In some countries, people want more freedom of speech. In others, they feel that there is too much.
- In green: where people like free speech the most. In red: where free speech is not popular.
- Despite continued strong support, this recent survey shows approval of free speech declining in the U.S.
- Free speech helps create prosperity, but if forced to choose, people prefer prosperity over free speech.
September 24th, 1933: Communist Member of Parliament Saklatvala Shapurji addresses a crowd at Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park.Credit: Keystone / Getty Images
Who loves free speech? As this world map shows: not everybody — at least not in equal measure. Of the 33 countries surveyed, free speech gets its highest approval in those shaded green. Approval is "medium" in yellow countries and lowest in red ones.
Some democracies are more nominal than others
- Some of the highest-rated countries are what you might expect: in North America (U.S.) and northern Europe (UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden). Also on that list: Spain and Japan. Surprising inclusions: Venezuela and Hungary, two countries not recently noted for the fair and balanced nature of their public discourse.
- Countries with "medium" interest in free speech are scattered across Latin America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina), continental Europe (France, Germany, Czechia, Poland), the Middle East (Israel), Africa (South Africa), and the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea).
- Interestingly, all the countries on the red list, professing the least interest in free speech, are nominal democracies, although some are more nominal than others. They include countries in Europe (Russia, Turkey), the Middle East (Lebanon), Africa (Tunisia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria), and Asia-Pacific (Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia).
Global variation in the Justitia Free Speech Index. Maximum score: 100.Credit: Justitia
Orwell, defending the Freedom of the Park
The survey, conducted in February 2021 for Danish think tank Justitia, is about popular attitudes rather than legal frameworks. That is relevant because, as George Orwell observed in "Freedom of the Park" (1945), free speech depends less on the law of the land than on the will of the people.
Justitia's report, titled "The Future of Free Speech", opens with a quote from Orwell's essay:
"If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them."
To find out about those attitudes, Justitia weighed the responses of a total of 50,000 people across 33 countries worldwide to several potentially controversial statements, including:
Government censorship should not apply to
- what people say;
- what the media reports;
- how people use the internet.
People should be able to
- publicly criticize the government;
- publicly offend minority groups;
- criticize the respondent's religion and beliefs;
- voice support for homosexual relationships;
- insult the national flag.
The media should be able to publish information
- that might destabilize the economy;
- about sensitive aspects of national security;
- that makes it more difficult to handle pandemics.
George Orwell at the BBC in 1940. He sensed that free speech depends less on what laws dictate than on what people want.Credit: Public domain
Russians among the least pro-free speech
Some key findings of the report:
- Of the nationalities surveyed, Scandinavians and Americans are the most supportive of free speech. The least supportive are the Russians, Muslim-majority nations, and the least developed nations.
- Support for free speech in general is typically expressed by great majorities and has remained stable or has even increased since 2015. There is one exception: the U.S., where the acceptance of unrestricted criticism of the government has declined. The report specifically notes that young people, women, the less educated, and people who voted for Joe Biden are generally less supportive of free speech.
- While support for free speech is strong in the abstract, it drops when specific controversial statements are mentioned. In general, left-leaning individuals are more accepting of insulting national symbols and right-leaning individuals of offending minority groups, particularly in Western countries.
- In all countries surveyed, a majority would like to see social media subjected to some kind of regulation, but only a few respondents want governments to take the sole responsibility for this.
Free speech deficits and... surpluses
When matching Justitia's Free Speech Index (which measures attitudes) with a separate Freedom of Expression Index (which measures regulations) developed by an organization called V-Dem, it turns out that there is a clear and positive association between both.
- In other words: in countries with strong popular demand for free speech, there typically are good government provisions for the supply of free speech. For example, Scandinavia, the U.S., the UK and Australia all score relatively high on both indexes, while Pakistan, Malaysia, and India get relatively low marks on both indexes.
- There are exceptions, in both directions. The popular demand for free speech exceeds the actual level of freedom of expression in Egypt, Hungary, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela. You could call this a classic free speech deficit.
- In contrast, there are three countries where there seems to be a free speech surplus: in Kenya, Tunisia, and Nigeria, the relatively high values on the Freedom of Expression Index are not matched with equally high values on the Free Speech Index.
Support for free speech is generally stable or improving, except in the United States, where the acceptance of unrestricted criticism of the government has declined.Credit: Justitia
Choosing between free speech and prosperity?
Justitia also asked its interviewees how they thought their freedom of expression had evolved over time. The results are mixed.
- People in Tunisia, Pakistan, and Kenya reported the greatest improvements in their freedom of expression.
- Despite significant "democratic backsliding" in the Philippines and India, people in those countries also reported improvements.
- The greatest perceived losses in terms of free speech were reported in Hungary, Poland, the U.S., and Turkey. As the report points out, all of these countries are highly polarized with (present or recent) leaders very critical of independent media.
- People in France and Germany also reported shrinking space for free speech.
"Fortunately (…) much evidence speaks in favor of (a positive) association (between freedom of expression on the one hand and human welfare and prosperity on the other) — particularly, when free speech is combined with effective electoral rights over longer periods of time," the report concludes.
However, "the numbers indicate that, if people believe they cannot have both, many are willing to sacrifice free speech." Disconcertingly, "support for free speech might be shallower than one would expect — and hope for — in relation to this fundamental right."
