre Dame
Although I enjoy this, let me be open
When bad shit gets hoisted, people get disappointed
Point is this message is essential, so don’t try to avoid it
‘Cause I’ll just keep roasting the globe
’till I hit the ocean (Let’s go!)
Seychelles, looking like I’m about to get my groove on
Qatar, looking like I’m bout to tear a coupon
Kyrgyzstan’s’ll work, but you gotta turn it on first
Look at Antwerp’s too long and it starts to hurt
Don’t expect apology, won’t accept low quality
Just next time respect vexillology
Try to find the strength to face the fact that
Maybe the flag needs to tend the rabbits
I’m probably preaching to the choir
But when it comes to flags I think we can
Raise the bar a little higher
To those who’d fight a redesigner
I’ll leave you looking like the guy in the Benin Empire

[Hook: Heath Cottengim]
Your flag is wack, your flag is wack, your flag is wack
Rather be Martian than live under that
Some flags have class
Others are crap
I’d start from scratch
‘Cause your flag is wack
Your flag is wack, your flag is wack, your flag is wack
Pocatello, what am I lookin’ at?
It shouldn’t have taken a rap
To convince you that
When it comes to flags
Your flag is wack

Vexilloid Tabloid #63

The Portland Flag Association publishes its newsletter, The Vexilloid Tabloid, every two months. In the latest issue you will find:

  • Learning from Labrador (Scott Mainwaring)
  • A Flag for Kaiapoi, Canterbury, New Zealand (John Moody)
  • The Wavy Symbolism of Potamological Vexillology–in Puerto Rico (Carlos Alberto Morales Ramirez)
  • An Enormous Romanian Flag Made of Light (Ted Kaye)
  • Burgees of the Portland Area
  • Art in Second Life (David Koski)

And, as always, it includes the What’s That Flag? quiz, Flags in the News (news stories featuring flags), Flutterings (highlights from the last PFA meeting), and Portland Flag Miscellany (news about Portland’s city flag).  Each new issue is sent out to our email subscribers list as a PDF attachment.  If you would like to be added to that list, just email and let us know your name, contact info (address and e-mail) and interest in flags.



Happy St. Patrick’s Day to VIBE

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we would like to celebrate one of our favorite vexillological associations, VIBE (Vexillology Ireland / Brateolaíocht Éireann). They publish a fantastic newsletter (latest issue here), and have an active page on Facebook. Catch them on Twitter at @FlagsIreland.

Here is a sampling of photographs they have posted to their Facebook page.


NAVA (Still) Needs Your Support

[This is an update to a 2015 posting about NAVA.]

NAVA is the North American Vexillological Association, the world’s oldest organization devoted to vexillology, the study of flags.  It publishes the peer-reviewed journal Raven, as well as a newsletter and the periodical Flag Research Quarterly (FRQ); and holds an annual meeting, the “largest conference of vexillologists (flag scholars),vexillographers (flag designers), vexillophiles (flag collectors and hobbyists), flag conservators, and flag dealers on the continent.”


NAVA has probably had its greatest impact by publishing in 2006 Good Flag, Bad Flag (GFBF), a booklet of practical advice to flag designers. Drawing upon the writings of over a dozen vexillologists,† Ted Kaye distilled five basic design principles and illustrated these with positive and negative examples. GFBF has been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, and formed the basis for Roman Mars’ 2015 TED Talk  that has garnered close to three million views!  (Inexplicably, NAVA removed GFBF from its website in 2014; we’re happy to report that it’s back, though somewhat buried.)

If you are interested in flags, NAVA needs your support.

The most important support you can give is your participation — by attending, presenting at, or voting at the annual meeting (this year’s is in Boston, October 13-15), submitting to Raven or FRQ, or becoming a NAVA member to receive its publications (and access to its Digital Library).

Your financial support is also critical, as NAVA is a non-profit, donation-supported organization.  Annual, tax-deductable memberships cost only $40 for individuals ($20 for students) and entitle you to vote, in person, at the business meeting held at the annual meeting. Organizational memberships cost $60 annually and also receive voting privileges, including the ability to designate a representative to vote at the business meeting (individual members cannot designate such proxies) — provided you designate a representative in writing at least 15 days prior to the annual meeting. (This restriction on organizational members voting was announced for the first time by the Board at the 2016 business meeting, which unfortunately resulted in a number of organizational members being disenfranchised, so caveat emptor!)

If you are already a NAVA member and wish to renew, the easiest way to start is to enter your Customer Number on this page: You can find this number on the mailing label of NAVA publications you receive, above your name. If you have difficulty locating your number, e-mail Ted Kaye of the membership committee (, who can provide it to you.


† Philippe Bondurand, Frederick Brownell, William Crampton, Michael Faul, Jim Ferrigan, Richard Gideon, Kevin Harrington, Lee Herold, Ralph Kelly, Rich Kenny, David Martucci, Clay Moss, Peter Orenski, Whitney Smith, Steve Tyson, Henry Untermeyer, and Alfred Znamierowski.


Vexilloid Tabloid #62

Happy 2017! The first issue of the new year is here. Vexilloid Tabloid #62 features:

  • The Origin of the PFA (Ted Kaye)
  • Book Review: 50 Facts You May Not Know About the Confederate Flag (Ted Kaye)
  • Alternative Flags for Earth
  • Update on Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Proposed Flag
  • Does the Deep Sea Need a Flag? (Carlos Alberto Morales Ramirez)
  • William & Mary … and St. Andrew (David Ferriday)

And, as always, it includes the What’s That Flag? quiz, Flags in the News (news stories featuring flags), Flutterings (highlights from the last PFA meeting), and Portland Flag Miscellany (news about Portland’s city flag).  Each new issue is sent out to our email subscribers list as a PDF attachment.  If you would like to be added to that list, just email and let us know your name, contact info (address and e-mail) and interest in flags.


Tonight’s Meeting Rescheduled

Please note that due to (once again) Portland’s complete inability to deal with significant snowfall, our January meeting will not take place tonight. It has been rescheduled for two weeks from today, Thursday, January 26 (same place, same time).

In the meantime, you could send Portland a few bucks to invest in snow removal equipment!

Merry Christmas (Island)!

It’s that time of year when vexillologists turn their attention to the flag of a small Indian Ocean island owned by Australia: the Island of Christmas!


It was named by English Captain William Mynors on Christmas Day, 1643, from his East India Company ship the Royal Mary.  (This is apparently all this is known about William Mynors.)

The island was uninhabited until the late 19th century, entirely flagless until 1986, and officially flagless until 2002.  The flag was designed by a certain Tony Couch, of Sydney, formerly of Christmas Island, who won $100 in a flag contest.

Not a bad design, though the map of the island on a gold disk in the center is a bit superfluous. And Couch should have shared his prize money with Susan (Karike) Huhume, designer of the (earlier) PNG flag, for the general idea.

Flag of Papua New Guinea

For more on Christmas Island and its flag, check out James Breig’s well-researched Christmas Eve blog posting of last year, Waving a flag on Christmas…Island, that is on the Gettysburg Flag Company’s website.