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Counani (Brazil)

"Republic of Independent Guiana"

Last modified: 2020-07-26 by ian macdonald
Keywords: counani | cunani | guiana | star (white) | tricolor |
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History of Counani, alias Independent Guiana

Someone asked what was the flag of Cunani, which formed an independent (?) republic south of Cayenne in present-day French Guyana. This republic was established in current Brazilian territory. The capital was the little town of Cunani. The flag was red with a vertical black band at hoist.
Jaume Ollé, 23 March 1998

Cunani is on the northern coast of the current Brazilian state of Amapá. The flag discribed by Jaume is very similar to the current flag of the not-so-neighbouring state of Paraíba. Just a coincidence?
António Martins, 2 April 1998

The following history is drawn primarily from Bruno Fuligni, L'Etat c'est moi (1997), chapter 7 (Les Républiques amazoniennes), pp. 133-145.

On 8 July 1888, the Gros family left Vanves (near Paris) for Calais, Southampton, Barbados, and Counani, capital city of the "Republic of Independent Guiana (Guyane indépendante). Jules Gros, who only knew this country from books, had been president-for-life of the republic for two years. He was an little known writer and journalist, member of the French Société de Géographie, when in 1883 he met M. Franconie, who was deputy for Cayenne (French Guiana) in the French National Assembly. Franconie asked Gros to be the secretary of a lobby to promote the economy of French Guiana. That is the way he met Jean Ferréol Guigues, who said he was an explorer and that he had just came back from Dutch and French Guiana, where he said he had discovered gold mines. With a Swiss friend, Paul Quartier, he formed a company, of which Gros became the secretary, and thanks to subscriptions, discovered that it was easier to become rich by collecting money from investors than by looking for gold in Guyana.

Back in Guiana, Guigues and Quartier spent the money they got in France and settled in Counani, a village on the coast between the estuaries of the Oyapock and Araguary Rivers, which was founded in 1788 by Jesuits. The chief of Counani was known as Captain Trajane. The village, like those of Carsevenne, Cachipour, Ouassa, Rocaoua, Couripi, and Amapá, had a black population that wished to be administered by France (where slavery had been abolished) rather than by Brazil.

In fact, there had been a problem with this region since the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. The eighth article of the treaty is unclear, talking of "Japoc", which the Brazilians said to be the Oyapock, but which the French said only means "river" in Indian languages. (Vincent Yanez Pinçon, quoted in the Utrecht treaty, gave this name to another river, the Araguary.) The other treaties all referred back to the Utrecht treaty, and the status of the region between the two rivers remained unclear. There were discussions between France and Brazil in 1841 and 1856 without result, and nothing more after 1867--the Amazon having become legally an international river, the Oyapock and Araguary were of no more interest to France.

Let's come back to Captain Trajane. Brazil wanted to affirm its sovereignty over Counani and supported there a rebellion against Trajane. Trajane asked France to protect Counani, but France did not think it was worth having problems with Brazil. That is the reason why Trajane began having problems with the population of Counani. His lieutenant was Nunato de Marced, whose daughter married Paul Quartier, who suggested to his father-in-law to let the area of Counani become an independent state. Quartier and Guigues hoped that they would be able to sell stock in the non-existent gold mines of Counani in France and get more money if they could control such a puppet state. The republic was proclaimed on 23 July 1886 with Guigues as President of the Council and Quartier as minister for public works.
Olivier Touzeau, 26 April 2001

First Flag of "Independent Guiana," 1886-1887

First Flag of Independent Guiana image by Joseph McMillan

They adopted a motto (Freedom and Justice) and a flag: green field, with French tricolor in the canton. And they named as president-for-life Jules Gros, who was still secretary of their company in France. Gros was rather successful in this role; Counani became known in Paris, and Gros even said everywhere that he had met with the Brazilian Emperor Pedro II, when the Emperor came to Paris. Gros was a good advertiser for his republic and said everywhere it was an El Dorado. He even opened a legation (18, rue du Louvre), and created the Order of the Star of Counani.