Strange Maps #1094
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Two new studies shed light on who first inhabited the islands, who replaced them, and how few people lived there.
- A pair of new studies has finally managed to analyze the DNA of early residents of the Caribbean.
- The DNA indicated that many residents were closely related, despite hundreds of miles of distance between them.
- The findings dramatically alter our understanding of the residents of the Caribbean before Europeans arrived.
The loss of information about the history of peoples can sometimes occur by accident, caused by nothing more than environmental factors. It is particularly true for genetic information in certain climates. Warm, wet climes, like that of the Caribbean, can cause the genetic material in human remains to decay long before science can examine it.
Thanks to advances in technology, geneticists can gather more information about the Caribbean people before Europeans arrived than ever before. The findings, published in Nature, shed light on their origins, numbers, and their level of interaction with others.
How to recover DNA in a tropical environment
As mentioned above, the DNA in human remains breaks down fairly quickly in tropical environments. It is only now that we can use certain bones, those which protect the inner ear, to acquire enough material to learn about the original residents of the area.
An international team of researchers examined the remains of 174 people. The findings of a previous study that examined 93 other skeletons were also included in their analysis. Unlike many previous studies, this investigation was carried out with the knowing consent of the decedents of the island natives.
What does the DNA tell us?
The oldest remains indicate that original inhabitants of the islands arrived there around 6,000 years ago and were related to groups living in South and Central America. These people are known as the "Archaic Age People" but who they are exactly remains unclear, as the genetic findings didn't match any particular group in South America.
Then, around 3,000 years ago, another group of people migrated north. These Arawak-speaking, ceramic-making farmers from South America displaced the Archaic Age People. While small groups of the latter appear to have held out in isolation until 900 C.E, they eventually disappeared as a separate group of people. However, intermarriage between the two groups appears to have been rare.
The DNA also tells us that people were rather closely related across vast distances. In one case, dozens of individuals, including two men living 600 miles apart, shared as much DNA as first cousins. Such a high proportion of such cases suggests a low population with only limited levels of genetic diversity.
What does this mean for our understanding of the pre-contact Caribbean?
vessel, made between AD 1200-1500 in present-day Dominican Republic
Credit: Kristen Grace/Florida Museum
The findings upend ideas of multiple, large migrations of South American people into the region entirely. Archaeologists had previously associated different pottery styles with different eras caused by new groups of people moving in and bringing their ceramics with them. This study found no reason to suppose these migrations took place. Instead, these same people seem to have changed their style.
Additionally, the genetic similarities between the people across large swaths of time and space suggest that the populations were much smaller than previously reported. While Columbus reported millions of people living on the islands he landed on, these findings provide support estimates the population was in the tens of thousands at the time. This could have implications for our understanding of the history of post-contact interactions.
It also raises new questions about how the pre-contact peoples interacted. Genetic evidence suggests the archaic group was largely left alone, but why was that? We know that some trading was taking place between groups on different islands, but how much? Was this trade what prevented some smaller groups from suffering the adverse effects of inbreeding?
Such questions will have to be the subject of further research.
Underperforming, the U.S. comes in only 157th out of 196 in global triangularity ranking.
- Sierra Leone is the world's roundest country and Egypt the squarest. But you knew that.
- Bet you didn't know which is the world's most triangle-shaped country.
- That is until now, because someone's figured out that it's... Nicaragua!
Circles, squares and triangles
The flag of Nicaragua. Coincidentally or not, it features a... triangle.
So you like triangles. And you know how to hold a tune. Then, like Alt-J, you could write a song about how "triangles are (your) favorite shape". But what if you're left-brained rather than right-brained, and prefer maps and maths over notes and lyrics?
We feel we've hit upon a pretty good description of Tom Alps. With a name like that, he can't not be geographically inclined. And for proof that he knows his numbers and likes his triangles, look no further than the latest entry on Tom's Data Blog, titled "What is the Most Triangular Country?"
It's not the first question that we'd expect to see flowering in that weird and wild frontier zone between abstract mathematics and applied geography. Nor the second one. No, those would be, respectively: What is the Roundest Country? And What is the Squarest Country?
If we had to take a guess, the answers to those two would be: Lesotho, and Turkey. Turns out we would be wrong on both accounts – because those questions have already been answered. As we discussed some time ago, Sierra Leone is the roundest country in the world, and Egypt is the squarest one (see #926). And, weirdly, the Vatican is both the world's fourth roundest and second most rectangular country.
Ranked: the world's squarest (left) and roundest (right) countries.
Credit: G. Ciruelos, D. Barry.
As it turns out, Lesotho is only the 36th roundest out of a total of 206 countries and territories, and Turkey only the 15th boxiest. So we were off by quite a bit. But ask us which is the most triangular nation on earth, and we can't even picture a likely candidate.
This is where Mr Alps's mathematical skills kick in. Inspired as he was by the pioneering work by Gonzalo Ciruelos (on sovereign circularity) and David Barry (on state-based squareness), he decided to test the world's countries and territories for their conformity to the third-most-basic geometrical shape.
As he writes on his blog, "the first step is to define mathematically what 'triangularity' means." For the full methodology, check Mr Alps's blog. And let's skip to the juicy bits. Out of the 196 countries listed in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the most triangular country is...
(ripping open envelope)
And yes, now that you mention it – we see it too.
