Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Whitianga swastika

When I was in my early teens I was shocked to come across an old hardcover book with a spine decorated by swastikas. The book was a collection of Rudyard Kipling's short stories, and I wondered whether Kipling, whom I remembered as the author of The Jungle Book, the Bible of the Papakura Cubs troop, could really have been a Nazi.

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?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:57 pm  
Blogger paul scott said...

that picture its a whirlygirg thing maps, and thanks for your articles dude,

7:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But it doesn't whirl. From wikipedia...

A whirligig is an object that spins or whirls, or has at least one member that spins or whirls. Whirligigs are also known as buzzers, comic weathervanes, gee-haws, spinners, whirlygigs; whirlijig; whirlyjig; whirlybird; or plain whirly. Whirligigs are most commonly powered by the wind, but can be hand or friction powered, or even powered by a motor. They can be used as a kinetic garden ornament. They can be designed to transmit sound and vibration into the ground to repel burrowing rodents in yards, gardens, and backyards.

7:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I experienced that. My father had Kipling book with a swastika on it. I have since seen other editions like that.

I was in local supermarket and one of the checkout operators, a young Indian woman, had her name tag as "Swastika" so it is possibly a relatively common name in India or thereabouts.

I doubt she knew the connection with Nazi Germany.

I think we who know about the Nazis (we may overestimate how many people outside of Europe etc are aware of its Nazi connections) are conditioned to a negative view of that symbol.

For me it is not inherently. disturbing.

I don't understand or take much interest in Jung's theories.

I think that it may be that the reason many of us fear spiders is, that as well as being conditioned, they are, in shape, so different from us. They have an exoskeleton and radiate outwards in not only 6 but 8 legs.

But overall they are less dangerous to humans than mosquitoes. In fact they kill flies and other things that are harmful to us. On TV I've seen scientists lovingly pick up tarantulas (they don't really have a too dangerous bite, and they pick them up in a way they cant get bitten, and quite gently) with their bare hands and saying how beautiful they are.

The swastika similarly radiates out like a spider. But then so does an X

Possibly something is in our genotypes that conditions (some of) us somewhat to react with aversion to them. We should, if we don't know a dog at all, or have never seen one, fear or avoid it, and that is a normal reaction. We condition (or are conditioned) ourselves to like animals.

We don't naturally like other animals at all. Many animals we are relaxed around can potentially kill us ( mammals such as dogs, horses, cows, even cats and also certain insects). The stranger or more different an animal or thing is the greater our initial negative reaction (say as very young children). This applies to our reactions to humans.

We forget these negative (in fact they are inborn survival mechanisms), or experiences as we grow up, if they are not positively reinforced by various factors.

That is my theory.

What is the Whitianga symbol? It just seems like a kind of sculpture to me. The maker of it is perhaps into some form of Buddhism or Hinduism.

10:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buddhists can be fascists.
Some schools of Zen became violent and supported Japanese fascism.
Pupils were 'taught' through violent martial arts.

11:06 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - BTW - in your book of Smithy's poems - in his ANZAC (series of 5 poems) - in one of those, as well as talking about books by Thomas Wolfe he mentions that 'The Guns of Navarone' is on at the pictures in the local town!

He cant sleep so he is drinking coffee!! (Maybe may as well stay up all night I suppose). And he is reading 'Look Homeward, Angel...'
Since then, inspired or interested by that poem, I read that book - but he says he read it, probably didn't as it is more then 500 pages long! I suppose he could have read a chunk of it though. I really got absorbed in it. I think Wolfe had a huge talent. (His book is deeply poetic raw and vast, and quite moving as say D H Lawrence is). He obviously copies Joyce's 'stream of consciousness' and simultaneity, in parts.

