Country Facts #9: South Sudan to Turkey

This week: Batman, Siamese twins, super-hot peppers, heavy metal addictions, women’s suffrage, a king who really likes cows, and jump for God’s sake!


South Sudan – Illiteracy is widespread in South Sudan: more than 80% of South Sudanese people are unable to read or write, a legacy of decades of war and mismanagement. This posed a problem during its 2011 independence referendum, in which South Sudan voted on secession from its northern neighbour Sudan. Hand expressions were drawn on voting forms symbolising each choice: one raised palm for independence, two joined hands for the status quo. Presumably the message got across: the single hand won by a landslide, and the world’s newest country was born. READ MORE

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Pre-referendum campaigning featuring the hand signSouth is for Southerners / Al Jazeera English / CC BY-SA 2.0

Spain – Every summer, the village of Castrillo de Murcia in northern Spain hosts an event known as The Devil’s Jump. Every year since 1620, the locals have celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi by having men dressed as the Devil jump over new born babies in the streets to baptise them. READ MORE

Sri Lanka – After Indonesia, Sri Lanka was the second worst hit country by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, with over 35,000 deaths. Around 1,700 of these occurred in one single incident, when a train travelling along the south west coast of the island was derailed by the huge waves, crushing or drowning almost all passengers in the world’s worst ever rail accident. READ MORE

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Just one of the carriages torn from the tracks by the devastating tsunamiSri Lanka Train / Green Hope Organisation / Public Domain

St Kitts & Nevis – St Kitts and Nevis is one of the more unusually named of the world’s countries. First of all, there never was a St Kitts: the island was initially given the moniker San Cristobal (the patron saint of travelling) by Christopher Columbus, and when the British colonists arrived 17th Century it became St Christopher’s Island. Locals soon began to refer to the island as St Kitt’s- Kitt being a common nickname for Christopher at the time- and the name stuck. Nearby Nevis was named by Spanish explorers as Nuestra Señora de las Nieves- Our Lady of the Snows- on account of the white clouds that topped the tropical island’s mountains, before this too was shortened and anglicised. READ MORE

St Lucia – The St Lucia Racer is thought to be the world’s rarest snake. Its population on the Caribbean island of St Lucia was decimated after the arrival of invasive species, to the point where the Racer was long thought to be extinct. However, in 2011, scientists discovered the snakes living on a tiny islet off the coast of the mainland, in which a population estimated to number 20 to 100 lives on. READ MORE

Sudan – Bir Tawil, an 2,100 sq. km section of the Sahara Desert on the border between Sudan and Egypt, is the only land on earth outside of Antarctica not claimed by any country. Both countries believe that pursuing their claim to the territory could affect their claims to a larger and more desirable piece of disputed land further east on the border. READ MORE

Suriname – 95% of the land territory in Suriname, some 150,000 sq. km, is covered by tropical forest. No other country has such a large proportion of forested land- the global average is 26%. But sadly this may be set to change, as rates of deforestation in the country are fast increasing. READ MORE

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Suriname: probably the greenest country on Earth Amazon Jungle From Above / David Evers / CC BY 2.0

Swaziland – King Mswati III of Swaziland is perhaps the world’s most controversial monarch. Despite reigning over a poverty stricken, AIDS ravaged populace, Mswati lives a lavish lifestyle with thirteen wives, luxury palaces and a fleet of sports cars. He even had the cheek to ask his countrymen to donate cows for his 44th birthday feast in 2012. READ MORE

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With a physique like this it’s really no wonder he’s got so many wives… King of Swaziland / User:Amada44 / Public Domain

Sweden – Sweden is famous for its welfare state, and it seems that the government is prepared to lend a hand to just about anyone. In 2007, Roger Tullgren was diagnosed with an addiction to Heavy Metal music by doctors in his native Sweden. He claimed his insatiable appetite for the music was effectively a disability as it occupied his thoughts day and night and prevented him from leading a normal life and career. Psychologists agreed, and Tullgren has received income support ever since. READ MORE

Switzerland – Staggeringly, it was not until 1971 that women were granted the right to vote in Switzerland. The country’s political system is largely based on referendums, which until the 1971 decision saw the majority of voters stubbornly refused to introduce women’s suffrage. Of course, since women were unable to vote in these referendums, their fate was entirely in the hands of their male compatriots. One Swiss canton continued to block women from voting in local elections until 1991. READ MORE

