When I first arrived to Peru, I got confused. There seem to be different variations of the Peruvian flag. The 7th of June is the official national flag day in Peru. So, let’s dive into its story.
Why is the Peruvian flag red-white-red?
In colorful Peru, I found it no surprise that the main color of the flag is a strong red. Why red? One story tells that its creator chose the flag colors after he saw flamingos with red wings and white chests.
True or not, we do know that the first official version of the Peruvian flag was designed by its liberator: José de San Martín.
From October 1820 onward, the fierce red with white always remained the base of the Peruvian flag.
The Peruvian Coat of Arms
Since 1825, the Peruvian Coat of Arms has been placed at the white center of the flag. There are three images on the flag that, together, represent the flora, fauna, and mineral wealth of Peru.
The Symbolism of the Vicuña, Tree, and Cornucopia
The Vicuña – The Altiplano
No tourist goes home from Peru without a stack of photos of llamas, alpacas and, if you were lucky, vicuñas as well.
In 1964, the vicuña was in danger of extinction. There was only a population of 25,000 left. They were hunted down for their wool, which is one of the most expensive fibers in the world.
The Peruvian government took action, and, among other initiatives, handed the ownership of the wild vicuñas over to the local indigenous communities. Nowadays, the vicuñas are no longer on the endangered species list.
As the vicuña is the national animal of Peru, it proudly features as the first element on the shield.
The Cinchona Tree – The Amazon
Reading up on the Cinchona Tree, I can understand why it is featured on the Peruvian flag. Little did I know that it is one of the most important rainforest discoveries.
Legend has it that back in 1638, the wife of the Count of Cinchon was cured of a malaria-like fever through the use of the bark of this tree. It does explain the name of the tree: Cinchona.
Native Peruvian healers used the cinchona tree bark to treat fever, malaria, and indigestion. Using the quinine of the bark is an authentic Peruvian way to outsmart the potential nasty effects of a mosquito bite. Even today, the bark is still an important source of quinine and is used for various medicines.
Also: Do you like gin and tonic? Apparently, the signature bitter taste of the tonic originates from the quinine of the Cinchona tree.
The Cornucopia – All of Peru
The third element of the shield is a nod to Greek Mythology where a cornucopia symbolizes ‘the horn of plenty.’ On the Peruvian flag, the horn is portrayed overflowing with coins. This stands for the abundance of mineral resources in Peru.
Peru is one of the world’s largest producers of gold, copper, tin, zinc, and silver. Mineral commodities account for more than 60% of Peruvian exports.
Originally, the ‘horn of plenty’ was pictured as a hollow goat’s horn overflowing with fruit, grains, vegetables, or drinks in endless supply. Given the richness of Peru’s biodiversity and agricultural production and export, the cornucopia emblem deservedly belongs as the third element on the Peruvian flag.
¡Todos Somos Peru!
On Peru’s Independence Day and on national holidays, by law, every home and building has to fly the Peruvian flag. For private citizens, that means raising the national flag: the vertical red-white-red tri-band.
When you see the flag with the Peruvian Coat of Arms pictured at the center, that is the official state flag. You will see that one at every government building.
With the World Cup approaching and Peru participating for the first time in 36 long years, the Peruvian flag can be seen everywhere these days. There are even informal Peru-Russia 2018 versions of the flag with the vicuña replaced by a football, the cinchona tree replaced by a Peruvian jersey, and the cornucopia replaced by the Estadio Nacional, the setting where Peru beat New Zealand and earned their place in the World Cup 2018.