Guigues came back to Paris, but his lack of discretion raised the attention of the French Government, which stated in its Journal Officiel on 11 September 1887 that there had been a modus vivendi between France and Brazil since 1862 about this territory, and that nobody could say there was a Republic of Counani. Guigues said Gros was responsible for everything, that there was no more president, and affirmed that Counani was only a free colony, asking for the protection of France.
Olivier Touzeau, 26 April 2001

Fuligni writes exactly: "The new state [...] flies a strange flag mixing French and Brazilian colors: green with French tricolor in the canton."
Olivier Touzeau, 20 August 2002

Second Flag of "Independent Guiana," 1887-1891

Variant 1

[Second Flag of Cunani (Brazil)]   image by António Martins

Variant 2

Second Flag of Cunani - Variant (Brazil)   image by Joseph McMillan

Gros, disappointed by this decision, wanted the Counani Republic to stay alive, and for "his" state to be sovereign.

So Gros drew a new flag, red and black, with, in the center, a white five-pointed star. (According to Bruno Fuligni, the flag was made, and was not just an imaginary one.) At the same time, Quartier, still in Counani, had been banned and Trajane, who did not want independence, regained some influence.

Is this the end of the Republic? No! In January 1888, Gros and Guigues were again together for Counani, because some English businessmen, who did not know much about the story, agreed to found the Guiana Syndicate Ltd. and to give money to our Counanians for the exploitation, during 99 years, of the soil, infrastructures and about everything in the territory of the republic territory. The most important man in the syndicate was Alexander McDonald.

Thanks to the money of the syndicate, Gros and his family left Paris for Counani on 8 July 1888. In British Guiana (in Demerara), Gros discovered that Amazonia was not the El Dorado he hoped to find. And in Cayenne, MacDonald discovered that France did not recognize any Counani Republic and that his trust had been abused. Gros went back to France and died in 1891, still thinking he was the president of a Counani Republic.

In 1893, there was a gold rush and Brazilians were in Counani. Trajane was kidnapped in 1895. France, strangely enough, sent a gunboat to Amapá. After 40 people were killed, Brazil and France decided to submit the problem to the President of Switzerland. In 1900, he declared that Counani belonged to Brasil, but it had really already been so in fact for years.

I should add that there is a drawing of the arms of Counani (Gros' version, I suppose) in Fuligni's book: black chief, red field, with a white 5-pointed star in the center of the shield (that is, on the top of the red field), and laurel around the star and a motto on the red field, Liberté et Justice. Some tools are under the shield, and written above it République de la Guyane indépendante. On the sides of the shield are two flags: black (1/3 near the hoist) and apparently red (2/3 of the fly).
Olivier Touzeau, 26 April 2001

Jaume Ollé reports this flag as only red and black. I would assume that this judgment is based on the coat of arms of Independent Guiana, which appears to show a flag on each side of the shield just as Jaume describes, red with a black hoist, as mentioned by Olivier and shown in Fuligni's article, "The Four Flags of Counani," Flag Bulletin, No. 183 (1998). Fuligni appears to conclude that a white star should be on the fly from two pieces of evidence: the existence of a star on the coat of arms itself (surrounded by a wreath with the motto below it), and the fact that a later flag was the same minus the black hoist (see below). The case for simple red and black seems to be the flags on the coat of arms. But much of their fields are hidden by the shield, so they could or could not have a star on the fly. Unless someone has more evidence to resolve this, we'll have to leave it as two hypothetical possibilities.
Joseph McMillan, 19 August 2002

In fact, looking again at the coat of arms, the way the flags are displayed does not show them as 2:3 but as 1:2, and the black hoist is about 1/4 of the flag. It looks rather possible that the star might be hidden behind the shield. On the other hand, a 1:2 ratio seems rather strange for a French-born flag. At the end of the chapter, Fuligni quotes Jean Galmot, who wrote an article about Gros in 1911, with a rather romantic death for Gros; at the end of his agony, Gros "wrapped himself in the folds of his red and black flag …." No star quoted here.
Olivier Touzeau, 20 August 2002

