Archive for the ‘geography’ Category


Java is an island that lies in the tropics far to the south of China. Most people in Indonesia live there.

Java is a crowded place as the world goes: it has as many people as Japan yet it is only one-third the size. It has half the land of Britain but twice as many people.

Even though it has so many people, Java has only a few large cities, Jakarta being the largest. Most of the island is filled with rice fields, small towns and low blue mountains (some of them volcanoes). The people are poor, but not shockingly so. Every bit of land that can be turned to good use has been.

It has few dogs.

Indonesia is in effect a Javanese empire: Java provides most of the country’s leaders, it sends its people out to settle the other islands and it even has had a practice of Javanization – making other people in Indonesia more like those in Java. It seems the Javanese have simply taken the place of the Dutch, who once ruled the islands.

The Javanese are Muslim Malays, making them similar to the people of Malaysia to the north.

The Javanese language is related not just to those of Malaysia and the nearby islands, but also to those in the Philippines, Madagascar and the islands of the Pacific. It is even related to Maori.

History: Java has been ruled in turn by three different civilizations. In round numbers:

  1. 500-1500: Hindu: Hindu kingdoms began to appear in the 500s. In its early history Java was influenced more by India than by China. In the 800s the great Buddhist and Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan were built. In the 1300s and 1400s Java became the heart of Majapahit, a Hindu empire that ruled most of the islands. When the empire fell its top people fled to neighbouring Bali, which is still Hindu to this day.
  2. 1500-1800: Islamic: After 1500 Muslim traders came from the sea and converted Java to Islam. The old temples were abandoned.
  3. 1800- : Western: In the 1800s and early 1900s Java was ruled by the Dutch and took on some of the ways of the West. It fell briefly under British rule in the 1810s and Japanese rule in the 1940s. Since independence from the Netherlands, it has become part of the American Empire, aka the “Free World”. The Javanese now write with Roman letters.

The Dutch ruled from the city of Batavia in the north-west. Now known as Jakarta, it is still the seat of government. But in the old days the Hindu kings ruled from Yogyakarta and Surakarta in the heart of the island.

What has made Java important in history: it is a large fertile area near a point through which all trade between India and China must pass.

Java has been known in the West as far back as Roman times.

A common dish, especially in the morning, is to eat rice with eggs and maybe chicken.

See also:

Read Full Post »


Jewish woman in 1939 in Kutno, Poland under Nazi German occupation. Notice the yellow Star of David folded into her coat. In the spring of 1942 the Jews of Kutno will be sent to Chelmno to be gassed.

Jews (by -1208) are a people who in ancient times spoke Hebrew and practised Judaism. Many Jews alive today do neither. That is because you can be Jewish either by faith (believing in Judaism) or, some say, by race (your mother was Jewish). They first appear in Ancient Egyptian records in -1208, their god in -1363.

There are not many Jews and never have been. For much of their history they did not even have a country of their own, yet their effect on mankind has been profound. Much of mankind, in fact, gets its ideas about religion from the Jews, either through Christianity or Islam, which are both rooted in Judaism.

In the -1200s, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt where they had been slaves for hundreds of years. He was taking them back to Israel where they had lived before, the Promised Land, promised by God.

On the way Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai and talked to God. He received God’s laws and delivered it to the Jews. There were over 600 of them. The first ten are known as the Ten Commandments. All of the laws are written down in a book now known as the Bible, the holy book of the Jews (and later, with additions, of the Christians).

Moses never lived to see the Promised Land. When the Jews got there they found other people living in their old land. On orders from God the Jews killed them and took back their land. It took some 200 years but by -1000 David entered Jerusalem and was crowned king. His son Solomon built the Temple of God, full of gold.

The way the Bible tells it the Jews then turned their backs on God, so God let the Assyrians and then the Babylonians take their land and carry the Jews off to other lands. Those taken to Babylon called it the Babylonian Captivity.

Most never returned to Israel, but some did. But except for a short period under the Maccabees, they lived under foreign rulers: Persians, Greeks and at last Romans.

The Romans found the Jews to be troublesome. They had to keep too much of their army in Israel to keep the peace. The Jews rose up against them twice. After the second time, in +135, the Romans forced the Jews out of Israel. They did not come back again in large numbers till the 1800s.

They went to Asia, Africa and Europe. Some went to live in the trading towns along the Rhine. Over time they moved east and settled in Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Russia. By 1930 this is where most of the world’s Jews were living. During the Second World War Hitler killed 6 of the 9 million who lived there.