Triangles on flags
The five most triangular countries in the world: Nicaragua, Bosnia, Namibia, Mauritania and Bolivia.
Credit: Tom's Data Blog
On the 'triangularity' index devised by Mr Alps, which indicates maximum similarity between a country and a triangle, the Central American nation scores 0.918672. That is slightly better than the runner-up, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although now that you mention it, that is a very triangular-looking country, too.
In fact, the Bosnians thought so themselves. The country's national flag features a triangle as an approximation of the nation's geographic shape. Weirdly, the Nicaraguan flag also features a triangle. By accident or design?
Mr Alps plotted the triangularity of each country. "This shows that there is a quite gentle decrease in triangularity over the first 150 countries, followed by a sharp drop-off, seemingly due to countries that have multiple parts."
The least triangular country? The Marshall Islands. "Hardly surprising, considering the country is a collection of tiny islands spread over a large area of ocean."
For the least triangular country that isn't a group of islands, we have to move up 16 places in the ranking to Vietnam at #180. The United States is also among the world's poorest performers when it comes to triangularity, stuck in 157th place between Laos and Mexico.
Maps show the oldest company in (nearly) every country – and a few interesting corporate trends.
- A Japanese company has been building Buddhist temples for almost a millennium and a half.
- It's the oldest continuously operating company in the world, but quite atypical.
- If you want to build a business that lasts, banks, breweries, and postal services are a good bet – but there are intriguing exceptions.
Longest surviving companies
Osaka Castle, built by Kongo Gumi, the world's oldest company.
Image: Suicasmo, CC BY-SA 4.0
'The oldest profession in the world': thanks to a popular short story by Kipling (1), that label is now firmly attached to the sex trade. Yet up until the First World War, by which time it was irreparably sullied by its association with prostitution, that mantle had been claimed by other, more reputable trades as well.
No one had a better argument than tailors; for did Adam and Eve, suddenly ashamed of their nakedness after tasting the forbidden fruit, not immediately set about making garments for themselves? Others claiming 'firstness' at one time or other include farmers, gardeners, barbers, doctors, teachers, priests, and… murderers.
However, none of these vocations is referenced on these maps, which show not the oldest professions, but the oldest companies for almost each country in the world. It must be that gardening and/or murdering are more of a freelance kind of gig.
If we go by longest surviving company, the oldest profession in the world is that of builder. No business is older than the Japanese construction company Kongō Gumi, founded in 578 AD and still in business today. If we look at each continent separately, the oldest companies per country reveal some interesting characteristics of corporate longevity.
Europe: the oldest restaurant in the world
The oldest company in Europe: St Peter Stifts Kulinarium in Austria.
Image: Business Finance, CC BY-SA 4.0
Money and alcohol are the mainstays of the oldest companies in nearly half of Europe's countries. So if you want to found a long-lasting company, get into banking. Or brewing. Other professions with staying power: communications, hospitality, manufacturing. Oh, and salt mines. Europe's oldest business – and quite possibly the world's oldest restaurant – is tucked away in an abbey in Salzburg.
- Most popular category: wineries, breweries, and distilleries: 21 countries (listed youngest to oldest).
Ursus Breweries is a conglomerate of several Romanian breweries, the oldest of which (Cluj-Napoca Brewery) goes back to 1878. Ursus is also the name of the most popular beer in Romania. The company is owned by Asahi Breweries Europe.Armenia: Yerevan Ararat Brandy-Wine-Vodka Factory (1877)
Started producing wine in 1877 and brandy in 1887. It is most famous for Noy, Armenia's leading brand of brandy, popular throughout the former Soviet Union.Belarus: Olivaria (1864)
Current share of the country's beer market: about 29 percent. Since 2015, Carlsberg owns two thirds of the shares, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development a further 21 percent.Bosnia: Sarajevska Pivara (1864)
One of the main beer producers and drinks distributors of the former Yugoslavia.Hungary: Zwack (1790)
The Zwack distillery in Budapest makes liqueurs and spirits. Its signature beverage is Unicum, a drink with 40 percent alcohol, made with a secret recipe of more than 40 different herbs and spices. It is one of Hungary's national drinks.Serbia: Apatin (1756)
Founded as an Imperial brewery by the Austrian Imperial Chamber, Apatin Brewery was privatised at the end of the 19th century, collectivised by Yugoslavia's communists, and re-privatised in 1991. The leading brewery in Serbia, it is now owned by America's Molson Coors.Lithuania: Gubernija (1665)
The pagan Lithuanians had a beer god called Ragutis, and modern Lithuania still has a distinct and thriving beer industry. Gubernija, founded in 1665 and privatised in 1999, produces beer and kvass, a fermented drink made from rye bread.Latvia: Cēsu Alus (1590)
An audit from 1590 refers to a brewery in Cēsis Castle, the earliest mention of what was to become Cēsu Alus – considered to be the oldest brewery in the Baltics and the Nordics, as well as the largest brewery in Latvia, producing 64 percent of its beer.Luxembourg: Mousel (1511)
The Mousel company has been brewing beer continuously since 1511, originally in Luxembourg city, now in Diekirch. It is now owned by AB InBev, the world's largest brewer.Czech Republic: Pivovar Broumov (1348)
Originally attached to the Benedictine monastery in the eastern Bohemian town of Broumov. Produces light, semi-dark and dark beers, as well as flavored ones.Netherlands: Brand (1340)
Heineken-owned Brand's claim to be the oldest brewery in the Netherlands is contested. Historical documents confirm that beer was brewed in its home village since at least 1340, but not whether this has continued uninterruptedly in the centuries since.Belgium: Affligem (1074)
Although Heineken now owns the brand and the beer is no longer brewed on its premises, Affligem abbey retains final control over the recipes.Germany: Staffelter Hof (862)
Winery in the Moselle region, established by a grant from Lothair II, the king of Lotharingia. Its name derives from the abbey of Stavelot, from which it depended. In the 18th century, Staffelter Hof played a crucial part in the spread of Riesling grapes throughout the area.
