Nigerian Ancestry in America | What my DNA reveals about the U.S.

two Nigerian women in traditional dress, representing the topic of Nigerian ancestry in America
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The craze of ancestry testing has swept the globe. Organizations like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have been on the receiving end of millions of spit samples for a time now. I sent mine in, you can believe. One of the most interesting parts of doing a test like this is learning your backstory. Not just of a family, but of an entire world. There was a whole global exchange that happened, something never seen before.

Now, I know these tests aren’t perfectly accurate and they might misrepresent ethnicities and countries. But my question is: What does our ancestry reveal about American history and identity? I mean Nigerian ancestry, in this case.

Before we get started, I just want to lay out a disclaimer; I am not a geneticist or DNA expert. Besides the science or validity of testing, I want to look more at context. How did Nigerian ancestry even get to America? And why is there so much Nigerian ancestry in so many black people? The focus today will not be about DNA itself, but about the story that ancestry tells about American history and identity. That’s because the story of my ancestry is the story of many people. Let’s take a look, shalt we?!

Sorry, that was oldschool.


How did Nigerian ancestry get to America?

Well, that one’s quite obvious isn’t it? Unless you’re living on an alternate time plane, we trust that most African heritage in the New World was brought under terms of slavery. Now, slavery was already being practiced in West Africa before Europeans showed up. 

I only mention that because when the Portuguese arrived at what is now Nigeria, they initially set up contracts with local African leaders to trade slaves across the region. (BTW, where’d you think the name “Lagos” came from? Portuguese!) That is to say, traders already had a system set up with regional leaders. Soon after, they began to take some of those slaves for themselves to Brazil, and of course, England followed suit. 

Nigerian ancestry (in America and elsewhere) comes mostly from a few groups, either Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, or Fulani, despite being home to over 250 ethnic groups. The Hausa are a very large group too, but they weren’t sent as much to the Americas. Throughout the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, most of those sent to the 13 Colonies (baby USA) were of Yoruba and Igbo origin. The Igbo captives, in particular, were known for being rebellious, violent, and even suicidal in revolt against slavery. This bad rep probably led to less of them being brought to the country over time. The ones that did make it were mostly held around the Mid-Atlantic colonies (Virginia, Maryland), according to records.

People of West African origin, including today’s Nigeria, would make a profound impact on the musical and culinary styles of the places they were sent to. In the United States, these manifested into ragtime, jazz, soul, funk, blues, rock, R&B, hip-hop, and more. Think of them as intensely Americanized versions of African music. Remember, Nigeria was not a country at the time of American colonialism and many West African cultures extended beyond their present borders.

It’s important to note that there have been a couple of waves of Nigerian immigration to the U.S., especially Igbo, since the times of abolition. One of those immigration spikes is happening right now, actually. Nigeria today is the most populous nation in Africa, and its ancestry is highly present in many black Americans, whether for recent or historical reasons. But there’s just one problem: Many black people have too much Nigerian ancestry.

Nigeria’s overrepresentation in black American DNA

So, there’s a bit of a mystery when it comes to black American ancestry — well, a lot actually, but let’s look at this one thing. I’m what most people call “mixed” or “light-skinned(ed),” but the African ancestry I do have is mostly Nigerian. By now we understand how arbitrary that is. I mean, how much of that is Yoruba, or Edo, or any of those other 250? The point is, this scenario seems to be similar for many Americans with African ancestry — at least those that have been here for several generations. 

What happened was that most slaves from today’s Nigeria were sent to the Caribbean or South America. North America … not so much. Those brought to today’s U.S. were mostly from Senegambia (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea) or Central Africa (the Congo, Angola, Cameroon), so the records say. If that’s true, then where did all these Nigerians come from?

There are a couple of theories and explanations for that. One is that Nigerian ancestry shows up more on DNA tests because a higher proportion of Nigerians partake in DNA studies compared to other African nations. So, that might boost your Nigeria score. 

Another motive could stem from the abolition of Trans-Atlantic slave trading when it became illegal to capture and bring slaves from Africa anymore. That happened in 1808 in the USA. The weird part is that part of the pressure to do this, beside moral and economic, was to put a hold on the black population which actually outnumbered whites in the South. In order to get more black slaves later on, the U.S. had to import them from other New World colonies, particularly those in the Caribbean. This continued to happen even after all slavery was abolished in America.

It seems that there was a much higher death rate among the Senegambia slaves since they were among the first to arrive. It’s like the Europeans didn’t really know what they were doing yet, and so a lot of the slaves ended up dead. There were higher death rates in the Caribbean and South American slaves, but once brought to the U.S. they usually did a little better. 

Many were probably second-generation and were already used to the hard life on plantations. It’s thought that they intermarried with the established black population or even outnumbered them in places, enough so that their gene pool would become dominant. In reality, it could be due to a mixture of reasons. 

In Conclusion

As a black-ish American, it is fascinating to me to learn more about my African heritage. There’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to feel bad about. The idea that Nigerian ancestry is likely so dominant due to Caribbean slaves being brought into the States really demonstrates how linked together black people of the New World are. We don’t have our old languages, customs, or religions, but we do have our own new dialect, our own new customs, and a rich culture that has taken the world by storm! 

As I said, I am mixed, so I’ll be going over the different white, black, and whatever else ancestry I have over the coming weeks / months. It is all a part of a quest to understand the history of this country. What shows up on our DNA tests, whether exact or not, reveals not only how America was made. It reveals how the world made America.

Thanks for reading! As always, take care out there. 😉  

Further Reading and Resources

Abolishing African Slave Trade

African American Music

Nigeria Country Profile

So Much Nigerian Ancestry

Lots of Americans with Nigerian Ancestry

Overrepresentation of Nigerian Genes

Ancestry Profile of Nigeria

Nigerian Americans

Does America have a cuisine? I mean, really? | Doubts about Americans

The USA? A cuisine? You’re kidding. This place definitely does have its own set of culinary forms and contributions. Or … The U.S. just steals its culinary forms from other traditions. Well, we’ve heard many sides of the argument before, and there’s a little bit of truth to either. Many travelers to the United States, foreigners watching American TV shows, and our very own U.S. citizens often get confused as to what the “cuisine” even is (if there is such a thing, of course). Here, I want to explore with you a bit of the influences behind American cuisine, and how that became a thing. Then we can take a brief — I do mean brief — look at the major cuisines-zzz of the United States. Ready to go?

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Influences on “American” Cuisine

The trouble with defining a uniquely American cuisine for most people is the fact that the country itself is literally a land of immigrants. There has been so much influence from other places that one might be inclined to think that the US just borrows its recipes from other countries, tweaking them slightly to appeal to American tongues. While that may be the case, this is typically what has happened in all world cuisines. For example, many European dishes rely heavily on potatoes and tomatoes, two ingredients originally from the Americas. Most of the world eats chicken, a fowl originally from South Asia. You start to get my point.

Specifically, for the United States as we know it (or them?), the cuisine was influenced by different waves of settlement. The Native Americans would be the first up. Known as the “three sisters,” indigenous diets were stapled by beans, maize, and squash. Add in the native turkey and you’ve almost got yourself a Thanksgiving dinner! Lots of other animals were consumed that aren’t such popular options nowadays like deer, elk, bison, rabbits, ducks, snakes, squirrels, turtles, possums, and alligators. Still, these animals are consumed in modern times, even if it gives me the creeps to think so. One group of native critters that have stood the test of time are crustaceans and shellfish. Mmm-hmm. 

Europeans in general immediately made their impact on the local dishes. They would eventually introduce the meats that we know and love like chicken, pork, beef, and sheep (for those that like to eat Mary’s little lambs). With these creatures also came dairy and eggs, and subsequently every great dessert ever made! Grapes and wine were also a neat contribution. Throughout settlement, American colonists had a sweet spot for France and French culinary styles which they drew much inspiration. The Jewish communities and pretty much every other European community brought with them their own styles that would influence cuisine in the new country.

Upon arriving in the colonies, many people realized a greater need to hunt than on the typical European farms. They would also come to use more fats, oils, and butter than was customary (this explains a lot, actually). Colonists also brought grains with them that could be used to bake bread or make the popular whiskeys and beers. Molasses and syrup also became common, along with a sort-of-famous drink imported from the Caribbean: rum.

In the Southern states especially, African influences would hit even harder. Imports like okra, sorghum, sesame seeds, eggplant, watermelon, rice, and yams are just some of what was brought along with the early slaves. (*Some of these foods were also found in Asia but were imported first from Africa). Black cooks would also play a major role in the national cuisine since they were serving some of the best dishes available to the elites of the time. 

