The Macha Flag: Does Bolivia have Argentina’s First Flag?

A curious relic lies in Sucre’s Casa de la Libertad. Could it be that Bolivia is home to the first flag of Argentina?

History has it that the Argentinian flag was created by Manuel Belgrano during the Argentinian War of Independence. Seeing that both sides in the war were fighting under Spanish colors, Belgrano perceived the need for a way for the freedom fighters to distinguish themselves from the Spanish patriots. To this end he designed a cockade (a type of rosette) for the freedom fighters to wear. Its design featured three concentric circles of light blue, white and light blue.

When the cockade’s design was approved, Belgrano set about creating a matching flag. The resulting flag was first flown on 27 February 1812, and Belgrano’s own records indicate that he made it in “white and light blue”. He ended up having to hide this historic first flag in November 1813 to prevent it falling into enemy hands. He gave it to a priest in Macha, a village to the North of Potosi. The priest hid the flag behind a portrait of Saint Teresa de Avila in a chapel in Titiri, a hamlet near Macha, and 7 miles from the battlefield of Ayohuma. Knowledge of the flag’s location was subsequently lost and it wouldn’t surface again for another 70 years.

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In 1885, another priest in Titiri chapel came across a flag having the present-day design of the Argentinian flag with horizontal stripes of light blue, white and light blue. The flag was given to Argentina in 1896 and today resides as a national treasure in the National Historical Museum in Tucuman. But there is a twist: it wasn’t the only flag unearthed in 1883.

A second, blood-stained, flag was also found in Titiri, similar to the first, but with its colors inverted. That is, it had three horizontal stripes, of white, light blue and white. So which of the two was really the first Argentinian flag?

It thought by some that this second flag, known as the Bandera de Macha (or alternatively the Bandera de Belgrano), may actually have been the earlier of the two designs and even used for a short period of time by the freedom fighters. But this is a matter of debate. By any means, this variant of the flag had fallen into disuse by the time the Argentinian Declaration of Independence was signed in 1816.

Though the exact role the flag had to play in Argentina’s history is unknown, what is known is that it currently lives in Bolivia, not Argentina. To this day, the flag is on display in Casa de la Libertad in the Bolivian capital, Sucre. It just might be that Bolivia has managed to house one of Argentina’s most important artifacts for over a century.

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