Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Forgotten Lands: San Jesus & Nova Hibernia

("Forgotten Lands?" What?)

San Jesús
San Jesús
Population: 48,441 (2002, government database)

Economy: A uniquely dual economy, with a modest import and export trade of information technology and services coexisting with a low-tech, subsistence-style agriculture.

“It is fortunate that the world has forgotten San Jesús,” wrote Margaret Mead in 1954. “If we remembered, we would be unable to face the reality we have constructed.” While it was easy for Mead to romanticize pre-contact indigenous life on San Jesús, however , the largely ignored island nation has actually fared better than many of its neighbors in the Caribbean. A relatively small population, mostly descendents of the slaves who worked a French sugar plantation that operated from 1762 to 1814, lived for decades in an environment of unparalleled natural abundance. “On San Jesús,” according to a florid 1923 article in American Anthropologist, “fruit and gourds rise as if invoked by the farmer’s neat fields, and ocean fish all but throw themselves into the waiting nets of the fishermen.”

There is a strong tradition of schooling and literacy on San Jesús, and the most talented students have often found scholarships to top universities in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The odd result has been the blossoming of an active software and information technology sector in a country that has virtually no “hard” industrial technology. Indeed, Jesúsiens seem immune to many of the siren calls of modern life; in 2002, for instance, it remained one of only three independent countries with no domestic television broadcasting. Tourism is virtually nonexistent, but the rare returning visitor speaks of beautiful cites with many libraries but no cars, or villages with many farmers but no policemen.

Flag: A white circle on a field of blue. This banner, seldom seen except at regional political summits, apparently represents the island of San Jesús in the blue Caribbean. White is sometimes taken to represent the purity of Christ, from whom the island, predominantly (92%) Catholic, takes its name. More prosaically, a second tradition holds that the newly independent slaves of 1814 had access only to white sailcloth, and indigo dyes with which it could be colored.

Nova Hibernia
Capital: N'koutou (formerly St. Patrick, Karlsburg)
Population: 1,443,000 (2000 estimate)

Economy: Produces cashews, cotton, sugar, citrus, timber, and fish. Imports include machinery and equipment, metals, staple foodstuffs, and textiles. Subsistence agricultural is practiced by a significant portion of the population.

The country of Nova Hibernia came into being in 1882 as the colony of German Central Africa. Like other colonies created by the Treaty of Berlin, German Central Africa contained a heterogeneous population with no common language, culture, or history. The Germans established a headquarters at Karlsberg, but in their 30 years of rule did not manage to extend practical authority past this port city's hinterlands.

Stripped from Germany along with its other colonial possessions after World War I, the colony existed for several years as a League of Nations Mandate. Finally, in 1924, the colony was essentially handed over as a gift to the fledgling Irish Free State. Absorbed in their own lengthy struggle for full independence, the Irish devoted little attention to their "overseas empire." As a result, the Irish administration had an even lighter footstep than had the German.

Although adopting some Western innovations, most inhabitants of the newly-renamed Nova Hibernia tended to continue to live and govern themselves according to well-established indigenous systems. When a provisional government set up by native schoolteacher Brian Ktombe petitioned for and was granted independence by the Irish Parliament in 1963, the event failed to make the front page of the Irish Times. Since independence, Nova Hibernia has suffered two periods of military rule, once for three months in 1969 and again from 1978 to 1984. Ktombe's nephew, Brian Ktombe III, became president in 1985 in elections that restored democratic rule. He has been re-elected every six years since in elections that, by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa, have been relatively free and fairly contested.

Nova Hibernia is also unusual in Africa in that it never acquired a large international debt. Instead, the country's political elite have long pursued a policy of small-scale local development and grassroots education. The country, perhaps not coincidentally, enters the third millennium with one of the continent's highest standards of living.

Flag: Older colonial banners, like the capital city's name, were replaced at independence. The new design was clearly inspired by the flag of the United States, the country on which Nova Hibernia's federal system was modeled. The ten colored stripes represent the ten federal districts, and the blue field represents the common blood* of all Nova Hibernia's people. Some have speculated that the lack of green, orange, or white in the flag suggests a rejection of all things Irish by the newly independant colony.

*In local tradition, blue is the color of "living blood" (as it is seen in the vein). Red represents "dead blood," and is generally avoided in decoration.


Rebel said...

The flag for Nova Hibernia looks suspiciously like a QuiltStorm 2008 quilt!

Anonymous said...

askoxford(dot)com lists "independent" as one of the 100 most commonly misspelled words in English.

Dan Nolan said...

That Nova Hibernia flag is awesome. But why would they feel the need to reject all things Irish? Seems like all the Irish did was accept rule, allow them to live as they pleased for 40 years, and then immediately grant them independence as soon as they asked for it. That's about as non-intrusive and oppressive a colonial regime as I could imagine. Also, why would the League of Nations hand over a Central African colony to a country that had just won its own independence and was attempting to sort out its own governance for the first time in centuries (not to mention manage the splintering of the IRA)? As a joke? suggested by Great Britain? That's me being a paranoid Irish American, but the rest of it does make me wonder.

Chance said...

Well, everyone to his own tastes, but I think the Nova Hibernian flag is pretty fugly.

Erik Maldre said...

I don't understand the black lines in the flag. Certainly they don't belong.

Michael5000 said...

@dan: Some answers to your questions are suggested in the revised edition of the Nova Hibernia entry on Cartophiliac's post.

@chance: I'm inclined to agree.