- Banks or mints are the oldest institutions in eight European countries.
Despite the country's own venerable age – dating back to Charlemagne – Andorra's oldest company is less than a century old.Cyprus: Bank of Cyprus (1899)
The largest bank in Cyprus by market penetration: 83 percent of Cypriots have an account.Malta: HSBC Bank Malta (1882)
Now a subsidiary of HSBC, the UK-based multinational bank, it traces back its origins to the late 19th century, when the Anglo-Egyptian Bank started trading on the island.Liechtenstein: National Bank of Liechtenstein (1861)
Since Liechtenstein is in a customs and monetary union with Switzerland, the job of its National Bank is mainly one of oversight and administration.Scotland: Bank of Scotland (1695)
Created by the Parliament of Scotland, the Bank of Scotland retains the authority to print sterling notes – legal tender, but difficult to pay with in England. In 1999, the bank's attempt to enter the retail banking market in the US in a joint venture with evangelist Pat Robertson was cancelled when the latter called Scotland "a dark land overrun by homosexuals."Kremnica Mint (1328)
A state-owned mint that has been in continuous production since its establishment by the kingdom of Hungary. In the Middle Ages, its ducats were considered the hardest currency in Central Europe. Today, the Mint produces euro coins for Slovakia and money for a range of other countries (including recently a large order of Sri Lankan rupees).England: Royal Mint (886)
Wholly owned by Her Majesty's Treasury, the Royal Mint produces all coinage for the United Kingdom. The company has its origins in Alfred the Great's issuing of silver pennies after his recapture of London from the Danes in 886. For the first 800 years of its existence, the Royal Mint operated out of the Tower of London. It is now based in Wales.France: Monnaie de Paris (864)
The Paris Mint is the world's oldest continuously-running minting institution. It was established by Charles II, a.k.a. 'the Bald', king of West Francia and grandson of Charlemagne. Owned by the French government, it is currently tasked with producing the country's share of euro coins.
- In six European countries, the oldest company is involved in hospitality of some sort or other.
This traditional kafenio has been in the Forlidas family for seven generations, although it has served other functions than that of coffee shop. There are still hooks in the ceiling from its time as a butcher's, and it's also served as a time as a barber's.Turkey: Çemberlitas Hamami (1584)
A Turkish bath constructed by Mimar Sinan, the chief architect of Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is located on Divan Yolu, an old Byzantine processional road that once led to Rome. In 1730, an Albanian attendant at the hammam led a rebellion that managed to replace sultan Ahmed III with Mahmud I, who reigned until 1754. The rebellion itself was short-lived, and Patrona Halil was executed later that same year. The bath house has survived fires, earthquakes, and partial demolition. Tourists now make up most of its clientele.
Slovenia: Gostilna Gastuz (1467)
Formerly associated with the Zice Charterhouse, this inn survived the monastery's dissolution and is still serving guests today.Switzerland: Gasthof Sternen (1230)
Located in Wettingen Abbey, this inn started as a 'Weiberhaus', a guest house for the visiting mothers and sisters of the monks, located outside the walls of the monastery, which was founded in 1227. The name ('Star') refers to an epithet of the Virgin Mary, 'Stella Maris' ('Star of the Sea'). It was also the name of the monastery, which was dissolved in 1841.Ireland: Sean's Bar (900)
Lore has it that this bar was established as a trading post by an innkeeper named Luain, who gave his name to the town that sprang up around it: Athlone in Irish is Baile atha Luain. He built the floor at a slight angle, so the rainwater running in from the street drains into the River Shannon. The angled floor is still there, another reason for drinkers to mind their step on the way out. Sean's Bar not only claims to be the oldest drinking establishment in Ireland, but also in Europe.Austria: St Peter's Stiftskulinarium (803)
Supposedly mentioned in Alcuin of York's Carmina, this restaurant within the walls of St Peter's Abbey in Salzburg has a good claim to being the oldest company in Austria, as well as the oldest restaurant in the world. Among its clientele were Christopher Columbus, Johann Faust and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
- Five countries can boast longevity in manufacturing.