All of these influences and more would go on to mix and shape a unique culinary style all to its own in the United States. As we said, the country is home to many regional cuisines within its borders. So, what are some of America’s cuisines?

Types of American Cuisine

New England

lobster roll, part of New England cuisine
lobster roll – Sharon McCutcheon

New England is a section of the Northeast United States with a long, rugged coastline. The food there is most famous for its use of seafood, especially for having some of the best lobster anywhere. Clam chowder and lobster dishes like the lobster roll are considered originals from this region. Succotash is another original consisting mostly of lima beans and corn, both native ingredients.

New England cuisine is also known for its use of fruits and berries, with many popular sweets like pies, juices, and jellies being derived from both imported (strawberries, apples) and native produce (elderberries, cranberries). Muffins, specialized types of bread, and cookies (looking at you, chocolate chip!) were also popularized here before spreading to the rest of the country.

Mid-Atlantic

Spaghetti and meatballs, and Italian-American dish
spaghetti & meatballs – jeffreyw

The Mid-Atlantic has undoubtedly had one of the biggest impacts on all American cuisine since some of the largest cities and cultural centers are here. In New York alone, Jewish and Italian influence would introduce many New World concepts like spaghetti and meatballs, American-style pizza, crab cakes, eggs benedict, the Reuben sandwich, and pastrami on rye.

Besides keeping it kosher, this region loved its sweets, with many concoctions such as the New York cheesecake, American-style donuts, and milkshakes owing their births to this region. There’s also Philadelphia which most notably contributed cream cheese and the Philly cheesesteak, but also played a major role in the westward expansion of New York dishes. We can’t forget that Upstate New York would make one of the most beloved American dishes known to man: buffalo wings

Mid-West

hot dogs with different styles of sausage and baked beans pickels and lettuce, other with onions, bbq sauce and blue cheese, with sauces and fries on the side
some variations of hot dog – Victoria Shes

Staying on the “Middle” route, the Mid-West is a region that was settled by lots of Europeans. This might explain why German, Scandinavian, and Eastern Block influences are so strong there. Aside from the many dishes brought over from those European tables, one that seemed to stand out was the sausage.

Polish and German sausages (especially Bratwurst) take the cake in this part of America, and they have gone to take many shapes and sizes. Adding pickled veggies will get you the hot dogs so popular in these parts. The major cities here have their own unique styles of pizza (most famously Chicago deep dish) and barbeque (most famously Kansas CitySt. Louis). Oh, and brownies apparently came from America’s wonderful heartland.

Southern

grits and greens, two classics of southern cuisine in America
grits & greens – Kim Daniels

When referring to “the South” in any case, especially when it comes to food, there is no umbrella that can cover it all. The South is one of the richest and most diverse culinary regions in America, many claiming it is the only part of the U.S. that gives the country a unique culinary style. Still, they learned a lot from the Natives and Africans. Corn dishes like succotash, corn of the cob, cornbread, and grits all have their origins down here. As we saw earlier, melons, yams, okra, black-eyed peas, and rice also get the highlight from Africa.

Barbeque is a key style of food with famous contributors in Tennessee and the Carolinas.. Buttermilk biscuits, country ham, and fried chicken are dishes that developed in the South, along with popular deserts like sweet potato pie, pecan pie, and peach cobbler. Oh, and sweet tea which is practically a dessert. Many fried classics like fried chicken, country fried steak, and fried pork chops would get their call to fame in the south. And don’t forget to throw some gravy on it!

Cajun & Creole

Gumbo, a classic Louisiana dish, cajun/creole cuisine
gumbo – Amadscientist

Throughout the coastal South such as the Carolinas, seafood is considered a staple in the cuisine. But nowhere else, I dare to say, does seafood play a bigger role in the culinary ID than in Louisiana. Cajun and Creole traditions took heavily from French-Acadian, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, and indigenous foods to make it its own unique thing.

There are way too many specialized dishes to name here, but many of them take advantage of the prevalent shellfish, crawfish, and regular fish of the region. The food is known for being one of the most flavorful and spiciest in all of the U.S. Cajuns love their cayenne pepper. Some of the most-known dishes include gumbo, jambalaya, boudin sausage, red beans and rice, and po’boys

Florida & the Caribbean

jerk chicken grilling with a Heineken beer, part of Caribbean cuisine
jerk grilled chicken – S kelly

Anyone who’s ever been to Florida knows how nice (or chaotic) the weather can be. It’s known as the only part of the contiguous United States with a tropical climate. This plus its proximity to the Caribbean has brought many fruits that simply can’t grow in other states. Immigrants have brought culinary styles from Cuba, the DR, and Haiti, among other flavors such as allspice, coconut, oranges, banana (plantains), Jerk, and curry.

Some of the tropical fruits available like soursop and mangoes are almost unheard of in other parts of the South, making Florida a standout. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico also add their own twist of flavors, being U.S. territories with tons of Spanish, African, and French influences too. The region is also a key location for seafood and for peppers like bell and habanero. It’s said the famous key lime pie was invented (or at least inspired) in the Florida Keys.

Northwest

sesame chicken, an Americanized dish of Chinese food, popularized in the American West
sesame chicken (I couldn’t find moose sausage) – Israel Albornoz

The American Northwest has two standout factors in its culinary styles. For one, the proximity to the Pacific gives it some unique fish and seafood not available in the East. The other is due to the fact that most of this region is wilderness, allowing for access to more big game. This is especially true for Alaska where animals like the ptarmigan, moose, and bison can be consumed more regularly than in other parts of the U.S.

I was also thinking bears and beavers, but I don’t know how often those get eaten. The Pacific Northwest is also famous for its extensive berry and hazelnut harvesting. And not to mention the major cities like Seattle and San Francisco that created many of the Asian-American dishes beloved around the country.

Southwest

Tex-Mex dishes including rice, tortilla chips, fajitas and tacos, part of American cuisine
Tex-Mex dishes – Scott Bauer

The Southwest is a huge area with tons of culinary styles and influences. The most prevalent of these is probably American Mexican food. From Tex-Mex to SoCal to New Mexico, each place has its own unique turn. Notably from Texans, we get iconic dishes like beef chili, queso dip, American nachos, taco bowls, and holiest of all, Fritos. Chimichangas are reportedly from Arizona, and New Mexico has lots of traditional dishes that put an American twist to north Mexican fare.

A constant in many of these is the use of tomatoes, peppers like chiles and jalapeños, cheese, corn, and beans. Salsa, tortillas, and guacamole are also part of the staple dishes. With influences like the Native American horno, a type of oven, other animals such as elk and even rattlesnake are consumed, likely in the boonies.

Still, beef and barbeque hold a special place here, with Texas having some of the most famous BBQ in the world. Burgers are also an important feature, the Southwest being home to the cheeseburger and many types of Mexicanized and Asianized burgers following soon after. California was pivotal in introducing many Asian foods to the country (as well as the concept of fast food). From Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, to Korean and more, these foods have gone to shapeshift into something truly American.

Pacific

Spam musubi, a Hawaiian / pacific dish in American cuisine
SPAM musubi – bandita

The Pacific Islands take up a special portion of American cuisine. Due to tropical weather and an abundance of seafood, this region has access to many foods otherwise not available in the rest of the country. Regional natives and tropical fruits like bananas, papayas, lemongrass, and sweet potatoes have all contributed. Alongside Samoan and Mariana traditions, Hawaiian food is of the most beloved in America as well.

Also paying due to imports like chicken and pigs, pork and ham are heavily associated with this region, as are pineapples. Asian foods and styles like poke (Hawaii original), tofu, soy, sushi, teriyaki, kimchi, and noodles like ramen are all part of the cuisine. Many American troops were sent to the Pacific during wartime as well, and canned foods like beans, meat, and SPAM are derived from those army rations. 

Other Food

lamb kebab with pita bread, a popular mediterranean dish in America
lamb kebab – Lesya Dolyk

One of the most popular cuisines not owing to a particular region of the U.S. is Mediterranean food. This is usually with a Middle Eastern flare and includes things like kebabs, hummus, shwarma, falafel, pita bread, and creamy salads. Desserts like rice pudding and baklava also have an impact on this food. Ethiopian and other African styles are on the rise due to increased immigration.

Indian food has been popular for a while with tikka masala, naan bread, lentils, and curry being some of the most popular items. South American barbeque styles like Brazilian churrasco and gaucho asado are gaining in popularity, as are exotic fruits like “acai” (açaí) or tubers like cassava (think tapioca). Pretty much everyone’s got a hand in this American pie. 


**That’s it for now! I look forward to going more in depth with the distinct American cuisines in the future. What do you think? Were any of these shocking to you? Still don’t think the U.S. has its own cuisine? Let us know! And take care, as always. Peace 😉

Do Americans have a culture? – Doubts about the U.S.A.

