Tuesday, 24 April 2012

South African Coat of Arms

A character in Merlin, with a tattoo on his left arm.
I was watching the final few episodes of season 4 of the BBC series Merlin and a tattoo on the arm of one of the characters caught my eye.

A digitally enhanced
close-up of the tattoo.
Yes, it as none other than the South African Coat of Arms! Such anachronisms--one of the hall marks of Postmodernism--get's me all giddy. The average Joe watching the series would not recognize the tattoo for what it is. Who would have thought that the Coat of Arms could make for such a cool looking tattoo?



I've personally always liked the new Coat of Arms. From a purely graphic design point of view, it is a well thought through design. (I originally studied graphic design, and although I don't work in that field full time any more, I still have an appreciation for good design.)

The dawning sun, a symbol for both Africa and for a new beginning, crowns the Secretary Bird. The bird spreads its wings open in triumph and hope. The Secretary Bird is a bird of prey indigenous to Sub-Sahara Africa, known for it's unique way of killing its prey by kicking it to death. In the emblem the spear and knopkierie, two traditional weapons that also symbolize authority, act as the Secretary Bird's legs. The weapons are reclined into a guarded cross, indicating that they are used for defence, rather than offence.

The body of the Secretary Bird is both a diamond and a protea. The former representing South Africa's mineral wealth, and the latter referring to South Africa's flora. The protea is South Africa's national flower. Over 90% of all protea are found only in South Africa, in the Cape Floristic Region.

In the centre of the emblem, together with the spear and knopkierie is the traditional shield, a symbol of protection. Displayed on the shield are two human figures holding hands, symbolizing friendship, reconciliation, and unity and community. The figures are of Khoi-San (Bushmen) people, the first inhabitants of Southern Africa. I find this particularly touching that these truly indigenous South African people should be honoured in this way. The motto at the bottom of the shield is written in the Khoi language, "!ke e: /xarra //ke". It means "unity in diversity", referring to South Africa's multicultural community.

The ears of wheat symbolizes South Africa's agriculture--the bedrock of the country's health. They also signifies sustainable growth.

Finally the elephant tusks refers to the country's wildlife. Elephants are also symbols of strength and wisdom, while ivory represents longevity.

Sadly, this rich Coat of Arms also contains many ironies. The idea of a better life for all, a new beginning after the oppression of the previous regime, is quickly fading as the new regime, the current governing party, is becoming increasingly more corrupt. The reclined weapons that should indicate peace now seem to indicate the governments impotence to defend against the terrible violent crimes that plague the land. Especially suffering under these violent crimes are the agricultural industry. The systematic killing of farmers are also destroying the country's self-sufficiency. Instead of symbolising agricultural health, the ears of wheat are transformed into wreaths for graves. The illegal trade in ivory causes the butchery of elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns by poachers. The tusks that should symbolize longevity, now becomes reason for their premature death. The shield and the figures holding hands regularly seem to be and ideal only and the Khoi-San people are still some of the most marginalized, underprivileged people in South Africa.

Then, of course, there are the conspiracy theorists that believe that the Coat of Arms is a design chosen by the New World Order, seeped with occult symbolism.

Image Source
I'm not sure that I am truly convinced about this; however, there is that Eye-of-Providence on the pyramid. The fact that it is so conspicuously red, clearly indicates something sinister, doesn't it?


The Eye-of-Providence, also known as the All-Seeing-Eye, is also found on the American Dollar Bill.

Jacopo Pontormo's "Supper at Emmaus"
Circa 1525
In Byzantine and traditional Christian art, the Eye-of-Providence functions as a symbol for the omniscience of God, and the triangle is an icon used for the Trinity.



However, the symbol was not an authentic Christian icon. The Roman Church took it (and many other symbols) from paganism. The earliest version of the "eye" is probably the Eye of Horos, which symbolizes the Egyptian Sun-God, Ra.

That the Freemasons and other secret fraternity's often make use of the Eye-of-Providence as one of their icons is well established. If the little red triangle on top of the pyramid in the South African Coat of Arms is indeed a reference to the Eye-of-Providence as is also found in the American One Dollar Bill, then there may be room for suspicion that the powers-that-be in South Africa are not necessarily the ones doing the posturing in the media. As with most governments that are infiltrated by the New World Order, for example the United States of America, the politicians are merely puppets that dance to the strings of other, higher powers.

But, back to the South African Coat of Arms, it is fun to see that it makes for an interesting tattoo! And I enjoyed seeing it in the magical world of the Merlin-series.

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