Indigenous Heraldry: Transferring ethnic imagery from the mundane to the canonical

Mitran Ilie Iulian


European heraldry presents itself as an intriguing collection of symbols that trace their roots to a number of sources, some of which are obvious to spot, while otters still lay in obscurity. When talking about heraldry, it is safe bet to assume that, for instance, the symbols that are collected from the animal kingdom underwent a process which transferred them a series of anthropomorphic qualities. The situation was no different for elements that were inspired by vegetation and celestial entities. Heraldry, as it is presented in academic environments, primarily traces its roots to the Old World – as a result, most heraldic symbols are directly linked to key-features, both cultural and environmental, that are native to the land. This turned into a major obstacle in the dawn of the early days of post-colonialism, marked by strong movement that aimed at restoring indigenous symbolism on coat of arms and flags of territories that earned their right to self-governance, or independence. This paper is focusing on giving an interpretation regarding the selection of heraldic symbols and vexillological chromatic schemes that were adopted by Russia’s federal subjects with a significant indigenous population. This will include an autonomous okrug, and autonomous republic, and a district from within a kray. We aim at determining if the used symbols reflect, or not, local indigenous identities, if the symbols that are used are entirely of European extraction, or if specific indigenous symbols made their way into the coat of arms of the featured territories. The research that was made concluded that the territories that are situated east of the Urals managed to customize their heraldic design through inserting element extracted from vernacular folklore, while the European territories have a more orthodox approach, using traditional heraldic motifs.


coat of arms, indigenous territory, vexiology, socialist realism

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