Thursday, March 20, 2008

Forgotten Lands: Dheshet and Al Farif

OK, something new.

Several years ago, I started a creative project called Geography of the Forgotten Lands. Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Milorad Pavich’s Dictionary of the Khazars, Forgotten Lands was going to be my attempt to horn in on then-Girlfriend5000’s art turf. There was an upcoming bookarts show with a flag theme, and my idea was to create a set of sixteen imaginary countries, print descriptions of them onto fabric, sew their flags from standard fabrics, and to bind these “pages” inside an old-fashioned accounting ledger. It would have been cool, and it was great fun to work on the imaginary countries, but there was no way I could finish it in time for the show. Then the Wedding5000 happened, and a bunch of other stuff, and eventually the Forgotten Lands were, well, forgotten.

I’ve been reading Dictionary of the Khazars again, and between that and Cartophiliac’s reminiscences about his own imaginary countries, my old project has been on my mind. I dug it out this morning, and was surprised to see how far I’d got. Out of the sixteen countries originally planned, I had written up eleven that are fairly decent, finished a twelfth that stinks, and jotted down the basic ideas for two more.

I don’t know if these country descriptions – they are part parody of reference-book prose, part commentary on world events, part pure geographical fantasy – will be of any interest to anyone but myself, but I thought I would type them up from the notebook where they’ve been hiding, mock up the flags, and share them here over the next couple of months. I’ll even complete the unfinished ones, just for fun.

Here goes.

Kingdom of Dheshet
Population: 650,000 (1995 estimate)

Economy: Poorly developed formal economy. Exports include barley, timber, gypsum, potatoes. Narcotics trafficking is probably the greatest source of foreign currency.

Nestled in the remotest reaches of the Himalayas, Dheshet is one of the few bona fide monarchies persisting in the modern world. Although an elected parliament selects a prime minister who is the titular chief executive, de facto authority rests entirely with King Magnu Peshaman, who ascended to the throne in 1978.

The origins of the Kingdom of Dheshet are shrouded in obscurity. Local legend holds that the Pesh people were charged with the task of maintaining the “Pillars of the Earth” (i.e. the Himalayas). Were their kingdom to fall, the legend has it, the pillars would crumble and the sky would fall, destroying humanity. The spectacularly isolated valleys of Dheshet became known to the West only in 1847, when they were chanced upon by the Himalayan expedition of Sir Willard Winscott. Symbolic of the country’s continued isolation is its status as one of the few countries to decline membership in the United Nations.

The Pesh, who constitute 85% of Dheshet’s population (12% Nepalese, 3% other), are among the most physically distinctive of all peoples. Having adapted over centuries to the thin air of their high-altitude homeland, they are, despite their diminutive stature, exceptionally deep-chested. The lung capacity of the average Pesh has been measured at 47% greater than that of the average American.

The language of the Pesh is called “Peshian” by outsiders, but is known to its speakers simply as ka nattu – “the language.” It is related to no other known dialect.

Flag: A small field of orange within a larger field of green, itself set within a red banner. Adopted by royal proclamation in 1967, the flag seems to represent nothing in particular. It is however typical of the enthusiasm shown by the Pesh for vibrant, often jarring colors. Visitors speak of the first visit to a Dheshet town as “a literally dizzying assault on the senses, with brilliant color shining out seemingly from every stone” (Penderton, North From India).

Al Farif
Capital: Mouj
Population: 4,688,000 (2001 estimate)

Economy: Mediterranean agricultural products, especially citrus and dates, dominate Al Farif’s small export sector. The bulk of the population practices subsistence agriculture or animal husbandry.

Almost the entire population of Al Farif lives in the thin strip of fertile land between the Kiaradj Highlands and the Mediterranean Sea. The hot winds off the Mediterranean, such a constant of life in the region, cool as they rise over the Kiradj and expel their moisture in daily thunderstorms that are as regular as they are violent. “Fortune is reckless as the wind,” goes a local proverb, and the profound fatalism implicit in this saying is lost on no one who has witnessed an afternoon storm in the Kiradj foothills. Most of Al Farif’s population lives clustered along the many rivers that flow north from the highlands to the sea. The vast areas of desert land to the south are wandered only by a handful of nomadic herders, with their goats and camels.

Despite having no history of political unity, Al Farif remained independent during the colonial period out of sheer geopolitical happenstance. The British did not wish to see the region added to France’s Algerian possessions, and the French in turn did not relish the prospect of yet another British base in the Mediterranean. Neither country felt that the ire of its neighbor was a price worth paying for Al Farif. After only a brief occupation by Mussolini’s Italy (1936-1942), the country was led onto the modern stage by President Sheikh Abdul Mohamed. At 96, he remained in 2002 the world’s longest serving head of state.

Flag: The pattern of three vertical bars probably reflect the Italian influence on postwar Al Farif (despite the brief occupation, Italy’s impact here was considerable; Italian can in fact be heard spoken to this day in certain coffeehouses in Mouj). The green of the left and right bars represents Islam. The blue of the center bar is variously said to represent the Mediterranean Sea, the rivers on which Al Farif depends, or the bright Saharan sky.

OK, that's the concept anyway....


Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

If these two countries went to war with one another would it be fought with sling shots on the backs of donkeys? I'd watch that shit on ESPN 2.

DrSchnell said...

Next time I teach a World Regional Geography class, I think I'll include these countries on the place name list to see if anybody notices.

Rebel said...

Will this be on the quiz?

karmasartre said...

When I was 4 I had an imaginary friend who lived in an igloo on El Camino Real in Redwood City.

boo said...

I so missed your blog. The story of this book is great. To pick up a project again and go at it towards completion is one of those things I think a lot of people want to do but just don't get around to it. Glad you did.

Oh good lord your descriptions are so realistic!

Okay, I've missed several quizzes and other fancy stuff so I am off to page through the weblog of one L&TM5K.

Michael5000 said...

@Dr. Ken: Well, let's think... I can't see them going to war; they are too far apart, and don't have any natural area of competition. I'm thinking Dheshet would have a minimal military, but Al Farif is going to have tanks, a modest air force, probably a destroyer and several patrol boats, so they would have kind of an abstract edge....

@drschnell: If you include those names on a place list, the students who get as far as a Google search will find themselves staring at these very descriptions. This will be confusing, because they will have confirmed that the places actually exist, but will not for the life of themselves be able to find them on a map. (The only extant map showing the Forgotten Lands is right here on my desk.)

@Rebel: Excellent question. But no. Only true things on the Quiz.

@Karma: Sweet!

@Boo: I think these country descriptions might be more fun to write than to read. Since I wrote the post, I blazed through and finished them all already. Now it's all over but the postin'....