A Culture? Please …

I know, I know. This might seem like an odd question, but many out there wonder whether or not the U.S. really does have a culture. It’s debated by researchers and academics, even questioned by many Americans themselves. Well, you know I’m going to give you my opinion. But, what is culture in the first place?

Read more: Doubts About Americans

All countries have one (there goes your answer right there), and most countries have specific regional cultures within them. Even many cities have different “cultures” depending on the side of town. This usually happens in a north-south and east-west frame. Think of, say, Eastern and Western China, East and West Russia, North and South Italy, or North and South India. The same differences happen in the U.S., where you get different cultures from north to south and east to west and diagonal and so forth.

Probably the reason many would question whether America or Americans have any culture has more to do with having a culture of their own. Since everybody knows it’s a nation composed almost entirely of immigrants, it’s easy to see why people might question whether the U.S. even has a culture in the first place. Especially for visitors, often the first things they see are Uber and Lyft drivers that can hardly speak English, a Chinese restaurant on the left, a Mexican restaurant on the right, an Indian bazaar, a building that looks just like any other in Europe or somewhere else.

Read more: American ethnicity, American languages

Culture(s) of the U.S.

A lot of that is just on the surface, though. First and foremost, we just need to look at the first nations within our nation. Native Americans were here before “America” was even a thing. They have used hundreds of languages to express their many musical styles, customs, dressing traditions, and cuisines. Many of the food items common in current American cuisines like corn, turkey, different berries, and tomatoes are homegrown, original to the continent. And indigenous art and design are still highly influential, especially in regions like the Southwest and parts of the Midwest.

The Anglos and other British settlers also had a chunk of influence. They brought their heritage, sure, but established a distinct set of folklore, musical styles, attire, and identity altogether. Generally those identities differed from North to South and urban to rural too, where differences in lifestyle, accent, and ideology would diverge those two parts of the country even more. Besides setting the foundation for the United States as we know it, they also gave the nation its main language, now the most prominent and influential version of English on the planet. (Brits, please don’t get mad at me!)

With all that going on, others from Europe like the French, Dutch, Swedes, and Spanish were all pushing their own traditions and styles onto the locations they’d settled. This left Dutch architecture in New York, Spanish architecture in California and Texas, and French architecture in Louisiana. It also gave way to celebrations like Mardi Gras, and the establishment of some of America’s greatest and most iconic cities.

The Africans that were brought over to the New World also made their cultural impact. From their influence on cuisine, especially in the South and Mid-Atlantic, they helped to produce and invent many of the nation’s most iconic and preferred dishes, several with ingredients from the ancestral continent. Lyrical storytelling and passing down vocal history allowed many to preserve their musical traditions. This continues to impact American and World music in a huge way till this day. With some of the most important black social leaders and intellects, African Americans have become some of the most recognizable and admired black individuals known all over the world. Many black people from other countries and colonies also had a huge impact on the nation’s ID. And America’s obsession with athletics, TV, and movies have helped to solidify that role.

Oh, and let’s not forget the many immigrants that came to establish their own unique cultures in the U.S. different from their home lands. I mean, Chicano isn’t quite Mexican, and Nuyorican isn’t quite Puerto Rican (even though Puerto Rican is still American, as much as Guamanian, American Samoan, Mariana, or Virgin Islander is). Just name all the religious sects and denominations that sought refuge here. Heck, many still were persecuted when they got here. Many of their traditional cuisines and customs have been modified to U.S.-style, but there are still places where their customs have been preserved like in their ancestral countries.

Just the Beginning

And that’s just looking at individual groups. I haven’t even begun to talk about consumerism and capitalism, the phenomenon of malls and suburbs, movie culture and car culture, skateboarding and surfing, baseball and basketball, football and the bashing of any other sport that claims to be football, Americana and jukebox nostalgia, hostility and hospitality, Broadway and Hollywood, Main Street and Middle America, country living and the urban rush, the woes of yards and pounds, love-hate feels about war and the admiration of military, the superiority complex and the self-loathing, “pulling up your bootstraps” and the mental health crisis, ranches and rodeos, guns and cowboys, hippies and hipsters, donators and volunteers, scammers and schemers, big enterprise and social media craze, an app for everything and a distrust in politics, religious fundamentalists and homegrown extremists, luaus and hula dancers, freezer food and barbecues, bison and bald eagles, conservative rules, and the sex, swearing, and drugs that never seem to get ruled out.

Read more: American religion, Black Americans

There’s a lot that makes America what it is, but one thing’s for certain; Americans do have a culture … but I’ll let others figure out what that culture actually is.


Thank you for reading! Follow the site or subscribe to receive updates as they happen. You can contact me at tietewaller@gmail.com or Give Me a Shout to collaborate and one-to-one messages. Stay tuned for further posts on this topic!

‘Django Unchained’ & American Society- What’s it say about us?

movie poster cover for Django Unchained
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Django Unchained was a 2012 American movie by Quentin Tarantino that shook up so many of its viewers. With references to Spaghetti Westerns, Southern epics, and slavery pieces to name a few, this movie also had a lot to say about American society overall. Down below are a few of the points about our society, past and present, that were referenced in Django Unchained.

That’s Racist

The most obvious thing that Django Unchained tells us about America is slavery and racism. We all know about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the nation’s history of African enslavement. In the movie, we see how pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific concepts were used in those days to justify slavery.

You remember the whole scene where Mr. Candie (DiCaprio’s character) uses one of his former slave’s skulls to demonstrate how black people are anatomically inferior to whites. Or that scene where the slaver uses the Bible to justify his whipping and punishing of the “sub-human” slaves.

The cold part is that this stuff really happened, and a lot. It seems like every five words in Django is the “n-word,” and this is more for a shock effect than anything. I mean, I’m sure white people in those days called black people nigger a lot, but not like every five seconds. Still, the use of this word and other racial slurs in the movie shows us how language has been used throughout our country’s history to uplift certain groups and diminish others. And that goes both ways.

Read more: Are there many interracial couples in America?

Okay, so we saw whips and chains, physical representations of bondage and dominance — not to get freaky. Oh, and we saw a glimpse of a pre-Ku Klux Klan group in one of the funniest scenes of the entire movie. The KKK really formed after abolition as a kind of retaliation against blacks gaining equality. Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Cristoph Waltz) later in the movie start to be treated with a bit of respect when they are presumed to have money and status. This shows how even racism can be curbed when there are benefits involved.

Frontier Living

Django Unchained at its heart is a Western, so the usual gun-slinging and street shootouts had to be a part of it. The characters throughout most of the movie are riding horses and carriages across open landscapes, mountains, and everything we associate with the Old West. We even see the classic cowboy stand-offs in the small frontier town, people running to get the sheriff, and a saloon fight.

The Antebellum South is also represented when they get to Mississippi. There we see big plantations and plantation homes being worked by slaves. Besides that, we get a look at some slave quarters, those common oak and poplar trees of the South, and big fields of cotton to be picked. And of course, all around is the sense of white dominance and complacency for being in control of that crazy world they’d created.

Read more: Isn’t America all cold and snowy?

The Outlaw is B(l)ack!

Another thing this movie does is show audiences how black outlaws and bounty hunters did exist in the Old Western days. I feel like this movie opened up in many ways for people to learn about such figures as black cowboys and bounty hunters, a subject that was not really touched on before in movies or TV (at least to this extent).

Django shows in part the presence of these lesser-known historic black figures of that time, informing that they were also a part of the development of the country. There’s also something many people forget, that some slaves were able to buy their freedom and lead interesting lives outside of the establishment.

Read more: Aren’t there a lot of black people in America, like on TV?

Reparations … or Revenge?

Since the times of slavery in America, there has been a sense of black people recovering some kind of dignity, strength, even ranging into dominance. It’s important to remember that not all people in any group will want the same things, which is normal. Still, when Django goes and kills all of the slavers that did him wrong, there’s this sense of “justice served cold” that reverberates off of every gunshot and explosion.

There’s a constant debate in the USA of whether there should be reparations or compensation given to black Americans for the terrible deeds taken against their ancestors. There is this underlying feeling of getting revenge on these racist actions, which is completely exploited in this movie. Let me also remind you that the German’s full name is Dr. “King” Schultz, likely a nod to Dr. Martin Luther King as a kind of liberator and symbol for good.

Through all the killing that Django does, we also get an idea of the violent nature of rebellions in general, especially as it deals with the black-led ones. There was many a violent uprising in America’s past, and this movie plays a bit on such true historic bloodbaths.