Arsenal AD started in 1878 as independent Bulgaria's first armory, then known as the Ruse Artillery Arsenal. From ammunition and artillery gun components, the company diversified into gas masks, nitroglycerin, optic sights and assault rifles. Until the Fall of Communism, the company was called 'Friedrich Engels Machinery Works', to conceal its military activities.Croatia: Kraljevica Shipyard (1729)
Founded on the orders of Austrian emperor Charles VI, it was the first shipyard on the eastern shore of the Adriatic and an engine for the industrialisation of Croatia.Finland: Fiskars (1649)
Metalworking company named after the town west of Helsinki in which it was founded. Its original charter, granted by queen Christina of Sweden, forbade it to produce cannons. In the early 20th century, Fiskars produced over a million plows. In recent decades, it has become famous for its iconic, orange-handled scissors, of which it has sold more than one billion units.Sweden: Skyllbergs Bruk (1346)
Established when King Magnus IV of Sweden donated some iron manufacturing workshops in Skyllberg and elsewhere to Riseberga Abbey. Expropriated during the Reformation, the works have subsequently been owned by the Fineman, De Geer, Burenstam and Svensson families.Marinelli Bell Foundry (1080)
Taken over by the Marinelli family in the 14th century, the Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli is one of the world's oldest family-run businesses. It produces about 50 bells a year. Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of its orders are for the Catholic church. Bells produced by the company hang in the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the UN building in New York.
- Five more have a history with postal services and other telecommunications.
Albania: ALBtelecom (1912)
Founded at Albania's independence, ALBtelecom is the country's largest fixed-line telephone operator. It is also licensed to provide mobile telephony and internet. It is majority-owned by CETEL of Turkey. The Albanian state retains a minority stake.
Montenegro: Posta Crne Gore (1841)
Montenegro has been independent since 2006, but its national postal service is much older.
Iceland: Íslandspóstur (1776)
Established by Christian VII of Denmark, which then also ruled over Iceland. Today, Íslandspóstur is one of the country's largest companies, with 1,200 employees.
Norway: Posten Norge (1647)
Founded as a private company called Postvesenet, it later received the blessing of Christian IV, king of Denmark (and also Norway at that time). The state took over in 1719. In 1996, it was renamed Posten Norge.
Portugal: CTT-Correios de Portugal (1511)
Portugal's king Manuel I created the Correio Público, which in 1911 became Correios, Telégraphos e Telefones (CTT), making the current name – CTT-Correios de Portugal – somewhat redundant.
- Three oldest companies come from the food industry.
Kosovo's Meridian Corporation is one of the young country's main food and beverage distributors – address: Bill Clinton Boulevard, Pristina.Spain: Casa de Ganaderos (1218)
Based on a privilege granted by James I of Aragon, nicknamed 'the Conqueror', the Casa de Ganaderos de Zaragoza ('House of the Cattlemen of Zaragoza') defends the rights of Aragonese livestock owners.Denmark: Munke Mølle (1135)
Founded as a water mill on the Odense River, 'Monk's Mill' is still thriving today as a producer of bread and cake mixes. In its long history, it has been the purveyor to the court of no less than 38 kings and two queens of Denmark. These days, the company is owned by Lantmännen, a Swedish agricultural cooperative.
- And finally… two salt mines and a pharmacy.
In previous centuries, the pharmacy's range of healing products included mummy juice, bat power, and swallow's nests. It also sold cognac and gunpowder and was the first in Estonia to sell tobacco. The business was run by the Burchard family for most of its history. From 1582, each generation's first-born son was called Johann and was expected to continue the business. The last of the line, Johann the Tenth, died in 1890.Ukraine: Drohobych Salt Plant (1250)
Drohobych, near Lviv, once was one of the richest and most important cities of the Carpathian region, thanks to the local factories manufacturing salt, supplying customers as far away as Italy.Poland: Bochnia Salt Mine (1248)
Although it ceased mining salt in 1990, the company continues as a tourist attraction. Its various chambers form an underground town, with a functioning chapel and sanatorium. The Wazyn Chamber is large enough to accommodate sports fields, a restaurant, a dormitory and conference facilities.
Africa: a young continent
Mauritius Post is the oldest company in Africa.
Image: Business Finance, CC BY-SA 4.0
Africa's oldest companies are all relatively young. Many were established by former colonisers, and the preponderance of postal services, railways and banks reflect their attempts to replicate the infrastructure of modern European statehood in Africa.
Banks are, in fact, the continent's most widespread 'oldest' institutions: in 17 countries across Africa. The oldest one is Standard Chartered Zimbabwe, with roots going back to 1892. The most recent one is Ivory Bank in South Sudan, Africa's youngest nation.
In nine countries across Africa, the postal service is the country's oldest institution. Mauritius Post (1772) is in fact the oldest company in all of Africa. The youngest postal service that is its country's oldest institution is Correios da Guiné-Bissau (1973).
Railways are the oldest companies in six African countries. The oldest company is the Société nationale des Chemins de fer du Congo (1889) in the DR Congo, the youngest Swazi Rail (1963) in eSwatini.
Unlike Europe, there are only a handful of breweries as their country's oldest company. Three, in fact: in Tanzania (1933), Eritrea (1939), and Burundi (1955).
Fairly recent 'oldest' companies are airlines and broadcasters (four each): from Air Madagascar (1962), to Guinea Equatorial Airlines (1996), and Radio Mogadishu (1943) to the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (1964).
Relatively few 'oldest' companies are involved in agriculture or mining, two mainstays of Africa's economy:
- The Cameroon Development Corporation (1947) grows, processes and markets tropical export crops (including rubber and palm oil).
- Established in 1962 by Harvey Aluminium Company, Halco Mining has a 70-year lease on bauxite mining in a 10,000 km2 area of northwestern Guinea that runs out in 2038.
- The Botswana Meat Commission (1965) was set up by newly-independent Botswana to oversee beef production and export.
