Tuesday, September 06, 2011

As on Helgoland, so in Cambodia

Once upon a time...
Forsete, son of Balder and Nanna, grandson of Odin, was a Norse and Frisian god of justice. The isle of Helgoland off the coast of what is now Schleswig-Holstein, Germany was sacred in his name. It was customary to settle disputes of all kinds by arranged battle on islands; the term for this, holmgang, means "walk on the isle". But Helgoland could have been the historical site of Glitnir, home of Forsete, a sacred spring and/or an ancient court. The Northumbrian missionary saint Willibrord (born year 658, dead 739) destroyed numerous "pagan" sites, including any related to the worship of Forsete on Helgoland.

The invention of bronze around year 3500 BC in the Middle East reached Western Europe and Scandinavia around 2200 to 1800 BC. Bronze consist of 90% copper and 10% tin - and one of the main sources of copper was the isle of Helgoland where the cliffs have a high copper content. People all over Scandinavia would pay in dear for bronze knives and jewelry with mined flint stone, collected amber and animal hides.

Perhaps the dispute between Forsete and Willibrord might not have been a religious one only. Perhaps it was Christians claiming both judiciary supremacy as well as mining rights? During the about 900 years following Willibrord's raze of Helgoland the island shrunk to a tiny fraction of its original size as copper mining accelerated.
Helgoland shrinking. Maps from year 800 (largest, white area), year 1300 (darkened) and year 1649 (two small isles, white areas) superimposed.
Helgoland today. Satellite photo via Google Maps shows remaining isles even smaller than in 1649.

Helgoland Acantilado 2

Right now in Asia...
Singapore, the success story of Asia, is growing. Not just economically: its land area has increased by about 20% in recent years and a further 100 square kilometers are already in planning. This is possible only by importing vast amounts of sand - 14.6 million tons in 2010. Malaysia banned sand export already in 1997. Entire Indonesian islands have been deleted from the world map so they too banned exports in 2007 but smuggling is said to continue. Vietnam followed with a ban in 2009.

Today sand companies have their eyes on Cambodia. Although sand export being partially banned since 2009 both corruption and poverty allows plenty of exports to continue. Nearly 800,000 tons a year is said to move from the area of Koh Kong to Singapore alone. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars the local governor (and businessman) is currently defying a temporary government ban to allow further research.

Besides the coastal lines being weakened, leading to loss of land, the destruction of the sea bed has caused about 85-90% drops in catches of fish, crab and lobster and a near 100% drop in tourism where digging machinery and sand carrying boats ruin the atmosphere day and night. An NGO had just successfully established a culture of catering to ecotourists, to discourage locals from poaching.

Koh Kong, Cambodia.

Singapore prides itself in environmentally responsible city planning. Cambodians joke about going there to plant a Cambodian flag.

 Sources: Nordiske guder og helte, Politiken; Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for folket, 1. del, C. Deleuran; Wikipedia (multiple entries), Forbes, August 2011 / Sand for sale; environment ravaged, DredgingToday.com / Cambodia: Controversial Sand Dredging on Tatai River Continues.

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