And the White Director

So Quentin Tarantino doesn’t look very black, as far as most of us can tell. The fact that a white guy had directed a movie like this did conjure up some backlash for the film. Django Unchained touches on some pretty sensitive subject matter, particularly concerning black Americans. So one might imagine how some people felt uncomfortable with it.

Tarantino movies aren’t for everyone and lots of people are already uneased by the cartoonish violence in them. Put that together with about a thousand “n-bombs” and you’ve got a sure recipe for retaliation. Even though many people thought he had no business making a movie about slavery, there were still those that enjoyed Django Unchained regardless of its crazy subject matter. Q. T. does actually have a cameo in the movie and gets blown up, which shows that even the director wasn’t safe from Django’s vengeful rage.

Boy, I Swear

Another common feature in Tarantino’s movies is the liberal and consistent tendency of his characters to swear. This is just his style, and it comes more so from this culture surrounding Hollywood or Southern California — where almost everyone I know curses. Some are offended by this constant use of bad words, and others could care less.

One thing that’s funny about this, though, is that people back in those times (early-mid 1800s) definitely did not curse as much as in the movie. Sure, there was cursing, but people back in those days were generally pretty conservative and religious by today’s standards. I had this same thought watching The Hateful Eight which had a similar amount of cussing in a time period that people probably didn’t have such dirty mouths.

Read more: The Wolf of Wall Street

This feature of the movie was likely used to connect modern audiences to this past period in time, similar to how the score contained some rap songs. It also reminds audiences that this story is fictional and for entertainment purposes, so don’t be taking it all so seriously.

America, the Beautiful Mixed Baby

In Django Unchained are black people (obviously), Germans, Australians, other Americans, and Mr. Candie who loves French — even though he can’t speak or understand it. Some aspects of the culture, especially on the German side, are explored a bit deeper. With all of this, we get reminded of America’s very mixed heritage.

Germans at a certain point in the U.S. interior were very prevalent and made up a large part of the immigration there. All these different people of varying backgrounds remind us of this uncommon origin we share that turned the U.S. into a land of immigrants. It also reminds us that a large part of the country, like the West, was built by outlaws, runaways, and people seeking the thrill of adventure until turning it into what it is today.

Read more: Aren’t Americans white?

**What did you think of this movie? Are you fond of Tarantino or do you avoid his movies at all costs? If you can, share what else Django Unchained showed us about American or world society. Also, feel free to check out similar posts on At the Movies. Message me at tietewaller@gmail.com for direct contact or to collaborate on something! Thank you for reading and peace to you.

What makes Montreal unique? – 11 Cool Reasons 🇨🇦

Well, it doesn’t take much to see how special of a city Montreal is in Canada, let alone the world. A big city, one of the safest big cities, a popular spot for students and travelers looking for a one-of-a-kind corner of North America. Montreal is French but the English presence is apparent. Are you aching to learn some more? Take a journey into the royal city.

So what makes Montreal so unique, then?

Map of Montreal highlighting Montreal Island
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MONTRÉAL: Quick Geography

First off, Montreal is Canada’s second-biggest city by population and the biggest in Quebec province. It’s got over 1,704,000 people in the city and over 1,942,000 in the urban area. The city is located on a group of islands, mainly the Île de Montréal (Il-de-Mon-trhey-all) or Montreal Island. The big island sits between the mighty St. Lawrence River and the smaller Prairie River, also standing at the head of the Ottawa River.

Once called Ville-Marie, 16th-century French came to name the city after a three-hill point called Mount Royal or Mont-Réal back in those days. In Ojibwe, the city is known as Mooniyaang after a “first stopping place” in their migration legend. Otherwise, it’s called Tiohtià:ke Tsi in Mohawk meaning “a place where nations and rivers unite and divide.” That fits the city pretty well.

Montreal is divided into 19 boroughs with their own mayors and councils too. Let’s look at some features!

1. Because of the St. Lawrence Riverfront

Jean-Drapeau Park and the Biosphere on the Île Sainte-Hélène
Jean-Drapeau Park, Île Sainte-Hélène – by Guillaume TECHER

Montreal’s main riverfront is home to a couple of core attractions, including a few islands. The Île Sainte-Hélène (Il-Sent-Eh-len) or “Saint Helen’s Island” is right in the middle of the river. It is home to a major theme park called La Ronde, as well as the famous Jean-Drapeau Park with the giant Biosphere globe.

Just next to it is the Île Notre-Dame which has the prettily designed adult playground known as Montreal Casino. There’s also the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a major track used for the Canadian Grand Prix. It’s also great for casual strolls to take in a view of Old Montreal.

Montreal's Old Port at dusk with the clock tower and bridge in the background
Old Port of Montreal – by Walid Amghar

On the main island is the Old Port where old boats still sail like they did back in colonial times. There’s also a promenade with the pretty Montreal Clock Tower looming above the water. Out on a little strip by the port is Habitat 67, a building complex with unique box-shaped sections that looks like a giant Tetris game. That’s different.

2. Because of Old Montreal

Notre-Dame Basilica interior, Old Montreal
Notre-Dame Basilica – by Annie Spratt

Old Montreal is the classic cobblestone and horse carriage image of the city that visitors love. The place is stocked with beautiful old architecture like at City Hall and the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in North America.

There’s also the famous Notre-Dame Basilica with the extremely beautiful interior appreciated by both pro- and non-Catholics around the world. The Château Ramezay is an old hotel establishment and one of several places that offer an experience to go back in time to Quebec’s good olden days. That’s why Old Montreal is a national historic site in Canada.

3. Because of Ville-Marie

a view of Ville-Marie, downtown Montreal with the riverfront
view of Ville-Marie – by Annie Spratt

Ville-Marie is basically the main core of Montreal being one of its boroughs. Besides Old Montreal, there are a number of really nice cultural centers like the Redpath Museum and the Museum of Beaux-Arts.

Besides the many squares and skyscrapers, the queen of them is the 1000 de la Gauchetière which stands at the height of Mount Royal. They would build it taller, but the city doesn’t allow for buildings any higher than those hills. The top has an awesome aerial view of the city and its surroundings, and it holds a big skating rink for those who want a less lofty adventure.

On the sub-ground level, Ville-Marie has an Underground City full of shops and eateries. It’s a popular place to do some shopping and escape the bitter Montreal winters.

4. Because of the Entertainment

the Quartier des Spectacles square at evening with colorful decorations
Quartier des Spectacles – from QuartierdesSpectacles.com

One of the main spots near downtown is this big square called Quartier des Spectacles. It’s a very interestingly designed locale that lights up with parties and festivals all throughout the year. Especially around the Place des Arts, the area is also full of galleries and theaters of all kinds, as well as the Grande Library.

Montreal, in general, is famous for its big festivals, some of them being the biggest or only of their kind in the world! To list a few you have the:

  • International Jazz Festival
  • Nuits d’Afrique (African Nights)
  • Circus Festival
  • International Fireworks Festival
  • Igloofest
  • Canadian Grand Prix
  • Just for Laughs (comedy fest)
  • Les Francos de Montréal (French music festival)

5. Because of the Food & Neighborhoods

Poutine with a thicker beef gravy, plate originated from Quebec
Poutine, a Quebec original – By Jonathunder

Montreal is very famous for its food and drink scene, having some of the most unique cuisines in North America for a number of reasons. World-famous restaurants and good wine or craft bars are found throughout, and you can’t go without the poutine!

Read more: Food & Culture tours

colorful graffiti and street art at a corner around Saint Laurent Boulevard, Montreal
graffiti art around Boulevard St.-Laurent – by Benoit Debaix

Other cool neighborhoods to explore shops and historic architecture are Mile End and Rue Saint-Denis. In this area is the Jean-Talon Market, Montreal’s biggest open-air market to get your eat on. Lastly, Boulevard Saint-Laurent is another quirky hood to explore with tons of weird and cool street art, as well as some shops of its own.

6. Because of Mont-Royal

view from a belvedere on Mount Royal, Montreal
view from Mont-Royal – by Matthias Mullie

The city’s namesake isn’t just some mountain but a massive park space with lots of serene nature. With tons of natural space and activities year-round, Mont-Royal also has a number of monuments, major cemeteries, and belvederes to take in the view of Montreal.

The views alone are enough to make you grateful they don’t build skyscrapers higher than the mountain. One of the main sights to take in the park’s beauty is Saint Joseph’s Observatory.

7. Because of the Islands & Nature Parks

Despite being one of Canada’s biggest cities, Montreal has left plenty of room for nature to stay in play. This shows in places like the lush Bois-de-Liesse Nature Park along the Prairie River, or the Cap-Saint-Jacques Nature Park.

This big park has cool activities like maple shacks to extract syrup, livestock farms to interact with animals, and even some decent beaches for the summertime. Much of the park is undeveloped and remains a quiet wood area.

