Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins

The Americas

One of my areas of limerick writing has been a series of country-related limericks about the Americas. Rather than bury them in other pages, I thought I’d put them on display here.

Although most of Alberta is flat,
From Grande Prairie to Medicine Hat,
It’s part-mountainous, and’s
Home to oil-rich sands.
Two main cities; gets cold; and that’s that.

Most Albertans live in the Canadian province’s capital, Edmonton, or its largest city of Calgary near the Rockies. The Athabascan oil sands have underpinned Alberta’s oil and gas industry in recent years.

Albertans drive pickups, watch ice
Hockey, go for a skate, don’t think twice
About trips to West Ed,
Eat at Timmy’s, and head
To the lake for skidooing: so nice.

Even non-Albertans might have heard of West Edmonton Mall, the largest in North America, and you can find Tim Hortons doughnuts outside of Canada if you’re lucky. You’ll only be able to go skidooing where there’s ice and snow, though, or your skidoo (motorized toboggan) won’t get very far.

America’s such a beaut place;
But its critics? A bloody disgrace.
All you pinkos who scoff—
You can just bugger off!
As republics go, crikey, we’re ace.

I was amused by someone who wrote a limerick about Oz in an un-Australian accent, so thought I’d turn the tables.

When Columbus one day ventured forth,
Lisping, “Thet uth a wethterly courthe!”
He was hardly to know
That his voyage would show
The Americas, South and then North.

Well of course he was lisping. He was speaking Castilian.

Here’s the buzz on Belize—the bee’s knees!
Trouble finding it? Please, it’s a breeze:
Guatemala’s southwest.
That’s on land, as you guessed—
Here in Web-land, the key’s the bz’s.

Bermuda on maps is a dot
In the ocean; it hasn’t a lot
Of resources, so most
Of its income’s as host
To firms wanting to keep what they’ve got.

The North Atlantic archipelago and British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, once called the Bermudas, has been part of the English and then British Empire and now Commonwealth since the 17th century; it was originally part of the Colony of Virginia. It attracts its share of tourists, mainly from America, but most of its GDP comes from its financial industry. With no corporation tax, it’s a popular tax haven for multinationals.

It was Inca-ruled, just like Peru,
And it’s landlocked, like Paraguay too.
If you don’t like Bolivia
I guess I’ll forgive ya—
Its two biggest lakes sound like poo.

Bolivia declared its independence as the Republic of Bolívar in 1825 after three centuries of Spanish rule (during which it was known as Upper Peru). It was ruled for three millennia by the Aymara, and then for a century by the Incas. One of only two landlocked countries in South America, it rises from the Amazon in the east, across the Eastern Andes Mountain Range (the Cordillera Oriental) to the high Altiplano plateau in the west; its border with Peru runs through Lake Titicaca:

This Andean lake is a hit,
Though its name is disturbing, a bit.
The first half suggests
A connection with breasts,
While the second half’s swimming in... caca.

Childish English-speakers will be even more amused to learn that Titicaca drains southward through the Desaguadero River to the country’s second biggest lake, Poopó. This large saline lake has dried up completely twice in the past, and did so again in 2015; this time it appears that it might not recover.

Bossa nova and samba: these are
The rhythms I hear from afar
When I’m thinking of Rio
And everything we owe
Brazil. Let’s all sing, “La la laaaa...”

The vast South American country of Brazil was claimed by Portugal in 1500, and its colonisation began a few decades later. It became so important to the Portuguese Empire that in the early 19th century Portugal’s royal court moved to Rio de Janeiro; in 1822, however, Brazil proclaimed its independence, and after a war with Portuguese forces established the Empire of Brazil, which included the territory of modern Uruguay and lasted until the late 19th century. It was followed by a string of republics, the sixth of which is today’s Federative Republic of Brazil.

One hot destination emergin’s
BVI, also known as the Virgins.
Richard Branson, the chairman
Of Virgin, lives there, man:
A place for unsatisfied urgin’s.

Britain established control over the British Virgin Islands (officially the Virgin Islands, though this can also refer to the wider group and its US neighbours) in the 1670s. For three centuries it was part of the British Leeward Islands, until the other parts of the colony formed the short-lived West Indies Federation in 1958. After several years as a separate crown colony, the British Virgin Islands became an autonomous overseas territory. Richard Branson bought Necker Island there in the 1970s and developed it as a resort, which was badly hit by fire and by Hurricane Irma in the 2010s.

Californios longed to be free
Of their Mexican rulers; their plea
Was for clear independence.
Their rancho descendents
Are now all Americans, .

The original Californians drove out their last Mexican governor in 1845. The United States claimed the territory during its war with Mexico of 1846–48, who formally ceded it just in time for the gold rush.

Great White North meant the Arctic at first,
Somewhere terrible, frozen and cursed,
But to Yanks it means Canada,
Snow country an’ a duh-
vine place to visit, at worst.

In Central America, states
(More than once) would unite with their mates
In brief federations.
Repeatedly, nations
Decided against these shared fates.

Today, Central America refers to the region bounded by Mexico, Colombia, the Caribbean and the Pacific, but at times it has been the name of specific countries. In 1823, what is now the Mexican state of Chiapas and parts of Belize joined the countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in the United Provinces of Central America, soon renamed the Federal Republic of Central America. Civil war broke out in 1838, and within a few years the federation had dissolved. The idea of a united Central America, however, refused to die. In 1852 the Federation of Central America, consisting of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, lasted a month; the three countries formed the Greater Republic of Central America from 1896–98; and from June 1921 to January 1922 the same three plus Costa Rica formed a second Federation of Central America.