After the war, in 1948, the Jews were given Israel as their country again. Today eight Jews in ten live in either Israel or America. More live in America than in Israel, especially in and near the cities of New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

See also:

Read Full Post »

A Guide to Anglos

Lord Nelson, whose victories over Napoleon’s navy helped English to pass French as a world language

An Anglo (450- ) is anyone whose chief language is English. About half the West is Anglo. Worldwide only the Chinese outnumber them.

In Shakespeare’s time there were only 5 million Anglos. Now there are over 500 million. The British Empire planted not just the English language all over the world, but also English ways of thinking and doing things.

Where Anglos live in large numbers (given in millions):

  • 65m: Britain and Ireland
  • 300m: North America and the West Indies
  • 30m: Australia and New Zealand
  • 50m: Africa
  • 100m: South Asia

The sun never sets on them, to use an old expression about the empire.

In the first three regions most people are Anglos; in the other two, in those countries that once belonged to the empire, only the richest tenth are.

Anglos do not think of themselves this way. They think that race matters more than language. White Anglos think they have more in common with Russians or Greeks than they do with the people in Jamaica or the well-to-do of India.

They do not understand that language runs deeper than race. Language brings a whole universe of ideas with it. It is impossible to use that language day in and day out, and especially to receive your education in it, without being affected. Only religion can affect you more deeply.

Included in this universe of Anglo ideas:

  • No man should be above the law.
  • Democracy is the best form of government.
  • Freedom – for individuals, businesses, property – makes society stronger, not weaker.
  • The rights of private property.
  • Judges should be independent of the government.
  • Individuals can think for themselves. They do not need government or religion to tell them what to think or do.
  • Belief in science and invention.
  • Life is about making money.
  • Race affects you more deeply than language, religion, upbringing, education or wealth.
  • In judging another person, race matters most, then wealth.
  • Sports as an important part of life.
  • Life is what we make it. We are not ruled by the stars or by fate.
  • Facts matter more than reason.
  • Religion is a private affair.
  • Poverty is a moral failing.
  • In foreign affairs might makes right.

There are nine “natural” Anglo countries. A natural country is a region with at least a million people where most speak the same language and follow the same religion:

  • Britain – including the heavily Protestant areas of northern Ireland
  • Ireland
  • West Indies – the islands including Belize, Guyana and Suriname
  • Anglo-America – the English-speaking, Protestant part of North America
  • Rhode Island – the heavily Catholic areas in north-eastern America, especially in and near Boston, Rhode Island and Long Island
  • Utah – the heavily Mormon part of America in and near Utah
  • Hawaii
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

While there are millions of Anglos in Africa and Asia, they do not make up most of society of a million or more anywhere. Singapore and Durban, South Africa come closest.

See also:

Read Full Post »

Guinea coast

The Guinea coast is the part of west Africa that lies south of the Sahara and north of the sea. It is the part of Africa where most black people in North America, the Caribbbbean and Bahia in Brazil come from. In fact, “Guinea” comes from the Berber word for black.

The guinea coin was originally made out of gold from this area.

It lies between 0 and 15 degrees north and goes from 20 west to 15 east. It includes all the countries from Guinea-Bissau to Equatorial Guinea: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

With 250 million people most of black Africa lives here.

The Guinea coast was made up of yet smaller coasts: the slave coast, the gold coast, the ivory coast and so on, each named according what it had.

Along the sea are jungles and cities. It always seems like summer and it rains a lot. As you go north inland it rains less often. The trees give way to open grassland. Farther north the rain gives out altogether and the grass gives way to the endless sand of the Sahara.

Religion: Islam came across the Sahara so most who live in the north are Muslims. Christianity came by sea, so most in the south are Christians. Some still worship the old African spirits.

Language: Those with education know French, English or Portuguese. In the north are Hausa and the Songhai tongues. Most other Guinea languages belong to the Niger-Congo family. It was from here from this family that the Bantu languages swept across most of the rest of black Africa.

A bit of history:

From about 1300 to 1600 there were Muslim empires in the north, along the Niger river, like those of Mali and Songhay. These were the glory days of the city of Timbuktu.

In the 1400s Europeans began to establish trading posts along the sea.