Other isolated parks located on islands are Île-Bizard and the Îles-de-Boucherville National Park. These places are ideal for exploring the waterways and natural landscapes around the city. Île-Perrot offers similar parks with a few historic structures to add to this quaint setting.

8. Because of Urban Parks

fountain and tranquil pond setting at La Fontaine Park, Montreal
the fountain at La Fontaine Park – By Jeangagnon

Other than Mont-Royal, the city is also stacked with nice urban parks. This includes La-Fontaine Park with its pretty ponds and forest scenery. A similar park with tranquil settings is Agrignon Park on the south side.

Frédéric-Back Park is a former quarry / landfill that’s in the process of becoming one of Montreal’s biggest urban parks. As of now, it’s got a few cool works of art in it, and it’s dotted by a bunch of weird scattered spheres. These things are a part of the biogas cleanup in the park and make for an interesting sight even if they’re not intended to be.

9. Because of the Botanical Gardens & Olympic Park

Montreal Botanical Garden and the Japanese Garden section
Japanese Garden, Botanical Gardens – by Hansel Wong

Montreal’s Botanical Gardens are some of the most awarded and revered gardens in the world. They are actually a group of gardens with international themes, and whether it’s the Japanese, Chinese, or First Nations, you can’t really go wrong. They’re also really nice because the gardens stay remarkably pretty no matter the season of the year.

Read more: Jardin Botanique

Olympic Stadium and Leaning tower at Olympic Park in Montreal
Olympic Stadium – By Tolivero

Next door at the Olympic Park are a few attractions like the Montreal Biodome and the park itself. Over here is the Leaning Tower which allows visitors to get a more “slanted” view of the city from above. There’s also the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, a popular place to learn about astronomy and make crafts or watch movies, among other fun activities.

10. Because of the Suburbs

the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles or thousand islands river in the suburbs of Montreal, Laval
Rivière-des-Mille-Îles – By Pierre Bona

Another cool thing about Montreal is its suburbs which add their own mix of nature and history to the urban area. Mont-Royal (the city) has a few of these places, centered nicely on a main square and the interesting Connaught Park.

Further from the center are places like Pointe-Claire with several nice parks, historic architecture, and art galleries on the St. Lawrence riverfront. Terrebonne has lots of nature and provides venues for skiers and snow sport lovers, as well as the historic Île-des-Moulins (Il-de-Mu-lunn). This area was a hotspot for Quebec’s noble landowners and houses several historic sights like 18th-century mills still standing in place.

Terrebonne-Ecluse des Moulins, church in Terrebonne, Quebec
Terrebonne – By Pierre Bona

Laval is another suburb popular for its nature and beautifully-built University of Laval. There’s also the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles (He-vyehr-deh-Mill-Il) or “Thousand Islands River” where explorers can walk or boat through the forested waterways and many isles.

Read more: What makes Northern & Southern Quebec special?

11. Because of its Culture (+ closing thoughts)

Often the name Montreal speaks for itself. This city stands alone in all the world for its impressive array of cultural sights, festive events, and beautifully preserved buildings. That speaks to a city that hasn’t lost its origins. Often split between French and English influences, Montreal has been able to balance these nicely into its identity.

It’s the second biggest city where French is the majority language, but English can be heard by a large portion of the people too. This even makes it unique within Quebec, since more rural areas are almost entirely French-speaking. A haven for students and art lovers, the cuisine and shopping alone could attract people from all over. And they do.

Strong religious roots have sculpted some of the most beautiful structures in Canada while new traditions create an impressively modern and entirely unique feel to the city. Montreal is diverse, a world leader, a trend-setter, and a genuinely standalone place in this world. Thank you for reading, and I hope this opened the door to your discovery of this spectacular world city!

Why is Southern Quebec special (Besides Montreal)? – 9 Cool Reasons 🇨🇦

Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park, Quebec
Mackenzie King Estate, Gatineau – Photo by Christopher Austin

Again, you guys, these provinces are too big. Here we’re going to take a look at Canada’s biggest province by area. Well, just the southern portion since it alone could be a whole province to itself. If you’re wondering why southern Quebec is so special or interesting, here are just a few reasons. Feel free to do further research, look at some pictures or videos, and explore these places for yourself! And if you’re from this place, please feel a whole lot of pride because it is unique, d’accord?

Awesome! Let’s get into it.

a relief map of Quebec province in Canada

Southern QUÉBEC | Quick Geography

In Canada’s biggest province, southern Quebec is pretty small in comparison to the north. Still, it’s a lot more populous and just a bit warmer. This region is located in the southeast of the country, historically part of Central Canada. The capital city, also called Quebec, is located here, as is the province’s biggest city of Montreal. Quebec is predominantly French-speaking, and in the local language it is spelled Québec (pronounced Keh-bek).

The name comes from either Algonquin or Ojibwe and means “where the river narrows.” This refers to an area on the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. The St. Lawrence, by the way, is the biggest and most important river in the province, being the point of introduction to many colonists and the main reason we have Canada today.

Surrounding the river are the St. Lawrence Lowlands, giving rise to the upper Appalachian Mountains in the south. North of these lowlands are the Laurentian Mountains which basically divide northern and southern Quebec. The region is mostly mixed and temperate forests with more piney forests in the highlands. It borders the U.S. to the south and east and contains a stretch of isles in the Atlantic called the Magdalen Islands.

1. Because of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine

the coast of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine or Magdalen Islands in southern Quebec, Canada
Îles-de-la-Madeleine – by Original uploader was Aarchiba

These islands (Il-de-la-Ma-da-leyn), also called the Magdalen Islands in English, are set out in the Atlantic and are really a unique part of Quebec. This is mostly due to their brightly colored cliffs and beaches which look almost orange against the deep blue ocean. The hills above are green and dotted with regional architecture and lighthouses.

The best part is that not all the beaches and isles look the same, so different parts of the region have their own special style of cliffs, beaches, and caves. There’s a visitors center and ferries to get from place to place. It’s really a beautiful-looking location in the south of this massive province.

2. Because of the Laurentian Mountains

town of Mont-Tremblant at the base of green mountains and waterfront, Quebec province
Mont-Tremblant – By Stéphane Duquesne

The Laurentian Mountains are considered the divide between northern and southern Quebec, yet they bring outdoor travelers all throughout the year. With beautifully scenic reserves and parks like La Mauricie National Park, Mastigouche, Papineau-Labelle, and La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, it’s easy to see why campers, hunters, and fishers flock out to these places to get a whiff of fresh air.

Sept-Chutes (Seven Falls) Regional Park is another one of these remarkable parks with mountains, canyons, and waterfalls of course. Probably the most famous place in these mountains is Mont-Tremblant. This town is traced by imposing mountains and colorful wooden architecture. It looks like a very magical place and has attractions for visitors throughout the year. The best is probably in winter when the area turns into a winter sports wonderland fit for skiers and snowboarders, amongst many other activities.

3. Because of nature in the East

Parc marin du Saguenay–Saint-Laurent, or Saguenay--Saint Lawrence Marine Park on the St. Lawrence River, southern Quebec
Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine ParkBy Pierre André

Still sort of in the Laurentian area, the east of Southern Quebec is also stocked with natural beauty. This area is more influenced by the sea and it shows in its natural areas more than further inland. Especially mountainous and forested, places like Jacques-Cartier National Park or the Laurentides reserve are awesome sites for witnessing North America’s wildlife.

There you can find anything from owls to bears to moose and bison. To check out Canada’s marine mammals, the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park is perfect for catching sight of whales. They commonly go down to this part of the river to eat, and they make for an awesome sight in the calm waters between the high forested cliffs along the coast.

4. Because of Ville de Québec

the Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec City at winter
Le Château Frontenac – By Wilfredor

Otherwise known as Quebec City, this is where it all started. Quebec is pretty famous for being one of the best examples of Europe and particularly France in North America. The best place to see this would be in Old Quebec. You have the Quartier Petit Champlain to walk through and really feel those Quebecois vibes and taste that delicious Quebecois food.

The area is full of iconic plazas, staircases, and historic sites like the Plains of Abraham and the Place Royale. There’s a hill with a citadel and preserved forts to learn about the province’s past. On the St. Lawrence coast is a boardwalk and promenade leading up to the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a luxurious hotel and probably the most iconic building in the whole city.

a busy Quartier Petit Champlain, commercial center in Old Quebec
Quartier Petit Champlain – By Wilfredor

Further down the river are parks and beaches like La Plage-Jacques-Cartier Park and the botanical gardens. Important and beautifully designed culture centers like the Museum of Civilization and Quebec’s National Museum of Fine Arts are found in the city. Thinking of adventure, there are places like the Arbraska Chauveau area, a treetop adventure park with ziplining and other sylvan activities.