- Cotontchad (1971) has the state monopoly on the purchasing and export of cotton, which represents 40 percent of the country's exports.
Three atypical companies complete the African picture:
- Premier FCMG is a South African food manufacturer whose history goes back to 1820, and which produces well-known brands such as Blue Ribbon and Snowflake.
- Hamoud Boualem (1878) is a manufacturer of soft drinks popular in Algeria and with the Algerian diaspora.
- The Communauté Électrique du Bénin (1968) is actually co-owned by the governments of Benin and Togo. It manages the Nangbeto dam in Togo and the import of electricity from Ghana into both countries.
North America: rum, currency, and the lash
La Casa de Moneda de Mexico is the oldest company in North America.
Image: Business Finance, CC BY-SA 4.0
Alcohol and money are pretty popular in North America, too. Plantations pop up as a particularly American institution. And Mexico's mint fathered a few surprising currencies.
- Breweries and distilleries are the oldest companies in five countries across Central America and the Caribbean.
Founded by two Jamaican brothers, the company has a catalogue of over 2000 mainly food products, but is best known for its beers, with well-known brands such as Imperial and Bavaria.Nicaragua: Flor de Caña (1890)
Founded by an Italian immigrant who moved to Nicaragua in 1875, the company is still led by one of his descendants. Due to the Nicaraguan Revolution in the 1980s, large quantities of the rum were stored – as a result, in the 1990s Flor de Caña had the largest reserve of aged rum in the world.Haiti : Rhum Barbancourt (1862)
Founded by Dupré Barbancourt, a French immigrant from the Cognac region, the company is still family-run and its rum is one of Haiti's most famous exports.Trinidad & Tobago: House of Angostura (1830)
Founded in Venezuela by the German surgeon-general of Simon Bolivar's army, the company now produces rums and bitters that are some of T&T's most famous exports.Barbados: Mount Gay Rum (1703)
The oldest commercial rum distillery in the world, now owned by Cointreau. Named after the manager of the company owned by John Sober (!)
- Five countries across North America have financial as their oldest companies.
Originally established as the St Lucia Cooperative Bank.Panama: National Bank of Panama (1904)
Panama uses the U.S. dollar, so it doesn't have a central bank in the traditional sense. The National Bank of Panama is charged with non-monetary aspects of central banking.
Belize: Belize Bank (1902)
Founded in 1902 by investors from Mobile, Alabama as the Bank of British Honduras, Belize Bank is one of the largest banks in the country today.El Salvador: HSBC El Salvador (1891)
Established in 1891 as Banco Salvadoreño, it was nationalised in 1980, privatised in 1993 and acquired by HSBC in 2006. After HSBC sold its Salvadoran operations to Colombian bank Davivienda, the bank is now called Banco Davivienda El Salvador.Mexico: La Casa de Moneda (1534)
Mexico's mint was established by a decree from the Spanish Crown and is the oldest in the Americas. Its silver peso became the basis for several modern currencies, including the US dollar, the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan.
- In four countries, the oldest company has to do with living off the land – at least originally.
A family farming business that grew into a multinational agro-industrial corporation.Jamaica: Rose Hall (1770)
A former plantation, now a museum highlighting the estate's slave history, as well as the legend of the White Witch. In 1977, it was acquired by Michele Rollins, Miss District of Columbia 1963 and first runner-up for Miss USA 1963.
Canada: Hudson's Bay Company (1670)
Starting out as a fur trading business (and for about two centuries the de facto government of large parts of British North America), Hudson's Bay Company now runs retail stores in Canada and the US, including Saks Fifth Avenue.United States: Shirley Plantation (1638)
The oldest surviving company in the United States started out as a slave-holding tobacco plantation. The family that ran the Shirley Plantation produced Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, and still owns and lives on the premises.
The island nation of Dominica's national newspaper, The Chronicle (est. 1909) is also its oldest company. And finally for North America, two countries have transport companies as their oldest firms: Honduras (National Railroad of Honduras, 1870) and Cuba (Cubana de Aviacion, 1929).
South America: weapons factory to coffee shop
Peru's Casa Nacional de Moneda is the oldest company in South America.
Image: Business Finance, CC BY-SA 4.0
Five South American countries have banks and mints as oldest companies. The oldest, the Casa Nacional de Moneda of Peru, was founded in Lima just 30 years after the city's own founding by the conquistador Pizarro.
Guyana's oldest company started as rum business, which expanded into a chain of liquor stores and then added a cocoa and chocolate factory and shipping agency. It got its name from the Demerara Ice House it acquired in 1896, which contained bars, a hotel and a soft drink plant.
Venezuela's oldest company is a cocoa plantation, Chile's an arms manufacturer (FAMAE stands for Fabricas y Maestranzas del Ejercito, or Factories and Workshops of the Army).
You can go get a coffee at Uruguay's oldest company: the Café Brasilero, frequented by writers and intellectuals. It even has a coffee named after Eduardo Galeano, best remembered for Open Veins of Latin America (1971).
Oceania: ex-con becomes postmaster
Australia Post is the oldest company in Oceania.
Image: Business Finance, CC BY-SA 4.0
Scant information about companies in Oceania – so until further notice, Australia Post may claim the continental title of oldest company.
