Showing posts with label imperialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label imperialism. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Bir Tawil Trapezoid--the Geographic, the Adorable, and the Imperialistic

On the border between Egypt and Sudan there are two small areas of land that remain in dispute--the Hala'ib Triangle, and the Bir Tawil Trapezoid. Hala'ib borders the Red Sea, and both countries have been laying claim to it since the 1950s. The Bir Tawil Trapezoid, on the other hand, is a mostly desolate wasteland, and both countries, well...they don't not claim it, but they certainly don't claim it either.

Image result for Bir Tawil
A scenic stretch of Bir Tawil
Like many of the geographic struggles in Africa, this one dates back to colonial times when both Egypt and Sudan were a part of the British Empire. In 1899, while separating the areas into two distinct administrative districts the border between Sudan and Egypt was drawn at the 22nd parallel. Unfortunately, this border seperated two nomadic tribal groups--the Ababda and the Bisharin--from large sections of their traditional homelands. The Ababda, who's traditional grazing ground includes Bir Tawil, were deemed to have more in common culturally with the Egyptians, and the Bisharin, who sometimes occupy Hala'ib, were deemed to be more Sudanese. Consequently, in 1902 the border was redrawn, and Bir Tawil was incorporated into Egypt, while Hala'ib went to the Sudanese.

Flash forward to 1956, and Sudan has finally kicked their colonial overlords to the curb. Egypt, who had show the English the door in 1922, stood by the 1899 border--straight along the 22nd parallel. This hadn't been a point of friction until Sudan gained independence, and adopted the 1902 border--allotting Bir Tawil to Egypt, and granting themselves Hala'ib.

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Bir Tawil is circled in red.
What follows has been a relatively bloodless game of North African chicken. While neither country would say no to Bir Tawil, claiming Bir Tawil would mean giving up any claim to Hala'ib, which is a much more attractive plot of land. Hala'ib not only has access to the Red Sea, but it also is rich in resources, with substantial manganese deposits. Egypt was eager to start exporting manganese, and it was the Sudanese government allowing a Canadian oil company to do exploration in the triangle that kicked this whole dispute off.

There have been no armed conflicts over the triangle, though Egyptian troops were sent into the region in 1958 after Sudan attempted to hold elections, and remain there to this day. The Sudanese withdrew their troops in 2000, and the area has been under de facto Egyptian control ever since.

All of this leaves Bir Tawil mostly unadministered. It's easy to see why neither government wants to claim the trapezoid--there's little but rocks and desert. As mentioned, the Ababda graze their animals there part of the year, but there are no permanent residents. Bir Tawil has been largely regarded as a no man's land since the 1960s.

There are, however, several individuals who have claimed Bir Tawil, and attempted to create their own sovereign nation. Most famously was Jeremiah Heaton, an American farmer who wanted to make his daughter's dream of becoming a princess a reality. In 2014 he made the treacherous journey through the Egyptian desert to Bir Tawil, and planted a homemade flag in the grounded. He renamed the area North Sudan, and declared himself king, and his daughter a princess.

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Heaton, his daughter, Emily, and their flag.
Once he returned home to Virginia he didn't relinquish his claims. He set about trying to get his territory recognized officially as a country, with the goal of establishing experimental agricultural centers that would research the most effective farming methods for the food unstable region. However, as Sealand could attest, gaining recognition for a new country is no easy feat, no matter how noble the cause.

Not only is Heaton battling with Egypt and Sudan over the area, he's also fighting against an American journalist, an Indian, two Russians, and a whole host of other people who saw Bir Tawil on a map, and decided to make their own country. Every few years another claimant pops up, but none of the claimants actually live in the area.

Which brings us to the people who actually inhabit Bir Tawil--the Ababda people. The Ababda have inhabited southern Egypt, northern Sudan, and parts of Ethiopia since at least Ptolemaic times, possibly earlier. Though they don't live in Bir Tawil year round, the area is an important part of their yearly migration. Amusing and heartwarming as it might be for random foreigners to claim this no man's land, it must be conceded that the trapezoid isn't a no-man's-land, at least not entirely. This brings into the contentious age old question about land ownership between nomadic and settled societies, and how much land nomadic cultures can lay claim to.

However, as far as international land disputes go, Bir Tawil is undoubtedly the most light hearted. No blood has been spilled over the region, there's not even a real occupying force. Sure, there's some random flags scattered over the 2,060 square kilometers in the trapezoid, but that's an eyesore that can be dealt with. Besides, it made one seven year old girl a very happy princess.

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Sources
Virginia Man's Claim on African Land is Unlikely to Pass Test
Welcome to the Land No Country Wants
Bir Tawil
A History of Bir Tawil
Bir Tawil: The Land No Country Wants
The Halayeb Triangle

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Goodbye Swaziland, Hello Eswatini!

If you're still struggling with the idea of a South Sudan, and the lack of a Yugoslavia, you may wish to brace yourself, because on April 19, 2018 the Kingdom of Swaziland no longer existed, and was replaced by the Kingdom of Eswatini.

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Eswatini flag
The country formerly known as Swaziland is located in the southern region of Africa, bordering South Africa and Mozambique . It is the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa, which certainly helped make the name changing process go smoother. King Mswati III started officially using the name 'Eswatini' in an address to the United Nations in 2017. He announced the official name change at his birthday celebration which, non-coincidentally, was the same day as the 50th anniversary of Eswatini's independence from the United Kingdom.

Many critics complain that this name change is just a way of distracting from Eswatini's deeper problems, and lack of democratic freedom. The great expense of changing all official and unofficial documentation and signage when the majority of Emaswati live below the poverty line is a major sticking point for the King's political opponents.