Jean Galmot was a famous reporter/adventurer/businessman/deputy for French Guiana, where he died in 1928, most probably poisoned by a "Creole bouillon". Another adventurer, Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961), related Galmot's life in Rhum--L'aventure de Jean Galmot (1933). The romantic death of Gros seems to be too romantic to be true. The famous soldier Chauvin, the eponymous model of French chauvinisme, was also said to have died and been buried wrapped in the French tricolor flag. It is also worth mentioning that Jean Raspail, in his "dreamed biography" of the King of Araucania and Patagonia, related the last years of the overthrown king in his small French village, alone in his miserable house with his flag packed in a coffer.
Ivan Sache, 21 August 2002

Free State of Counani, 1904-1912

Free State of Counani, 1890s-1903 image by Joseph McMillan

In the mean time, another Frenchman, Adolphe Brezet, proclaimed himself president of the Free State of Counani. He made stamps, a constitution, a new flag--square with a red field and a white five-pointed star--but he had more fraudulent business between Cayenne, Paris, and London than a real presidency, between 1904 and 1912.
Olivier Touzeau, 26 April 2001

The constitution of Brezet's "state" said "the flag of the Free State of the Counani remains square, red, charged in the center with a five-rayed white star," i.e., the same flag Fuligni attributes to Gros's state minus the black hoist. Brezet's coat of arms was likewise the same as Gros's, minus the black chief. Fuligni attributes the change to the public's identification of black with the then-rampant anarchist movement that was terrorizing much of Europe at the time.
Joseph McMillan, 19 August 2002

Fulgni says exactly: "Adolphe Brezet, who once was was a military man, signed his decrees with the indian name Uayana Assu. Just after the Boer War, he renamed the Independent Guiana Republic the Free State of Counani, probably in tribute to the Orange Free State. The flag was changed too, becoming square with red field, but keeping the white star." So, if the star could be "kept", it must have existed on the previous flag.
Olivier Touzeau, 20 August 2002

Free State of Counani, 1890s-1903 image by Joe McMillan and Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 11 September 2014

I recently unearthed a newspaper article regarding this country and its flag. The article appeared in "The Tacoma [Washington] Times" on 29 January 1916 under the title "South American Republic At War With Germany". The article states that Counani's "... independence dates from 1886".

The gist of the article states the "Republic" declared War on Germany in September 1914 and that its President, Adolph Bresset Beaufort, and the entire 300-man army of the "Republic" had gone to France to fight with the Allies and that they participated in the charge of the Foreign Legion at Bois Sabot. Beaufort is described as "a French colonel banished to Guiana many years ago for a political crime".

The article pictured the National flag and a map of the location of the country. Attached is a scan of the flag. If anyone wants a scan of the full article, email me off-list.
Dave Martucci, 10 August 2014

This appears to show the flag as a rectangle. That would in a way match the constitution that said that the shape of the flag remained the same, as previous flags appear to have been rectangular as well. But then, it also seems to have said that the flag was square, and for flags that's unlikely to express that it's not a circle or a triangle, as rectangularness is already the default for flags. I wonder what that constitution really said, in what language?

Anyway, I kept the ratio of the depiction of the previous rectangular flag: 2:3. I wonder, though, whether there couldn't be an argument for 3:5. In a curious twist of events, at Amazon a "magFlags Free State of Counani between 1904 - 1912" is on offer. It's said to be both 90x150 cm and 3x5 ft, which are both 3:5 ratios. Its illustration, however, shows a square flag.

A specimen of one of the stamps we mentioned was offered on eBay some time ago: (image archived). It shows the arms, rather than the flag, though, which indeed show a red shield with a white five-pointed star.

In it's claimed the 19th and 20th century nation are one and the same, I think, and was formally called Counani already much earlier. The way navigation is implemented on this site makes it very hard for me to read it, though, so I may have missed proof of dubiousness, or otherwise missed relevant information.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 11 September 2014

Free State of the Counani, 1990s

Free State of Counani, 1990s  image by Joseph McMillan

Fuligni goes on to note the revival of the Counani idea in Paris in the 1990s with a self-described "Constitutional Executive in Exile of the Free State of the Counani," a pseudo-state ostensibly intended to challenge Brazilian treatment of the Indians of Amapa' and environmental damage. This group's flag is the same as the first flag of Independent Guiana--green with the French tricolor in the hoist--with the addition of the white star from the later flags on the center.
Joseph McMillan, 19 August 2002