Vanuatu: European Trust Company (1991)
The island nation's oldest and highest capitalised trust company, providing incorporation and management services, as well as post-incorporation financial services.
New Zealand: Bank of New Zealand (1861)
Its first office opened in Auckland in October 1861, its second the following December in Dunedin. A bit more than a century and a half later, it is one of the four major banks of New Zealand (although in 1992 it was purchased by the National Bank of Australia).
Australia: Australia Post (1809)
Regular postal services in Australia started with the appointment in 1809 of Isaac Nichols, an ex-convict, as Postmaster of New South Wales. His main job was to take charge incoming mail. To avoid chaos on board ships arriving at Sydney, he took letters and parcels to his home in George Street and produce a list of recipients which he would post outside his house and advertise in the Sydney Gazette.
Asia: home of the conglomerate
The oldest company in Asia is Kongo Gumi, a Japanese construction firm. It is also the oldest company in the word.
Image: Business Finance, CC BY-SA 4.0
A scattered field across Asia – no wonder, it is the world's largest, most populous and (arguably) most varied continent. There does seem to be a typically Asian speciality, when it comes to corporate longevity: the conglomerate – especially popular in Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.
- In nine Asian countries, the oldest company is a conglomerate, active across various economic sectors.
Bhutan: Tashi Group (1959)
Tashi is actually a conglomerate whose subsidiaries include Tashi Air, T-Bank, Druk School, a chemical plant and a softdrinks bottling plant.
Qatar: Salam International Investment Limited (1952)
Headquartered in Doha, this publicly listed company is involved in construction and development, technology and communications, luxury and consumer products, investment and real estate, and energy production.
Kuwait: M.H. Alshaya (1890)
Founded as a shipping company between Kuwait and British India, the group today is a multinational franchise operator of around 90 brands (e.g. Topshop in Turkey, H&M in the Middle East, the Cheesecake Factory in the UAE), with additional interests in real estate, construction, hotels, automotive and trading.
Thailand: B. Grimm (1878)
Founded as a chemist by a German-Austrian duo, B. Grimm now is a conglomerate with interests in healthcare, construction, real estate, e-commerce and transport, among other sectors. Power generation currently accounts for 80 percent of the revenue of the group, which operates more than 20 power plants in Thailand, four in Laos and one in Vietnam.
Saudi Arabia: House of Alireza (1845)
Founded in 1845 as a food importer from India, the House of Alireza specialised as shipping agents and diversified to include real estate, jewelery, construction, travel agency, fuel manufacture, and engineering.
Pakistan: House of Habib (1841)
A conglomerate that is involved in banking, schools, the automotive and building industries, and more.
Sri Lanka: George Steuart Group (1835)
Originally involved in coffee and tea brokerage, the Group has now diversified into travel, leisure, health, telecoms, shipping, insurance, education, and recruitment.
Bangladesh: M.M. Ispahani (1820)
Owners of Bangladesh's largest tea company, the group also owns other major food brands, and has interests in shipping, real estate, textiles, and hotels.
India: Wadia Group (1736)
Starting as shipbuilders for the British East India Company, the business has diversified into a conglomerate now including fashion magazines, airlines, engineering, and even a cricket team.
Banks are the oldest companies in Cambodia (1954), Nepal (1937), Jordan (1930), Georgia (1903), Taiwan (1897) and Lebanon (1830).
- Four oldest companies are involved with communication, three with transportation:
Yemenia Airways (1962)
Myanmar National Airlines (1948)
Mongolian National Broadcaster (1931)
KT Corporation, formerly Korea Telecom (1885)
Vietnam Railways (1881)
Singapore Post (1819)
Pos Malaysia (1800)
- Two eateries are the oldest company in their countries, on either side of the continent (plus one coffee shop to stay with the f&b theme):
Israel: Café Abu Salem (1914)
Located in a 250-year-old building in the old market of Nazareth, Café Abu Salem has been continuously operating since 1914. It is currently run by the third generation of the Abu Salem family.
Syria: Bakdash (1885)
A landmark ice cream parlour in the souq of Damascus, famous for a frozen dairy dessert called booza.
China: Ma Yu Ching's Bucket Chicken House (1153)
A historic restaurant in Kaifeng, said to be established during the Jin dynasty.
Just one alcohol-producing company: Destileria Limtuaco (1853) in the Philippines, established by Lim Tua Co, a Chinese immigrant, who started distilling Vino de Chino, a bittersweet medicinal wine according to an old family recipe.
- Unsurprisingly, oil and coal extraction are a major sector across the world's largest continent. Some of the oldest companies are significantly older than the countries they operate in.
Specialised in equipment and services to do with oil, gas and petrochemical sectors.Oman: Petroleum Development Oman (1937)
The leading exploration and production company in the Sultanate of Oman, it delivers the majority of the country's crude oil production and natural gas supply.Iraq: North Oil Company (1928)
Headquartered in Kirkuk (northern Iraq), its boundaries extend from the country's northern borders to 32.5 °N, just south of Baghdad. It is one of the 16 companies that comprise the Iraqi Ministry of Oil.Kazakhstan: Bogatyr Coal (1913)
The largest coal mining company in Kazakhstan, producing 42 million tonnes of coal in 2018, about 40 percent of the country's total for that year. Originally founded with capital from British and American investors (including Herbert Hoover), the mine was nationalised by the Soviets in 1918 and re-privatised by the Kazakhs in the 1990s. It operates the Bogatyr Mine, whose output of 56.8 million tonnes of coal in 1985 got it into the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest coal mine. The company's reserves could keep it in business for another 100 years.
