The Caribbean was the last region of the Americas to be settled. Its first residents arrived in 8000 BCE from South America. Europe made permanent contact with the Caribbean in 1492 and changed world history forever. Several European nations vied for power and wealth in the Caribbean over the ensuing centuries, establishing colonies which thrived on African labor. Slavery was abolished in the 1800s and the following century was characterized by decolonization. This led to many Caribbean islands gaining independence. As a result, the national flags of the Caribbean are fairly new. Nearly all were created in the twentieth century.
Many people would struggle to name the 13 Caribbean sovereign nations, let alone place them on a map or identify their flags. These are the 13 Caribbean flags and the meaning behind each design.
Known as the Land of 365 Beaches, Antigua and Barbuda hoisted its flag for the first time in 1967. This Caribbean flag is rectangular in shape and composed of an inverted triangle filled with horizontal stripes of black, blue and white on a red background. A rising sun is centered on the black stripe to represent the dawn of a new era, and its seven points stand for the island of Barbuda and Antigua’s six parishes. Black symbolizes the island’s African descendants, blue represents hope and the Caribbean Sea, while the red is for the vibrant energy of the people. The V-shape of the triangle symbolizes victory.
In 1973, the Bahamas held a competition to design a national flag that would mark their independence. Instead of selecting one winner, the government combined several entries to create the new flag. The result is a rectangular flag with two aquamarine stripes that represent the ocean which surrounds the nation’s nearly 700 coral islands. Between the two aquamarine stripes is a gold one representing the sand and other land resources, while the black triangle represents the strength of the Bahamian people.
Barbados also hosted a competition to design a national flag as its independence from the UK in 1966 approached. The winning flag is rectangular and has a gold vertical stripe to represent the beach. This is sandwiched by two ultramarine blue vertical stripes to represent the sea and sky. At the center of the flag lies the trident of the mythical sea god Neptune. Its shaft is broken to symbolize Barbados breaking ties with the UK.
Cuba’s national flag was designed by poet Miguel Teurbe Tolón alongside Narciso López, a freedom fighter, in the 19th century. This rectangular flag consists of three blue stripes to represent the island’s three military districts under Spanish rule, and has two intervening white stripes to symbolize the purity of the patriot cause. The white star represents independence and lies on a red triangle that stands for the strength of the Cuban people. This is one of the few Caribbean flags which was flown before the country declared its independence.
Dominica’s flag is complex and full of symbols. It has three vertical and three horizontal stripes of yellow, black, and white. These form a cross on a rectangular green background, a color representing the island’s forests. This cross stands for the Trinity, a testament to the island’s Christian principles. The yellow stripe symbolizes the sunshine, the black stripe represents the country’s African heritage and rich soil, and the white represents the purity of the rivers, waterfalls, and the Dominican people. A red disc which symbolizes Dominica’s commitment to social justice lies at the center of the flag and cross. Within that circle is a Sisserou Parrot, Dominica’s national bird, encircled by ten lime green stars. These stars represent hope and the island’s ten parishes.
This Caribbean flag was first unfurled in 1844 after the Dominican Republic declared itself independent of Haiti despite the two nations sharing the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic’s rectangular flag carries a central white cross which symbolizes peace and unity, and divides the flag into four equal rectangles. The upper left upper and lower right rectangles are ultramarine blue to represent the sky from which God rules and protects the nation. The remaining two rectangles are red to symbolize the blood shed in the fight for independence. At the center of the cross lies the Dominican coat of arms which contains an open Bible. The Dominican Republic is the only country in the world which has a Bible on its national flag.
Grenada’s national flag was created for its independence from Britain in 1974. This Caribbean flag is rectangular with a diagonally divided background of green representing its vegetation, and yellow for wisdom and the sun. These triangles have a red border as a symbol of harmony and unity. The seven yellow stars represent the island’s original administrative divisions. The nutmeg at its hoist triangle is symbolic of Grenada’s primary export which explains its nickname — the Spice Island.
The French Revolution inspired a slave revolt in this former French colony, which led to its Black population declaring their independence. In 1803, Haitians removed the white stripe from France’s tricolor flag to symbolize the expulsion of the island’s White population. The remaining blue and red colors represented the island’s Black and mixed populations. Eventually, those stripes were turned horizontal and a white rectangle with the new coat of arms added to its center. This consists of a palm tree surmounted by a liberty cap and flanked by six flags, a drum, bugles, cannons, cannonballs, and ship anchors, all resting on a green lawn. A ribbon which bears the motto “L’Union fait la force” (Union makes strength) is also included.
This Caribbean flag was hoisted for the first time in 1962 to mark Jamaica’s independence. Symbolically, Britain’s Union Jack was lowered simultaneously. Jamaica’s national flag is rectangular in shape with a gold diagonal cross to represent wealth and the natural beauty of sunlight. The top and bottom triangles are green to represent hope and the country’s fertile land, a tribute to the island’s name which means Land of Wood and Water in Arawakan. This language was spoken by the island’s now-extinct indigenous Taino people. The remaining two triangles are black to symbolize the resilience and creativity of the Jamaican people. Jamaica’s flag is the only national flag in the world without the traditional colors of red, white, and blue.
Saint Kitts and Nevis raised its current national flag for the first time in 1983 when it received independence. This unique Caribbean flag is rectangular with a green triangle for the fertile land, and a red triangle to symbolize the years of struggle against slavery and colonialism. Running diagonally through the center is a black stripe to represent the people’s African heritage. This stripe is bordered in yellow to reflect the brilliant sunshine. The stripe bears two white stars, one for each island, as symbols of hope and liberty. Like several other islands, this flag was chosen from a design competition held just before the grant of independence.
Saint Lucia’s flag is rectangular with a cerulean blue background to reflect the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea which surround the island. Two embedded triangles sit at the center which symbolize the Pitons twin volcano cones for which the island is best known. One triangle is white and black to represent harmony of the races living in Saint Lucia; the other one is yellow and represents the year-round sunshine and prosperity. Saint Lucia’s national flag was adopted in 1979 at independence, and last modified in 2002 where the yellow triangle was enlarged and the black and white triangle made narrower.
The national flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was officially adopted in 1985. This rectangular flag bears three green diamonds in its center. They are arranged in the shape of a “V” for Saint Vincent. These jewels also define Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as the gem of the Antilles. The flag has a tricolor background of blue which represents the sky and sea; gold for the warmth, bright spirit of the people, and golden sands of the Grenadines; and green for the lush vegetation and vitality of the Vincentian people. This Caribbean flag is sometimes called The Gems.
The national flag of this twin island republic was selected in 1962 to commemorate its independence. The flag is rectangular in shape and has a red background with a white-edged black diagonal band across it. The black represents the earth and dedication of its people, while the white represents the water resources, purity, and equality of all men under the sun. Red symbolizes fire — the vitality of the land, the energy of the sun, and the courage, warmth and friendliness of the Trinidadian people. This flag is affectionately called the Sun-Sea-Sand Banner by Trinidadians.