However, many people, the King included, argue that the name change is a way of finally throwing off their colonial past, and facing the future as a fully independent nation.

Either way, pull out a sharpie, or get ready to buy new maps. Swaziland is gone, Eswatini has arrived.

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Sources
Swaziland Name Change to Eswatini is Now Official
Swaziland Gets a Name Change: Call it Eswatini Now
Swaziland Has a New Name-Eswatini-But Will Anything Change?
Swaziland: What Happens When a Country Changes Its Name?


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Damn, Girl(s)-Dahomey Amazons, the Fiercest Women This Side of the Mississippi

The African kingdom of Dahomey (today's Benin) is sometimes referred to as 'Black Sparta'. This is honestly a little insulting to the Dahomey, because the Spartans were Boy Scouts with peashooters in comparison to the fearsome armies of the Dahomey, especially the ferocious all-female units known as the Dahomey Amazons.


Modern Benin highlighted in red.
These Amazons were formed originally sometime during the late 1600s. They didn't start out as warriors, their initial purpose was to hunt elephants, but in the early 1700s the Dahomey King was so impressed by their fighting, that he enlisted the Amazons as his palace guard, from there they were assimilated into the regular army.

There was nothing 'regular' about the Amazons however. These ladies trained more strenuously than the men, and were required to undergo huge tests of strength and endurance. Part of their training required climbing thorn covered walls without showing pain, and fighting off masses of prisoners of war. They were fierce women, and they never ran away from a fight. Of course, a large part of this is due to the fact that Amazons who did try to run away were executed on the spot, but harsh desertion penalties aside, these women had a huge 'death before defeat' mentality. Their motto was literally 'Conquer or Die'.

One of the more grim parts of the training that all Dahomey solders underwent was 'desensitizing training'. This training was designed to help untested warriors get over their fear of killing people. Once a year prisoners of war were placed into baskets, and taken atop a high platform. Green recruits would then toss these prisoners off the edge of the platform. At the base of the platform was a group of angry Dahomeians ready to tear the prisoners apart.

Image result for dahomey amazonsAdditionally, the Amazons were committed to a life of celibacy. They were all, nominally, married to the King (much in the way that Catholic nuns are married to Jesus), but they were forbidden from having sex. This was because pregnancy prevented a woman from fighting, and the Dahomey Amazons were all about fighting. To further insure that these women refrained from pregnancy inducing activities, it meant instant death for any man to lay a hand on an Amazon. In fact, when an Amazon went out, she generally had a slave girl walking ahead of her with a bell. Whenever they heard the bell, men would draw off to the side of the road, and look the other way, just in case.

The Amazons came from all walks of life. Some of them were third tier wives of the King whom the king did not wish to sleep with. Some were women trying to escape a life of drudgery, and some were girls who's parents had deemed them 'difficult' and 'unsuitable for marriage'.

Like the mythical Greek Amazons, the Dahomey Amazons were known for their incredible fighting skills. And, as with all such amazing warriors, it's difficult to tell fact from fiction sometimes. However, the sheer number of 'myths' suggest that, whatever the truth, these women were pretty badass. Here is an incomplete list of some of the more incredible feats that have been attributed to them:

  • Tearing out a men's larynx's with their teeth
  • Literally ripping stockades apart
  • Wearing belts made of thorns
  • Defeating entire African nations.
  • Took on a group of 40 elephants. Not only did they survive, but they killed 3 of said elephants. 
One of my favorite, if a bit gruesome, stories about these ladies is how they would decapitate their dead enemies, then boil the flesh off the skull. After the skull had been defaced (literally), it would then be added to the massive pile of skulls that supported the king and queen's thrones. This may sound like a crazy story, but you can view these thrones in the historic Abomey Palace (HYPERLINK) today.

Image result for throne of king ghez
Throne of King Ghez. There are a lot fewer skulls. Also a Getty
Images watermark, because who can afford $175 for a picture?
(If you can afford that, and want to donate to this blog, feel
free to contact me any time.)
During the times that the Amazons fought, Dahomey underwent some massive expansion. They conquered all of Benin, and most of modern Nigeria. The Dahomey were fearless and a little cocky. They regularly took down nations much larger than themselves, but they took on too much when they messed with the French. 

See, in 1890 the French hadn't conquered the Dahomey, but they had made 'protectorates' of the Dahomey's neighbors, and so when the Dahomey Amazons when a-raiding, they stepped on the toes of the French. And by 'stepped on the toes' I mean that one Dahomey Amazon decapitated the governor of the city, and wrapped it in the French tricolor.

While the French admired the Dahomey as fighters, that sort of insult obviously couldn't stand, so the French hit the Dahomey with everything they had. Thought they fought bravely (and visciously. aforementioned larynx tearing happened in the engagements against the French), the French defeated the Dahomey, and most of the Amazons were killed.

Image result for dahomey amazonsThere were 50 Amazons who survived, and most of them are said to have joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Most of them died in the early 1940s, but one woman, Nawi, lived until 1979. She lived well over a century, and was, probably, the last of the Amazons to die.

These women were vicious and ferocious. Their fighting tactics could make even the most desensitized of people squirm (which is why I haven't gone too in-depth), and if they lived today they'd almost certainly be categorized as war criminals. However, they are particularly notable because they were the first all female fighting regiment in all of documented history. They put the fear of God into the French (metaphorically) to the point that there was a specific addendum in the peace treaty that said that no Dahomey woman could ever pick up a weapon again.

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Sources