In 1991, all of Central America apart from Belize created the Central American Integration System (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, or SICA), modelled on the EU, which came into effect in 1993. Belize became a full member five years later, and the Dominican Republic in 2013. In 2006,Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua signed the Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement (CA-4), similar to the Schengen Agreement in Europe, enabling freedom of movement within their shared borders.

Did you happen to wonder, perchance,
Why the Amazon’s partly in France?
Or how space rockets fly
Into France’s beau sky?
Ce qui donne? French Guiana’s expanse.

What gives, you ask? French Guiana, in the Guianas on the northeastern coast of South America, is as much a part of France—and the European Union—as any other French département. It uses the euro, launches rockets for the European Space Agency, and the Guiana Amazonian Park, which covers 41% of its territory, is the largest national park in the EU. French interest in the region goes back to 1503; it founded Cayenne there in 1643, and after the abolition of the French slave trade in 1794 developed it as a penal colony. Guyane became a French department in 1946, and voted against autonomy in a 2010 referendum.

In Greenland, the Norse disappeared
For a century—wasn’t that weird?
No, the climate explained it.
Then Denmark regained it
For anyone sporting a beard.

Not all Norsemen grew beards, but they help keep out the cold. When the Norse arrived in Greenland in the tenth century they found it uninhabited, although some Inuit may still have been living in the north. The colony came under Norwegian and then Danish rule, but colony disappeared in the fifteenth century after the onset of the Little Ice Age. By then, Inuit had returned, and they comprise almost 90% of Greenland’s population today. In the eighteenth century Denmark began reestablishing its presence, eventually incorporating Greenland into the Kingdom of Denmark; in 1979 it gave Greenland limited autonomy, and thirty years later self-rule.

The Saga of Erik the Red tells us that the Viking explorer named the country Greenland (Grœnland in Old Norse) because he figured an appealing name would attract settlers:

In Iceland, the places I’ve been
Have been lava-rock black and moss-green,
And yet Greenland’s all ice.
Erik’s marketing device
Is the shrewdest I reckon I’ve seen.

Guatemala, long home to the Maya,
Is a country worth visiting, via
Chiapas, perhaps—
Now follow your maps
And come sample a local papaya.

The Central American country of Guatemala was the core of the ancient Maya civilisation, and millions of Maya live there today. Once part of New Spain, it became independent in the early 19th century. During the Guatemalan Civil War of 1960–96, its military government massacred Maya civilians in the Guatemalan genocide, or Silent Holocaust.

Guatemala, a kingdom? Oh yes.
Not the Aztecs... the Maya? Good guess.
Bueno, let me explain:
It was part of New Spain,
And a Captaincy General, no less.

The Mayan civilisation did feature various kingdoms, the last of which only fell to the Spanish nearly two centuries after the first conquistadors entered the region. In 1609, most of what we today call Central America, along with the southern Mexican state of Chiapas (another Mayan area), became the Captaincy General or Kingdom of Guatemala under the viceroyalty of New Spain.

South America’s northeastern coast
Is the region Guiana. It’s host
To three countries, and part
Of two more. At the start,
Walter Raleigh explored it the most.

The coast of Guiana was spotted by Columbus in 1498, but first explored in earnest by Raleigh in 1594. His book The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana sparked a flurry of colonization, leading to the diversity of countries lining the coast today, known as the Guianas. From west to east, they are: the eastern half of Venezuela, formerly Guayana Province or Spanish Guayana; Guyana, formerly British Guiana; Suriname, formerly Dutch Guiana; French Guiana, an overseas department of France; and the state of Amapá in northern Brazil, formerly Portuguese Guiana.

Two-thirds of Guyana’s unspoiled,
But its people, whose ancestors toiled
On sugar plantations,
Now see the temptations
Of living a life that’s well-oiled.

The Co-operative Republic of Guyana (formerly British Guiana, and before that the Dutch colonies of Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara) has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world; more than 80% of the country is still covered by forests, and over 70% of its natural habitat remains pristine. Its diverse population is largely descended from enslaved Africans and indentured labourers from India, who worked on its sugar plantations. Crude oil was discovered off Guyana’s coast in 2015, and commercial drilling commenced a few years later, which promises to transform the country’s economy—and its environment.

The country of Haiti is poor,
And to some it implies little more.
It fought hard to be free;
A disaster or three
Has made living there tougher, for sure.

Columbus set foot on Hispaniola in 1492, and Spain ruled the whole island until 1625, but lost interest in the western third, which was gradually settled by French buccaneers. By the end of French rule, enslaved Africans and their descendants outnumbered French settlers there ten to one. Haitians fought a revolution to win their independence, proclaiming it in 1804, but it took years to gain international recognition. Life there since has been marked by political unrest, divisions between north and south, dictatorships, environmental degradation and natural disasters, including a devastating earthquake in 2010.

Those banana republics? The first
Was Honduras. When Spain got a thirst
For the fruits of this land,
It soon conquered it, and
The indigenous folk came off worst.

The province of Spanish Honduras in the Kingdom of Guatemala, dating from the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1524, became independent in 1821 and joined the First Mexican Empire. In 1823 it became part of the Federal Republic of Central America. Although it declared itself the independent Republic of Honduras in 1838, Honduras continued to push for regional unity, joining three more short-lived federations with two or three of its neighbours in 1852, 1896–98 and 1921–22. In the early 20th century, fruit companies dominated Honduras; the writer O. Henry coined the term banana republic in a novel inspired by his time there.

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