Also I looked up the Brief 'Smithymania' issue as the book "Cannibal Jack" mentions Jack Ross talking about the poem 'At Jacky Marmon's Grave'. So I looked through it and saw his unpublished thing about 'The End of the Golden Weather'. Now he speculates there [he seemed deeply interested, almost obsessed) in EXACTLY how Mason got his reality or unreality, his characters and facts, either in the right place and time, or deliberately not right, and his method of working; or in the way he built his work] that Bruce Mason had also read 'The Webb and the Rock', and mentions he had read it and other Woolfe books as a young man, so, he thought, Mason would have perchance. He cant have seen an edition I have of Mason's story as in the intro he interviews himself and explains that that is indeed where he got the title. It was a book started by the protagonist, Webb. called 'The End of the Golden Weather.'

But in all his poems S. is hugely enriched not only by is experience (immediate or other) but by his reading, his historical knowledge, knowledge of birds,(and much else in "nature"), but also he adds a multiplicity of meaning, that ambiguity,as well as some of the riddling and parenthesis I see Donne uses. Magic also. Magic and realty and dreams (Donne uses dreams)...So he evokes much by the very titles and by playing with ideas of time, and web, and so on.
He is more intense or 'busy' even than Donne who could move through various "registers" (direct address, and angry or "short", contemplative, spiritual) also. Owes also to Shakespeare.

Pound in Cantos: "Disney and the Metaphysicals". Lol!

11:24 pm  
Anonymous Young Dennis said...

I'd say it was almost certainly constructed by Neo-Nazis. But decorative Neo-Nazis. The sort of Neo-Nazis that might be into things like interior design, macrame and flower-arranging.

4:24 am  
Blogger Writer Of The Purple Sage said...

Neo-Nazis? Even in jest, you're so far off the mark.
The swastika has been used by MANY cultures for CENTURIES prior the Nazis using it.
In fact it's a very religious symbol commonly used by Buddists and Hindus, and has been utilised by China, England, Greece and even North American Indians throughout the past 3,000 years to represent
life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.

Read more:

7:57 am  
Blogger maps said...

'The swastika has been used by MANY cultures for CENTURIES'

But how many of those cultures used *slanting* swastikas? I'm no expert, but the examples of pre-Nazi swastikas I've found on the internet nearly all involve non-slanting versions of the symbol.

I don't think that the person who created the sculpture was a neo-Nazi, but I do think his or her use of the slanting swastika was odd, given the associations of that version of the symbol. It's worth remembering that if the sculptor lived in Germany or Austria he or she would face legal action. That's how seriously many people still take this symbol.

8:52 am  
Blogger Joe W said...

3:29 pm  
Anonymous Young Dennis said...

What I'm suggesting is Neo-Nazis who are very much into Fascist/Corporatist Interior Design, Macrame with racist overtones and angry, hate-filled flower-arrangements for the furher.

4:33 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

"What I'm suggesting is Neo-Nazis who are very much into Fascist/Corporatist Interior Design, Macrame with racist overtones and angry, hate-filled flower-arrangements for the furher."


12:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Swastika cakes, anyone?
Not in Austria...

8:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

VIENNA — A Holocaust survivors' group has filed a criminal complaint against a pastry maker in Lower Austria for baking cakes decorated with Nazi designs, prosecutors said.

The public prosecutors' office in Wiener Neustadt said late Tuesday it had received a complaint by the MKOe Mauthausen Committee against the bakery, Tortendesign, in the village of Maria Enzersdorf near Vienna, for offering customers cakes decorated with swastikas or a baby raising its right hand in a Nazi salute.

While the cakes are not actually put on display in the shop window, a catalogue containing photographs of the designs is made freely available to customers, MKOe said in a statement.

MKOe had been alerted to the matter by a tip-off from a customer who had visited the bakery and leafed through the catalogue.

The Nazi cakes, priced at around 90 euros ($128) apiece, were contained in a separate "adult section" of the catalogue containing pictures of other cake designs, such as penis-shaped marzipan sweets, according to the daily Oesterreich.

The group's chairman Willi Mernyi said: "This is a particularly abhorrent example of how money is made from Nazi filth. We're going to file a criminal complaint."

8:57 pm  
Blogger Byron said...

The Christchurch Cathedral has (had?)a number of swastika's in its decor, I always found it surreal.

11:49 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home