From 1600 to 1800 these trading posts were part of the triangular trade:

  1. Guinea provided slaves, which were sold in Brazil and the Caribbean.
  2. The slaves cut sugar cane, which was turned into molasses and sent to Europe.
  3. Europe sold rum and sugar which it made out of the molasses. It also sold finished goods, like cloth, guns, windows and ships.

The whole point was to make Europe rich.

The trading posts grew into colonies in the 1800s. In the late 1900s they all became free countries.

Yet these countries were just lines on a map drawn by men in Europe. They did not follows lines of religion, language or history. So the region has been troubled by civil war ever since.

The governments are weak and corrupt. While they are no longer colonies, most are now banana republics in the orbit of France or America.

There is little industry. Even though it has almost as many people as America, it makes less money than New York City. And much of what little it makes gets wasted by corruption and civil war.

– Abagond, 2006.

See also:

Read Full Post »

latitude and longitude

Every spot on earth has two numbers: a latitude and a longitude.

Latitude tells you how many degrees north or south a place is from the equator. It is a number between 0 and 90. For example Alexandria in Egypt is 31.25 degrees north.

Longitude tells you how many degrees east or west a place is from London. It is a number between 0 and 180. Alexandria is 30 degrees east.

Therefore we say Alexandria is 31.25 N, 30 E. Sometimes this is just written as “31.25, 30” where it is understood that the first number is latitude and that negative numbers mean south for latitudes and west for longitudes.

A degree is a way to measure how far round a circle you are. A circle has 360 degrees. Half way round a circle is 180 degrees. A fourth of the way is 90 degrees. And so on.

The equator is a line that divides the earth into two equal halves, a north and a south.

Longitudes start at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London. When the present system was set up, Britain was the top sea-going country so their largest city became the starting point.

In the old days ships set their clocks to the time of the Greenwich Observatory in London, known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Then, no matter where they went, they could tell what their longitude was by seeing what time was on their clock when the sun reached its highest point in the sky at noon.

Every hour equals 15 degrees of longitude. If noon came before 12:00 GMT, then you were that many degrees of longitude east of London. Otherwise you were to the west.

To find your latitude you measured how many degrees high the north star was – or some other star of known position.

All this measuring was done by an astrolabe, later with a sextant. Even without anything special except a clock you will be less than 1,000 km off.

Since 1500 this has allowed Westerners to cross the oceans without getting lost. That meant they could discover and take over new lands. They could also deliver goods faster and cheaper and take over world trade.

These days you can just use a GPS to find out your latitude and longitude. Invented by the American military, it talks to satellites in orbit around the earth and from that it can tell where it is. Most ships and aircraft come with one, so do some cars.

The latitude and longitude of every computer on the Internet is also known. So there are websites you can go to to find out the latitude and longitude of the computer that is connecting you to the Internet. This will not be the same as your own latitude and longitude but it will be close.

Latitude and longitude is not as new as you might think. In Roman times Ptolemy recorded the latitude and longitude of 8,000 places from Spain to China in his book on geography.

See also:

Read Full Post »


continents snip

Geography is the field of knowledge that gives us a picture of the Earth, what it is like as a whole and in all its parts.


Probably what Anaximander’s world map looked like,

Anaximander was the first known Greek geographer. Geography is Greek for “drawing the Earth” and that is just what he did: he drew a map of the Earth more than 500 years before Christ.

He divided the Earth into three main parts:

  1. Europe,
  2. Asia,
  3. Libya (Africa in Latin).

We now call these main parts continents. Going round all three was a vast sea called the Ocean.

The Romans divided the world the same way, but called Libya “Africa”. They knew about China and Java. They knew the Earth was round, not flat, and knew about how big it was. For that reason, some thought that maybe there were other continents since all the ones they knew about were on one side of the Earth. Ptolemy even put one on his world map and called it Terra Australis Incognita.

By 1492 (years after Christ), Europeans learned how to sail directly across the Ocean without getting lost. In time they found three other continents:

  1. America – west across the Ocean from Europe and Africa,
  2. Australia – south-east of Asia,
  3. Antarctica – south of Africa.

They were not the first to discover America or Australia – there were already people living there!

America is often divided into two continents: North America and South America. Together they are called “the Americas”. In English, “America” mostly just means the United States of America (the US ), the country where most English-speaking people in the Americas live. Likewise, the Romans sometimes meant just a province when talking about “Asia” and “Africa”.