Montmorency Falls in summertime near Quebec City
Montmorency Falls -by Mercedes Schulz

At the edge of Quebec is Montmorency Falls, a rushing waterfall taller than Niagara with observation decks and a bridge that takes visitors over the powerful waters. Speaking of waterfalls, another great one in the area is in the suburban city, Lévis (Leh-vee). Besides having some of the best views of Quebec from the other side of the river, it also is home to Chaudière Falls (Sho-dyehr). Really, the area is a great mix of history, urban life, and nature all wrapped into one.

5. Because of its other towns

views from Mont-Orford area at sunrise, natural place in southern Quebec
Mont-Orford near Sherbrooke – by Romain B

Putting Quebec City and Montreal aside, Southern Quebec also has lots of other great towns that make it special. Trois-Rivières (Trhah-He-vyehr) is one of the larger cities with lots of cool colonial buildings and churches. It’s also home to the Forges-du-Saint-Maurice, the first successful ironworks in all of New France (French Americas) which can still be visited to this day.

Sherbrooke is another large town, home to pretty buildings and its own important museums like the Museum of Fine Arts. There are also good winter sports venues nearby with Mont-Orford being a key visitor site. Hikers can find swimming spots and scenic viewpoints to catch a glimpse of the rolling Appalachians all around.

Similar spots include Coaticook Gorge with its high bridge and Saint-Jérôme. This town has its own museums, churches, and pretty parks to enjoy winter activities too. And finally, there’s Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (Sent-Jon-suh-He-shel-yu). Beyond having all the other cool stuff that Quebec towns are known for, it also is host to a big balloon festival. Beauty is just all around.

6. Because of Gatineau

the Canadian History Museum in Gatineau, Quebec
Canadian History Museum – By Wladyslaw

Gatineau (Ga-te-noh) is a suburban city just across the Ottawa River from, well, Ottawa. Being so close to the capital, it has a reputation as a getaway point of leisure for politicians and civilians alike. Other than famous golf courses and casinos, the uniquely designed Canadian Museum of History is located here.

rushing waterfall surrounded by reddish fall foliage in Gatineau Park, Gatineau
Gatineau Park – by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

Probably the most interesting feature of the city though has to be Gatineau Park. And this isn’t just some park, I mean, it’s practically a woods wilderness on the edge of the city. It’s a massive park with lakes and rivers and has several high lookout points to take in the sweeping beauty. It’s especially pretty during the fall when the red leaves pop like in no other place in Canada.

Read more: Ottawa and Southern Ontario

Another cool feature is the Mackenzie King Estate which once belonged to a prime minister. It’s a set of buildings, bridges, and structures that look sort of like the ruins of an old civilization, yet they are still well-preserved. It’s a really cool place in Quebec with an eery yet enchanted feeling.

7. Because of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré

special religious site in southern Quebec, Basilica of Saint Anne de Beaupre
Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica – By User Jcmurphy

Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré (Sent-Ann-de-Bo-pwey) is a town not far outside Quebec City. It’s especially famous for its Basilica and major convents, being a popular pilgrimage site for people from around the world. The town is conveniently close to awesome natural sites like Mont-Sainte-Anne.

The region is stacked with forested canyons and waterfalls too, like Sainte-Anne Falls and Sept-Chutes Falls (different from the other Seven Falls mentioned before). It’s also really close to the Île d’Orléans (Il-Doh-leh-an), or Orleans Island. It was one of the first places settled by the French in modern Canada and maintains much of its rural, pastoral identity from back then. Another good reason for Quebec’s specialness. Yep.

8. Because you can explore the region

pouring wine into wine glasses near a vineyard, representing the Brome-Missisquoi wine route and southern Quebec's popular wine and vineyards
Fine wine at Brome–Missisquoi – by photo-nic.co.uk nic

Southern Quebec is known for lots of things. Being in a fertile section of Canada between two mountain ranges, wine has become one of its icons. Wineries are laced throughout, but one of the best spoken of is on the Brome–Missisquoi (Bhom-Mis-sis-kwa) wine route. There are a set of vineyards and wineries that’ll take visitors back to Quebec’s French roots, and I mean grape roots.

Read more: Brome–Missisquoi wine

Another fruit Quebec is known for are its apples, and cider tours are also worth a taste. Lastly, the region is home to several Nordic-style spas where visitors can escape the cold (or become one with it). Saunas and thermal pools are just some of what’s offered, along with a white snowy backdrop. And don’t forget to get some famous Quebec maple syrup while you’re at it!

Read more: Cider route

9. Because of the culture (+ closing)

I don’t have to keep beating it on the head, but Southern Quebec is the French capital of Canada. This is where French identity, culture, and heritage have run strongest in North America. It is home to the most French speakers outside of France and some of the best examples of colonial French architecture and culture. Many learn English, but the vast majority have some understanding of French and recognize a French background.

Even within the nation, Quebec has a unique law system, religious traditions, its own recognized celebrities, artists, and literature styles. The Quebecois are considered a “nation” within the nation, and they truly deserve that denomination. The food here has been influenced by this tradition as well as by other immigrants, and the people are just as diverse as one can imagine in Canadian cities.

Home to iconic trends in fashion, cuisine, and preservation of nature as much as its history, this part of Quebec holds a special place in the nation’s heartland. It’s not just the nucleus of French-Canadian identity, but one of the main locations where the country got started. More than being simply French Canada, southern Quebec is Canada.

Read more: other special places in Earth’s Face

**Thanks for reading! Be safe, be blessed, and take care of others. Please come again, and we’ll be chatting soon. Peace!

Belize on the Map: Straight Facts

Continuing our quest to explore the world’s English-speaking countries, today we’ll take a look at Belize’s place on the map. Have you ever wondered Where is Belize? Or simply, I want to learn about Belize. Here we’ll see a bit about its geography and help you all understand this place a bit better. Of course, this won’t be a definitive description, so whoever wants to add on to it can feel free to chime in! You can find more about Geography on The Actual English World. And the Geography Now video is below to enjoy. Let’s get started.

A map of Belize highlighting its six districts and nearby islands, reefs and cays.
Belize’s place on the map – from AmbergrisCaye.com

Mapping out Belize

To start off, Belize is a pretty small country, a drastic contrast to our last country, Canada in many ways. The country is broken up into six districts. From north to south:

  • Corozal
  • Orange Walk
  • Belize
  • Stann Creek
  • Cayo
  • & Toledo

Belize has got over 403 thousand people in an area of almost 23,000 square km, or 9,000 square miles. That places Belize as smaller than countries like Haiti or Albania, about the size of states like New Jersey or New Hampshire. It’s also the second-smallest country on the American mainland, but don’t let that fool you! This place has a lot to offer in such a small area.

Belize Geography – Where We At?

Belize has a very interesting place on the map. It sits right at the crossroads of Central America and the Caribbean, making its land features and culture really unique. It’s actually the only country mostly on the mainland to be considered a full Caribbean nation on par with Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago, even though it does still have lots of little islands and cays. The landscape is generally flatter with plains in the north and gets more hilly and mountainous as you go south. This also goes for traveling from the east coast as you get further inland. At last, you culminate with the Mayan Mountains in the interior of the south. Most of the country has rainforests and jungles too since Belize has some of the best-preserved forests that exist.

The Great Blue Hole, a giant sink hole off the coast of Belize surrounded by coral reefs
the Great Blue Hole off Belize’s coastBy U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Going back to the coast, Belize also has lots of reefs. If you’ve seen pictures of this country, you probably know there are tons of reefs, not to mention some giant blue sinkholes. Belize and its neighbors are actually home to the second-biggest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (we’ll talk about that one later). That makes it a perfect place for snorkelers and a haven for marine life to grow and reproduce. Put that together with the jungles that are havens for wild creatures like jaguars and you’ve got a pretty big refuge for tons of important critters.

What’s the Weather?

Besides the flatter north to the hillier south, the weather also changes a bit depending on location. North Belize is a bit drier and has a more savanna-type setting. Meanwhile, south Belize is wetter and gets more rain, which can explain the thicker forests down that way. Another thing to keep in mind is the storms. Belize does sit right on the Caribbean and just below the Gulf of Mexico. That means it’s not just a paradise for people, but for hurricanes too! To talk more on that, you might notice that Belize City is the biggest city in the country. It actually used to be the capital, but that all changed when a series of storms knocked it nearly out of place. Nationals picked up and moved their capital to Belmopan which is the current capital, a nice safe distance from the sea (in Cayo district, if you wanted to know).

