Friday, February 16, 2018

Papua New Guinea

The Portuguese called the people in the region below the Senegal River 'Guineas'. Possibly borrowed from the Berber name for their neighbours, 'Ghinawen', which means "the burnt people". Similar to the Greek word Aithiops - "of the burned face". The source of the name Ethiopia. The Greek historian Heredotus (who died in 425 BC) used this for people living below the Sahara in the Ecumene (the known world). Papua New Guinea is a country occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, just north of Australia. A population of 8 million people speak over 850 languages, with just 18% of the population living in cities. Many live in customary communities, some of which are "uncontacted people". The first modern humans arrived there around 45,000 years ago descending out of one of the first waves of migration from Africa. Independence from Australia was declared in 1975. The Western half of the island is a province of Indonesia (having been colonized by the Dutch rather than the Germans & British). 

New Guinea (1884 - 1919)

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Panama is the skinniest bit of the Americas' waist. It hosts the sibling of the Suez Canal. The 1956 Suez Crisis is a decent choice of bookmark for the end of Britain's age as the preeminent global power. With the backing of the United States, Panama ceded from Colombia in 1903. The US had just defeated Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American war that ended Spain's global power. Panama had been under Spanish rule for almost 300 years (1538 -1821). It had been enormously important to Spain as the easiest way to transport silver from Peru to Europe. It was also the cite of the Darien Scheme - a failed attempt by the Kingdom of Scotland to become a world trading nation by setting up a colony. The failure of this commercial venture, and ensuing debt, was a contributory factor in 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland. An 'independent' Panama allowed the Americans to finance the building of the Panama Canal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. Long live the new global power.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


As nations are a story, they need people willing to listen for them to be 'true'. The Middle East is one of the most controversial areas, given different versions of the tale. Palestine is a de jure state recognised by 136 UN member states. Mandatory Palestine was a post World War I area carved out of the Ottoman Empire and put under the control of the British. An Arab uprising had helped the British drive the Turkish Empire out of the area. The British had supported the uprising under the promise of Arab independence (McMahon-Hussein), but had also separately and contradictorily agreed with France to divide the area up amongst the European powers (Sykes-Picot). A further complication came when under the Balfour Agreement, the British promised support for the creation of "a national home for the Jewish people" (who had made up 3-5% of the population of the area). Lots of promises made to lots of people. The promised land.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Even good ideas need to be good business ideas in order to happen. Good business ideas can require cover to make them seem like good ideas too. Like the Crusades before them, Religion and Commerce were two key drivers of European Colonialism. Commerce provided the financing. Religion provided the excuses. The islands of Palau were claimed by Spain on first (in passing) sighting in 1522. In 1697 when a group of Palauans venturing to the North West were shipwrecked, they represented their islands to a Czech missionary using pebbles. The missionary drew a map and reported it to his Jesuit superiors causing great interest. Even today, this society is engaged in evangelisation in 112 nations on six continents. Following the defeat of Spain by America in the 1899 War, they sold the islands to the German Empire. Since 1994, the islands have had independence under a compact of free association with the United States.

Monday, February 12, 2018


After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese occupied the port of Muscat in Oman for 143 years (1507-1650). About 100 years after they were driven out by locals, the current ruling dynasty cemented power in 1744. Holding a strong strategic position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the Omani Empire competed with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Indian Ocean from the late C17th. Oman's colonial focus was the Swahili Coast. The Omanis ejected the Portuguese from Zanzibar and the other areas north of Mozambique. Zanzibar became the main slave market. Slavery was outlawed in Oman in 1970 after Sultan Qaboos ousted his father in a palace coup. Oman remains an absolute monarchy, but gradual reforms have been introduced. Unlike most of its neighbours, it only has modest oil reserves and so doesn't have an oil-dependent economy.

Saturday, February 10, 2018


European Colonialism was in part a trade war between the rising European empires. It started largely about ports and trade routes before the Berlin Conference that regulated trade and colonisation in 1885. Less than 30 years before World War I rang the first death knells for Imperialism. The Mosquito Coast was an area on the coast of present-day Nicaragua and Honduras. A somewhat less appealing nickname than the Ivory Coast. When the first Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Nicaragua, they fought each other in what was known as 'The War of the Captains'. Two of the first two competing settlement were set up at Grenada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon near Lake Managua. The winner became the colonies first governor. Without women in their parties, the colonists took local indigenous wives which led to a multi-ethnic population mix over time. 

Friday, February 09, 2018


Nauru is a Sovereign Nation with a population of just over 10,000. It is the third smallest state in the world after Monaco and the Vatican City. Early Micronesian and Polynesian explorers settled the island in around 1000 BCE. Nauru is a Phosphate Rock island which allows easy strip mining. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it boasted the highest per capita GDP in the world. Not dissimilar to Equatorial Guinea which currently has the highest GDP per capita of any African country. Then the Phosphate ran out. Now the per capita GDP is $8,570 per person. The 12 traditional clans are represented in the 12 pointed star on the flag. Between 1888 and 1898 there was a civil war that killed around 500 people, which was a third of the population. Germany annexed the island and banned alcohol and firearms. The Islanders wanted peace but didn't trust other local tribes enough to lay down their own arms. In 1914, power was transferred to Australia. Independence came in 1968, but the country remains heavily dependent on aid. It gets this in part for acting as accommodation for refugees applying for asylum.


The Mongol invasions that touched most of the Eurasian landmass also ended four centuries of power of the Pagan Empire in 1287. The area was later reunified by the Toungoo Dynasty in 1510, and then by the Konbaung. There were three Anglo-Burmese Wars before Burma became a British Colony. The first was fought by a company - The British East India Company (EIC). The EIC received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. Merchants and aristocrats owned the shares, and the government only had indirect control. Following the third war, Burma was made a province of the British Raj and rule was transferred from the EIC to Queen Victoria. Since independence in 1948, the renamed Myanmar has been involved in one of the longest-running Civil Wars between a vast number of smaller ethnic groups. Myanmar is rich in natural resources, but has one of the widest income gaps in the world with a large proportion of the wealth controlled by supporters of the former military government (which remains a powerful force in politics).