Syria – War-ravaged Syria has seen droves of its population forced to flee from the encroaching conflict- as of February 2016, 11.4 million Syrians (almost half of the pre-war population) had been uprooted from their homes, almost 5 million of them seeking refuge abroad. But before the war broke out in 2011, Syria itself was actually home to 1.3 million foreign refugees- 6% of its population at the time- mainly from neighbouring Iraq. READ MORE

Taiwan – After their defeat to the communists in the Chinese Civil War, the former nationalist government of the country fled to the island of Taiwan, but they never did renounce their claims to the mainland. In fact, not only does the Republic of China- Taiwan´s official title- profess to be the rightful proprietor of the whole of the People’s Republic, they also retain historical claims to territory in nine other countries- including the entirety of Mongolia, more than 2,500km to the north-west. While these ambitions are clearly absurd, the Taiwanese government is unable to rescind them for fear that China would interpret the move as a declaration of independence. READ MORE

Tajikistan – Tajikistan is one the most remittance dependent country in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks work abroad, mainly in Russia, and they collectively send up to $4 billion home every year, contributing half of Tajikistan’s GDP. The crisis that befell the Russian economy in 2014, when falling oil prices and western sanctions pushed the country into recession, also had a severe impact on Tajikistan and its Central Asian neighbours. Huge numbers of economic migrants in Russian were left without work, causing remittances to fall. READ MORE

Tanzania – A century old German battleship remains in service on Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. The Graf von Goetzen, as it was originally known, was scuttled in the lake during the First World War, before being salvaged eight years later. As it was still in operating condition, it was turned over to civilian use, and has ferried passengers down Africa’s longest lake from Tanzania to Zambia ever since. READ MORE

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Arisen from its watery grave, the MV Liemba is still going strong in its second centuryThe MV Liemba / Brian Harries / CC BY 2.0

Thailand – The term Siamese Twins has its roots in the remarkable story of the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811. Fused side to side with one arm each, the pair’s birth was initially seen as a premonition of disaster and the King of Siam ordered them to be killed, but later had a change of heart. The twins left Siam on a travelling freak show before eventually settling in the US, where they bought their own plantation and slaves (until they were freed following the American Civil War), married a pair of sisters and fathered 21 children between them, and remained there until they died within hours of each other in 1874. READ MORE

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The original Siamese twins, Chang and EngSiamese Twins 4 / Luciana Christante / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Togo – In 2012, women in the West African state of Togo came up with a novel- but ultimately unsuccessful- way to try and oust the country’s long established ruling family. The Let’s Save Togo coalition called on women in the country to abstain from sex for a week in order to pressure President Faure Gnassingbe to step down. The logic was that uninformed and uninterested Togolese men might all of a sudden take more interest in politics. Whether or not they did, the president remained in the hot seat regardless. READ MORE

Tonga – In 1971, American real estate tycoon and libertarian activist Michael Oliver attempted to create his own country on the Minerva Reefs, two tiny submerged atolls in the Pacific Ocean claimed by Tonga. Oliver shipped in barges full of sand to bring the reef above sea level, built a tower, created a national flag and currency, and declared the Republic of Minerva to be an independent state. Sadly, Oliver’s aspirations were cut short the following year when the Tongan navy “invaded” and deported the settlers, and the islands have since been reclaimed by the ocean. READ MORE

Trinidad & Tobago – Topping two million on the Scoville scale, the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga is the world’s hottest pepper. It’s so strong that it burnt through the latex gloves of the researchers who were testing them! READ MORE

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Don’t let the heart shape fool you: this thing is deadlyJohn Vonderlin / Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper / CC BY-NC 2.0

Tunisia – The two terrorist massacres that took place in Tunisia in 2015 belie the fact that the country has one of the lowest rates of gun ownerships in the world. Thanks to strict firearm laws established by paranoid former dictator Abidene Ben Ali, Tunisia is thought to have fewer guns per head of population than any other nation: 0.1 per 100 people- though the civil war in neighbouring Libya has probably led to an increase in that rate in recent years. Compare that to the US, where there are almost as many guns as there are people… READ MORE

Turkey – Deep in the Kurdish dominated South East of Turkey, there is a city of almost 400,000 people named Batman. Sadly, while the town was renamed several years after the DC comic books were released, the title is thought to derive either from a unit of weight during the Ottoman era, or a nearby mountain. In 2008, the mayor of Batman threatened to sue the producers of the Batman movie The Dark Knight for unauthorized use of the city’s name. READ MORE


If you have anything to add to any of these entries, you can offer a better one, or you just want someone to talk to, please leave a comment!

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