Western Sahara (S3.10)

S03E10 – Western Sahara Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Western Sahara, a disputed territory in North-West Africa. Home to roughly 550,000 people and bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east, Mauritania to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara is partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially Moroccan-occupied, and is often called ‘Africa’s last colony.’

Map of Western Sahara's position on the west coast of Africa, between Morocco and Mauritania

Map of Western Sahara’s position on the west coast of Africa, between Morocco and Mauritania

First colonised by Spain in 1885, the territory’s sovereignty has been fiercely disputed for decades, particularly since 1975, when Spain officially relinquished its claim over the region. Today it is alternately known as Morocco’s Southern Provinces or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, however, we’ll be referring to the region as Western Sahara throughout most of this episode. At roughly 260,000 square kilometers or 100,000 square miles, Western Sahara is about the size of the US state of Colorado or just slightly larger than the UK. The territory consists mostly of uninhabitable desert, and nearly 40% of its inhabitants live in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, while up to 100,000 people from the region are currently living in refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria.

This episode, the Finale of Season 3, is our first Patreon-nominated and voted-on episode. Thanks to Erik Tastepe, in particular, for suggesting this interesting location and to all of you who voted. Join us over on www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast to have a say in the direction of future seasons or get access to various awards.

Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Switzerland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)


In this episode, we carried out an extensive interview with Nick Brooks (@WSaharaProject), a climate scientist, who has worked over many years in Western Sahara, co-directing a project with archaeologist Jo Clarke. This “Western Sahara Project” has led to a recently-published book on the topic (see here). Nick also has a very interesting blog about his time spent there, the politics of the situation and related topics called “Sand and Dust”. Beautiful photo galleries of all the archaeological discoveries from the research project in the desert have been shared on Flickr.

Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:

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Brunei (S1.09)

Audio: S1E09 Brunei

In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Brunei a tiny independent state of just 2,200 square miles, located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Borneo is a tropical, equatorial island, one of the largest in the world, divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Brunei borders exclusively on the Malaysian section of Borneo. Its small section of coastline is inhabited by just over 400,000 people, and is among the richest nations in the world in terms of natural resources. Traditionally ruled by a Sultan, it became a British protectorate in 1888 and gained independence from the United Kingdom on January 1st 1984. Modern Brunei is ruled by a ‘Malay Islamic Monarchy’, where a Sultan acts as Supreme Head of State, ruling effectively as prime minister, finance minister, and commander of the armed forces. Brunei is the first and only country in East Asia to be ruled by Sharia law, introduced by the current Sultan in 2013. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

 

There are some things we talked about you might want to know more about:

  • It is difficult to say much for certain about the important Chinese diplomat, trader or prince Ong Sum Ping (the local Hokkien pronunciation of 黃森屏, Huang Senping in Mandarin), but he was clearly an important figure in Brunei’s earliest history, arriving in the area around 1375, marrying into the family of 1st Sultan Muhammad Shah, and subsequently helping to repel an invasion from the Sulu islands. His exact role is often occluded in modern history perhaps because he was either not Muslim or not Malay. Some of the conflicting information and opinions can be found on Wikipedia, the Brunei Times, from blogs I’m Just Saying, and Nomadic Republic, and from Malaysian politician Lim Kit Siang
  • In 1521, Brunei was visited by the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe, the Magellan-Elcano Expedition and an account was kept by Antonio Pigafetta (an Italian and the historian on the ship) of their meeting with the Sultan: “The king to whom we presented ourselves is a Moor, and is named Raja Siripada: he is about forty years of age, and is rather corpulent. No one serves him except ladies who are the daughters of the chiefs. No one speaks to him except by means of the blow-pipe
  • The Castillian War between the Spanish in Manilla and Brunei was a defining moment in 1578 when conflict over trade, religion and land led to military enagement between the Europeans and the Sultanate. In the end, disease played a large role in weakening the Spanish forces, hastening the Bruneian victory. Read about it on Brunei Resources (more from the same author in the Brunei Times), including the following quote:

Why did the Spaniards leave? According to Brunei legends, the Spaniards kept facing attacks organised by Pengiran Bendahara Sakam. The latter is seen as one of Brunei’s past folk heroes. He attacked the Spaniards with 1,000 men and defeated them. However, Western historians do not accept this version and deny that Bendahara Sakam even existed, preferring the version that the Spaniards left because of dysentery. According to the Spanish records, only 17 died of dysentery in Brunei and another six on the return to Manila, although a number of Filipinos also died. – Brunei Resources

Brunei1962IWM.jpeg

Gibraltar (S1.08)

Audio: S1E08 Gibraltar

In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Gibraltar the “key to the Mediterranean”. Famous for the imposing Rock of Gibraltar, this 6.7 square kilometre British Overseas Territory is an historic anomaly at the tip of the Iberian peninsula with a unique status and culture. It forms the northern side of the Pillars of Heracles which mark the beginning of the Atlantic Ocean. The tiny territory is also famous for its Barbary macaques, the only  wild monkey population in Europe. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

 

There are some things we talked about you might want to know more about:

  • Archaeological finds at Gorham’s Cave and other sites have given evidence that Neanderthals lived her until about 32,000 years ago – much more recently than had previously been expected. It is thought that this area was a lush Savannah climate at the time and very rich in food and resources. The BBC have a report from when the caves were granted UNESCO World Heritage status earlier this year.
  • The name Gibraltar comes from the Arabic Jabal Tariq (جبل طارق) named for Tariq ibn Ziyad who led the Moorish/Umayyad conquest of what is now Spain in the 710s; he had gathered his invading troops at the Rock of Gibraltar before pressing inland.
  • In 1706, when the English took the Rock during the War of Spanish Succession, nearly all of the inhabitants decamped to the City of Gibraltar in the Fields of San Roque, expecting a temporary stay. The Spanish city of San Roque is still there to this day and still features symbols of Gibraltar in its crest
  • Gibraltar’s status as an British territory was regularised, by Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713)

The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.

Crew of the HMS Wasp who demolished O’Hara’s Tower (O’Hara’s Folly)

  • New Statesman has an article describing the history behind the legends that tie the presence of the famous Barbary macaques to British control of the Rock
View of Gibraltar with barbary ape

Photo of a “Barbary Ape” over Gibraltar by user kanu101 on Flickr

  • We spoke about the unusual airport that spans Gibraltar’s entire border with Spain and crosses the main street; there is a video on YouTube which shows the airport from above and a plane taking off from its short runway