Most continents are like huge islands, with maybe just land bridges between them. The main exception is Europe and Asia. For that reason, some see Europe and Asia as one continent called Eurasia.

The Ocean goes around and between these continents. While it is all one large body of water, most think of it as four oceans:

  1. Atlantic Ocean – the western Ocean
  2. Indian Ocean – the southern Ocean
  3. Pacific Ocean – the eastern Ocean
  4. Arctic Ocean – the northern Ocean

By 1914 most of the Earth was ruled by seven or so empires. After some horrible wars that broke the backs of these empires, it is now divided into nearly 200 countries, each with its own independent government. Some are weak and some are strong, so they are not all equally independent, but that is the idea.

Most of these countries in turn belong to one of four civilizations:

  1. The West – grew out of Europe and the Christian religion;
  2. The Islamic world – grew out of south-western Asia and the Muslim religion.
  3. India – grew out of India and the Hindu religion
  4. East Asia – grew out of China

Each has more than a billion people.

A civilization is a region of the Earth where there is a common way of life and of looking at the world. They are formed by religion and empire. Some are dead and no longer with us, like those of Egypt and Babylon.


The world by religion. Click to enlarge.

– Abagond, 2006, 2015.

See also:

Read Full Post »

By Persian I mean anyone who speaks one of the Persian languages: Farsi, Pashto, Kurdish, Dari, Tajik and so on.

The Persians live south of the Turks and Russians, west of India and north and east of the Arab world. Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, western Pakistan and the Kurds are Persian.

In this sense, what we know of as Iran is, in fact, only western Persia! And not all Iranians are themselves Persians: one in four are Azeris, the Turks who live in the north-west and once ruled Iran.

The Persians are famous for their great poets. Because they were more advanced than the Arabs in the early days of Islam, the Persians have profoundly affected the Muslim world. The Turks and the Muslims in Pakistan and India in particular followed the Persians as their model.

Here is the family tree. It has all the living languages with at least a million speakers. Those without numbers are dead but notable.

  • North-eastern
    • Scythian
    • Sarmatian
    • Alanian
    • Khwarezmian
    • Bactrian
    • Avestan – language of Zoroastrian holy books
    • Sogdian – from the 700s to the 900s this was the main language of Samarkand and the Silk Road
    • Ossetian (0.7) – Caucasus
  • South-eastern
    • Pashto (50) – eastern Afghanistan, western Pakistan
  • South-western
    • Farsi (110) – main language in Iran
    • Dari (18 ) – main language in Afghanistan
    • Tajik (5) – main language in Tajikistan
    • Hazaragi (2) – middle of Afghanistan
    • Tat (4) – west of Caspian
    • Luri (2) – western Iran
  • North-western
    • Parthian – ruled Persia in late Roman times
    • Median
    • Kurdish (40) – Turkey, Iraq, Iran
    • Zazaki (2) – in Turkey
    • South of the Caspian:
      • Mazandarani (12)
      • Gileki (4)
      • Talysh (2)
    • Baluchi (8 ) – southern Pakistan

No doubt some speakers are counted twice here, but clearly there are at least 200 million Persians. As a people that makes them comparable to the Turks (150), Russians (150) and Arabs (200).

Half the Pashtuns (those who speak Pashto, also called Pushtuns or Pathans) live in Afghanistan, half in Pakistan. This is no accident: the British split their country in half to make them less of a threat back when the British ruled India.

Before the coming of Islam, the Persians gave the world two religions: Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. Most Persians used to be Zoroastrians, though some were Buddhists or even Christians. Now most are Muslims.

There are still about 100,000 Zoroastrian Persians: they live mainly in India and are called Parsis. Although their holy scriptures are in ancient Persian (Avestan), these days they speak Gujarati and English. That is why they are not on the list above.

Shia Islam did not become widespread among Persians till 500 years ago under the Safavid kings. Most Persians in the west are now Shiites, most in the east are Sunni.

Only the Ossetians are Christians. There are some Jews as well.

The Persians came down from Central Asia about 2000 BC. The north-eastern branch – the Scythians, Sarmatians and others – remained in Central Asia till the coming of the Turks. All that is left of them are the Ossetians.

There are three natural Persian countries:

  • Kurdistan – south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq
  • Iran – without the Azeri north-west or the Arab south-west
  • Khorasan – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, western Pakistan

Kurdistan and Khorasan are Sunni, Iran is Shia.

The Ossetians are too few to count as a separate country.

See also:

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: