The Whitianga swastika
I had grown up with movies like The Guns of Navarone, with solemn picture books about World War Two, and with comics with names like Battle Picture Weekly, so I associated swastikas with bad guys - they were known variously as Krauts, Jerries, and the Hun, but they were always bad guys - who jumped out of aeroplanes and foxholes shouting 'Heil Hitler' and died screaming 'Achtung!' in a hail of British or American bullets.
I've since learned that the swastika is an ancient and ubiquitous symbol, that it has been used by devotees of Buddhism and Jainism, and that it was a relatively popular decorative motif in books and magazines before World War Two. The volume of Kipling's stories I spotted was almost certainly produced before the war.
I've never been a fan of the view, advocated by the likes of Jung and Levi-Strauss, that certain symbols have a fixed, inherent meaning, and affect all humans the same way. Nevertheless, I can't help but associate the swastika, whatever the context in which I find it, with Hitler, with Nazism, and with evil. There seems to be something inherently malign about the symbol, especially when it is presented in its 'slanting' rather than 'static' form. The bent arms of the swastika seem violently deformed and sharp-edged, and when the symbol is slanted it gains a disturbing feeling of motion. It might be a rotor of some infernal engine, or the strange axle of a grotesque war machine rolling towards its targets.
I'd never seen a swastika on display in New Zealand outside of a museum, so I was rather surprised to spot a large version of the infamous symbol standing beside a quiet road on the southern side of the Whitianga harbour in the eastern Coromandel last weekend.
The 'Whitianga swastika' stood four or five feet tall, and had obviously been sculpted and painted with care. The red, light blue, and yellow colours of the object were hardly designed to recall Nazi Germany. Checking with the redoubtable Flags of the World website, I see that red, yellow, and blue are used extensively with some Buddhist banners. On the other hand, the slant of the Whitianga swastika differentiates it from the Buddhist version of the symbol, and reminds us of the Nazis.
Can anybody offer an interpretation of this strange symbol?