An example of a hurricane from as seen from space to portray Belize's position in hurricane alley.
live footage of a hurricane over Belize – by Pixabay, Pexels.com

But not to dwell too much on that, you’ll see a common trend of hurricanes in pretty much all the Caribbean/West Indies countries. Belize is still beautiful as heck and has a lot of biodiversity for such a small country. They owe it to their numerous habitats and the protection provided for them.

Enough Map Stuff, Talk About Belize’s History

Okay, I feel you. You want to know about some history. I know this isn’t a history post, but you might know that Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. That doesn’t mean Spain didn’t try to take it. Spanish sailors were actually the first Europeans to claim what we call Belize, but they didn’t really care to settle it. In fact, they cared so little that eventually the British swooped in and just took it for themselves. Caught you sleeping, Spain. Well, even with that, the country was called British Honduras for a pretty long while because Honduras is what Columbus called that whole bay region. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the name was changed to Belize, and the country became independent from Great Britain only in the 1980s. That’s not even that long ago.

Belize of course had a big African slave trade initially which brought tons of black people to the country. There were also lots of migrants from other Caribbean countries like Jamaica which continues to this day. Before Europeans, the region was inhabited by indigenous Americans, most noticeably the Mayans. Proof of this exists all across the country with majestic Mayan ruins being a major tourist draw and source of general awe. There have also been many other migrations from neighboring countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras of people seeking refuge from war, violence, or poverty. You also have migrants from further in the past like the Russian Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch, and American Southerners who were looking for religious freedom, cheaper land and whatnot.

An example of a Mayan temple ruin you might find in Belize
Mayan ruins – by Cristian Rojas, Pexels.com

OK, Now You’re Talking Belizean Culture

Even with all of those diverse cultural influences already listed, I still didn’t talk about the South and East Asian (mostly from India and China) communities that were taken to Belize to do the work that slaves used to do. And I’m sure that I’m forgetting somebody. Oh, yes, the Garifuna! The Garifuna are mostly descendants of Africans that were able to escape slavery or ended up shipwrecked and founded their own communities on the Caribbean coast. Most of the other countries in Central America have Garifuna or related cultures, but we won’t talk about them in this section since those countries speak mostly Spanish. Still, it’s an interesting fact to know. Garifuna, no matter where they live, much like the rest of Belize, speak a creole language (in Belize’s case, Kriol), although their creoles are a bit different. Here you can read some examples of Kriol phrases.

That’s right, even though English is the official language and most people can speak or understand it, Creole is the main language for a large portion of the people. It’s a more informal way of speech, but it serves a lot for the national identity of Belizeans no matter what their ethnicity or background is. Besides that, it’s kind of interesting as an American seeing people who look Mexican/Mestizo or Chinese speaking Belizean Creole.

What Else You Got?

Much like Canada, Belize is also a Commonwealth state of the British Crown. If you want to read about Canada, I explain more in-depth what the Commonwealth is (kind of). Otherwise, just know that Belize was part of Great Britain for a long time before it became an independent state. Like most Caribbean nations, Belize celebrates versions of Carnival and has some special events of its own. September is considered an entire month of festivities and celebrations by itself. Because of nearby Latin American contact, there are some Spanish-influenced traditions as well, and many people even have Spanish surnames. Spanish itself is widely spoken in Belize too, given that most of the population is multilingual in at least two of the national languages like Creole, Garifuna, or the several German and Mayan dialects used throughout.

In Closing

So that’s that! I hope you enjoyed mapping Belize with me. It’s a spectacular country with tons of diversity right up in your face. It’s colorful, tropical, all kinds of paradise and beautiful. It may be English-speaking, but Belize has a whole identity unique to its own. Comment below if you love Belize. If you’re Belizean or know some Belizeans, please tell me how I did. What do you have to add about this compact powerhouse? Can you teach us some words in your language? Be well, and I’ll be writing to you soon!

Canada on the Map: Straight Facts

A vertical triband design (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the center.
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We’re starting off a new section here in CultSurf just to give you all a bit of variety. We’ve been discussing culture, society, music, and movies from around the globe (mostly the USA, sorry, I’m a little biased). Some of you might be interested in learning more about the in-depth characteristics of English-speaking countries. We won’t focus too much on culture here, but more on geography and a few other things. I was really inspired by Geography Now on YouTube and I enjoy their channel, so I’ll share their video with the corresponding countries if they’ve made it already. They make videos about all the world’s countries from A-Z, so it might take a while for them to reach Zimbabwe, for example.

What does an American know about Canada?

So obviously I won’t be writing about myself or Americans that know a lot about Canada. I’m speaking about what I knew about the country before I started learning geography, and what my fellow citizens may or may not know already.

Happy Canadian here – Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  • We know about some cities like Toronto and Vancouver, probably Montréal. Some of us like the name Newfoundland and joke at how hard it can be to pronounce.
  • We know it’s freezing up there. We’ve seen those pictures of polar bears walking through town.
  • Moose, caribou, Northern Lights, and the Arctic is somewhere up there.
  • We have to cross it to get to Alaska.
  • Funny accents, eh? And syrup, lots of bacon and syrup.

The Provinces & Cities (and Territories)

As we see on our lovely map, Canada has 10 subdivisions called provinces, plus another 3 called territories.

A map of Canada showing its 10 provinces and 3 territories
The easiest map I could find on Wikipedia

Central Canada has the two biggest provinces, Ontario and Quebec. This is also where you find the two biggest cities, Toronto and Montréal. It’s known as central Canada even though it’s not directly in the middle of the country. That’s because historically these were the main places to be settled by the British and French as the colony known as Canada. Later they spread out and acquired more land. These places have the most people and are the biggest economic and cultural influencers in the country. They’re also massive, reaching from the Great Lakes all the way up to the northern tundra!

The smallest provinces are in the general Atlantic Maritimes region, which are Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. These areas were among the last to really join Canada as a united country. They had lots of immigration from Scotland and Ireland, and have a much stronger sea culture than the rest of the country. They’re sort of like the New England of Canada. They were also the main places that welcomed British Loyalist soldiers during and after the American War for Independence.

Then there’s out West. This area can be thought of generally as the Great Plains and mountains of Canada. Here we have Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, though B.C. can also be thought of as the West Coast province. These were lands acquired after Central Canada was already set up, and are known for big open spaces, farming and agriculture, and lots of mountain stuff. There is major business and cultural influence coming from this part of Canada too, especially since Calgary and Vancouver are major global centers.

And then there were the Territories; Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Nunavut. These, generally speaking, are three massive landmasses (haha) way up in the tundra and arctic of North America. They are very, very, very scarcely populated and mostly got attention during the gold rush years, especially in Yukon. Otherwise there’s lots of ice and natural beauty, but I’m pretty sure they’re the least known region of the country overall.

Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal – By Diego Delso

A little about the cities, you have Toronto, Ontario, the biggest in the country, that is known as one of the most, if not the most, ethnically diverse cities in the world. I think about half the city is non-white, if not more, and even the white population is pretty diverse there. The capital, Ottawa, is in Ontario as well. A lot of the world-famous artists from Canada come from this lower area of Ontario, like Justin Bieber, Drake, The Weekend, and so on. Niagara Falls is the home of those same falls, and Mississauga has some cool spacey architecture.

Montréal is the 2nd biggest mostly French-speaking city in the world and is also extremely diverse, as is the rest of Canada. Québec is a very traditional European-looking city, especially in the old town. Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John’s, Newfoundland are important port cities and historic centers. Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and the biggest city in the world for how far north it is. Calgary is also a very big city and cultural center. Some other major cities worth your research are Victoria, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, and St. John.

What are They?

So we know Canada has provinces, not states. The provinces actually are quite similar to states in how they are run, and many freedoms that the United States are allowed, so too are the Canadian provinces. Provinces, in general, tend to come from more Empirical powers (like the United Kingdom was) and so this name stems from historical association. The United States were also at once independent states that united, while Canada’s provinces have mostly been under the rule of Britain except for a few exceptions.

Canada stayed loyal and sympathetic to Britain for much longer than the U.S. which could explain many things about their cultural identity. Otherwise, the territories are similar to territories of any country. Even though they are huge, they have tiny populations. This makes it so that their representation is a little less relevant on the national scale, and so they do in fact have less representation.

Canada the year the British colonies united – By Unknown author

And the Commonwealth?

Like with province, there’s no universal definition of what a commonwealth really is. Puerto Rico and Guam, for example, are commonwealths of the U.S. Still, the British Commonwealth states have a lot more autonomy and are all considered their own sovereign states with some more or less cordial ties to Britain. The Monarch really only has a say in cases of a complete national or political emergency really, but otherwise Canadians are Canadians and not Brits. Although as I said before, they do and did keep stronger ties with Britain (and France, for that matter) over the years than the U.S. did.

Canada’s English-Speaking. What About Québec?

Good question. Canada traditionally had two main European colonizers: the English/British and the French. You’ll actually see this in a lot of English-speaking countries, where France took the colony from Britain or Britain took it from France and so there is a lot of mixed historical identity. Think of Louisiana, St. Lucia, or Cameroon. Geographically, Canada’s French-speaking population stuck mostly to one general area, giving this group a more distinct identity. People from Québec have long had mixed feelings about Canada, some wanting to separate into their own independent place while others just want more autonomy (not to mention those who don’t really care either way). Speaking English, French, or Punjabi, they’re all Canadians in the end.

Generally, there is pride in the history of French Canada, the part of Canada where the country got its name from. English and French are both official languages in the nation, but French is a lot stronger in Québec province, along with a few pockets of places in the neighboring provinces. You also get St. Pierre and Miquelon, which is an overseas territory of France (something like French Guiana, although it’s a full-on department of France) that borders Newfoundland and is fully French.

Talk More About Diversity

Canada is really one of the most diverse countries there is, and this is due to its historic reputation as an open arm for immigrants. The Asian (East and South) population and impact on Canadian culture is huge. German and Scandinavian identity is big in some regions, not to mention the largest communities of Icelandic and Ukrainian descendants outside those countries live in Canada. The country has also welcomed many from other Commonwealth states and former colonies, such as Caribbeans and Guyanese, Africans, Indians, and Pakistanis. The most influential though, hands down, have been the British and French.

Canada’s a diverse place – Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Most Canadians live within a few hundred miles from the U.S. border which also impacts the culture. Northern Americans and most Canadians have a fluid cultural and societal mixture that influences one and the other. This is especially true of migration, business, and the arts. Lots of Canadians have American ancestry and vice-versa. And of course, the first occupants of the continent have had a huge impact on the country. In Canada, they are generally referred to as First Nations, and they themselves are as diverse and influential as the later foreigners that would create modern Canada. They generally are considered two main groups, the traditional people most of us think of as Native or indigenous Americans, and the Inuits, a set of people with a bit different ancestry.

Let’s End with Some Actual Geography!

Canada has a land area of over 3.5 million square miles, making it the second biggest country in the world after Russia. It has a population of about 38 million, less than countries like South Korea, Spain, and Uganda, which are way smaller. I mean, compare them on a map. The Maritimes are mostly chilly and rainy with oceanic climates and many pretty islands. The northern continuation of the Appalachian Mountain system goes up here, and way up North in Labrador to Nunavut you get the Arctic Cordillera range of tall, jagged, arctic mountains.

Thefalls.jpg
Kakabeka Falls in Ontario – By Hgsyro

The south of Central Canada borders the U.S. by way of the super-important St. Lawrence River system, as well as the Great Lakes. This area is very hospitable and is where the biggest urban areas are concentrated. You also get big waterfalls and some dense forests on up to Hudson Bay which supports a kind of wet plain. It usually freezes over and so this is a major crossing ground for Arctic animals like polar bears. The middle of the country has an outstanding number of lakes, and the north is especially stocked with some of the biggest forests and highest amount of lakes on planet Earth.

Going back down, you get a general plains and prairies region that goes on till you hit some mountains. These are essentially the Canadian extension of the Rockies, and they go up all the way to the Yukon and even into Alaska. You have a fertile yet somewhat dry valley between those and the coastal mountains and rainy forests which also extend into Alaska. Above all that stuff is basically a large stretch of lakes, cold plains, forests, and taiga (basically a tundra with some scattered trees). Tundra covers most of that very northern part of the country where it steadily transitions into polar landscapes. This is especially true of the massive islands of Nunavut which reach all the way up to the North Pole (and Santa! Oh wait, he’s Scandinavian)

That’s all, you curious geography lovers! I hope you enjoyed mapping out this huge and special country called Canada. As promised, here is the Geography Now video. Please comment if you like Canada. If you are from there (howdy neighbor) comment if you want to teach us more about your fabulous home! Thanks, and we’ll be talking soon.

If you liked this, you might also like to read about the U.S. geography with Aren’t all the U.S. states and cities basically the same? – Regional diversity in the USA. Tell me what you think, and enjoy 😉

Other fun facts about Canada: https://www.canadianaffair.com/blog/how-big-is-canada/

Weren’t the British the colonizers of the U.S.A.? – Colonization of the USA

This is a great question! After all, Americans mostly speak English. We’ve all heard about the original 13 colonies and how the British came to set up shop in the new continent. But the story goes a little deeper than that. Let’s look at some of the powers that had their hands in the American pie.

To start, there were a bunch of failed colonies along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts by the English, Spanish, and French early on (include Scandinavian Vikings if we really want to go back). The Portuguese and the Basques were also frequent visitors along the Atlantic in the 1500s and before, though they didn’t stop to settle.

The English/British

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Flag of England.svg
  • the first to establish permanent colonies in the U.S. (not the continent, though)
  • had two main original settlements that grew and expanded out of New England and Chesapeake Bay
  • at first, were mostly groups like the Puritans seeking more religious freedom, or poor servants and farmers mostly from England
  • some colonies got lots of Irish-Scots settlers and expanded west into Native American territory, others got many more diverse settlers
  • we all know about the Atlantic slave trade

The main thing to think about with the British is that their culture, language, and society were the most influential early on in American history which is why the states maintained the English language and other cultural influences from the British after so long.

The Spanish

Flag of Spain (1785–1873, 1875–1931).svg
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg
  • established some of the first settlements still inhabited in the U.S., including the oldest at St. Augustine, FL
  • owned huge expanses of land in North America, including a portion of the Deep South and the whole western half of the current United States (mostly Luisiana or Alta California), even some areas of Canada, not to mention some territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • they either lost or gave up a lot of this land to England or the U.S. over the centuries
  • states Oregon, Montana, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida names all come from Spanish words, literature, or colonies

Spain had a pretty big cultural impact on the Gulf Coast and the American Southwest. Many place names (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Santa Fe, etc.), lots of architecture, and cultural events come from Spanish and Mexican traditions.

The French

Flag of France (1794–1815, 1830–1958).svg
Pavillon royal de la France.svg
  • had lots of colonies spread out through the central U.S. and east Canada
  • had lots of fights against England and confusing conflicts and alliances with Native Americans, they later gave up most their land to the English or Americans

France also had a big impact on place names (New Orleans, Des Moines, St. Louis, Eau Claire, Vermont) and cultural events, such as Mardi Gras and Cajun culture in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

The Dutch

Statenvlag.svg
Flag of Netherlands
  • set up colonies mostly in present-day New York and New Jersey
  • the British took over their main city, New Amsterdam, and changed it to New York, but Dutch culture stuck around in those rural areas for centuries after

The Dutch paved the initial way for America’s biggest and most iconic city. Some of its boroughs and surrounding towns are even named in honor of the Dutch (Brooklyn or Breuckelen, Staten Island or Staaten Eylandt, Harlem or Haarlem).

The Swedes

Flag of Sweden
  • made a small colony that only lasted 17 years before being sucked into New Netherland
  • the Bronx (after Bronck’s River) is named after a Swedish captain

Sweden’s colony was short-lived, but they introduced the first log cabins and some of the oldest churches to the future nation.

Also, let’s not forget Russia who colonized Alaska. The U.S. later purchased it, though, and most of the Russians left.

As you can see, there were a lot more European powers that settled the U.S. other than the English. Despite the obvious impact of the British here in the States, we also had a few other countries reaching in for a chance to colonize the future U.S.A.

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P.S. I know that the Native Americans were already on the continent, and the colonial powers took these lands away from them. This includes First Nations in Alaska and Polynesians in Hawaii, among others. This answer is just to focus on the aspect of European colonial and cultural influence in the U.S., not to focus on the destructive aspect of their settlement in the region.

Kenai Peninsula's Historic Russian Churches - Northwest Travel Magazine
Russian Church in Alaska: from here
Old Swedes Church - First State National Historical Park (U.S. National  Park Service)
Old Swedes Church, Delaware: from here
A Stroll Along State Street in Albany, New York —
Dutch architecture, New York: from here
Home Architecture 101: French Colonial
French colonial architecture, Louisiana: from here
Historic Architecture in California
Spanish architecture in California: from here
New England Architecture | Guide to House Styles in New England
English colonial architecture, New England: from here

Check out these resources and other articles here on CultSurf!

Colonial History of the United States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_history_of_the_United_States#Russian_colonies

First Arrivals of Europeans to Settle the U.S.: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/amerbegin/settlement/text1/text1read.htm

Origins of New York City Borough Names: https://www.amny.com/news/nyc-boroughs-names-1-32096222/