- Manufacturing is key to the oldest companies of three countries:
Founded by the Soviets and moved from Russia to Uzbekistan in 1941 to stay clear of the invading Nazis, the aircraft manufacturer is currently known as the Tashkent Mechanical Plant.Indonesia: Pindad (1808)
Manufacturer of guns, rifles and armored vehicles. Founded by the governor-general of the then Dutch East Indies.Russia: Petrodvorets Watch Factory (1721)
Founded by Peter the Great as a workshop for luxury objects in carved stone, in Soviet times it produced the Lenin Mausoleum and the Kremlin stars. The factory has been producing watches since 1945 – including the first watch to have been in space.The rest? A mixed bag. The oldest company of Laos produces electricity, in Brunei it's a department store, in Afghanistan a cotton company and in Bahrain a specialist in food logistics and retail. The oldest company of Azerbaijan, though landlocked, is the Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping Company (a.k.a. Caspar), which sails the world's largest inland lake.
Last, and oldest: Japan's Kongo Gumi. The Japanese construction firm traces its origins to 578 AD, when one of the skilled workers Prince Shōtoku invited from Korea to build a Buddhist temple decided to start his own business. Kongo Gumi helped build Osaka Castle and many other famous buildings. A 17th-century scroll tracing the company's origins reaches back 40 generations, and is three metres long. The company went into liquidation in 2006, but was purchased by Takamatsu Construction – so it continues, still specialised in building Buddhist temples.
Strange Maps #1042
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) "Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. Lilith was her very-great-grandmamma, and that was before the days of Eve as everyone knows. In the West, people say rude things about Lalun's profession, and write lectures about it, and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that Morality may be preserved. In the East where the profession is hereditary, descending from mother to daughter, nobody writes lectures or takes any notice; and that is a distinct proof of the inability of the East to manage its own affairs." (Rudyard Kipling: On the City Wall, 1889)
Why do so many people encounter these 'elves' after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
The psychedelic drug DMT can conjure powerful visions. In low doses, people often hallucinate fractal patterns, geometric shapes, and distortions in the physical space around them. But things get much stranger with higher doses.
When people consume enough DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) to have a "breakthrough" experience, they often encounter beings commonly known as 'elves' that seem autonomous, existing in a reality separate from our own.
The form and nature of DMT elves vary in reports, but one thing remains curiously constant: People tend to rank these encounters among the most meaningful experiences of their lives. For some people, these encounters change their beliefs about reality, the existence of an afterlife, and God.
A recent survey provides some of the most detailed information about these encounters to date. Published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the survey includes responses from 2,561 adults about their single most memorable encounter with a being (or beings) after smoking or vaporizing DMT. (DMT is an endogenous chemical, meaning the body produces it naturally, though it's currently a Schedule I drug in the U.S.)
Most respondents had used DMT about a dozen times in their life. The survey excluded experiences in which people consumed other drugs with DMT, and it didn't include experiences with ayahuasca, which is a brew that contains DMT.
The results show:
The encounters produced an emotional response for 99 percent of people. The most common emotions were "joy (65%), trust (63%), surprise (61%), love (59%), kindness (56%), friendship (48%), and fear (41%) during the encounter experience, with smaller proportions reporting emotions such as sadness (13%), distrust (10%), disgust (4%), or anger (3%)." Interestingly, 58 percent of respondents said the being also had an emotional response, almost always a positive one.
The encounters felt more "real" than reality. This was true for 81 percent of respondents during the encounter, and 65 percent after the encounter. One respondent wrote: "There was an indescribably powerful notion that this dimension in which the entity and I convened was infinitely more "real" than the consensus reality I usually inhabit. It felt truer than anything else I'd ever experienced."
People described the entities in different ways. The most commonly chosen labels "were "being," (60%) "guide," (43%) "spirit," (39%) "alien," (39%) or "helper" (34%). Other labels selected by small proportions of respondents (range 10–16%), included the terms "elf," "angel," "religious personage," or "plant spirit," and very few (range 1–5%) reporting the terms "gnome," "monster," or a "deceased" person."
Most people said the beings weren't hallucinations. About three-quarters of respondents said they believe the being was real, but it exists in some kind of different dimension or reality. Only 9 percent said the being existed "completely within myself."
Most described the beings positively. "When asked about the attributes of the entity, a majority of the sample reported that the entity was conscious (96%), intelligent (96%), benevolent (78%), sacred (70%), had agency in the world (54%), and was positively judgmental (52%). Fewer reported that the entity was petitionable (23%), negatively judgmental (16%), or malicious (11%)."
Most received a message during the encounter. About two-thirds of respondents said they received "a message, task, mission, purpose, or insight from the entity encounter experience."
What kinds of messages? Some people were shown that death isn't the end, that everything and everyone is connected. Others had personal insights revealed to them, such as bad behaviors that they should stop.
Some messages were strangely practical — one respondent said the beings revealed the location of a Zippo lighter that had been missing (it was buried deep in a couch, go figure). There was also the respondent who said a being "was teaching me the rules/regulations of the NFL."
The encounters were often followed by lasting changes in well-being and beliefs. About one-quarter of respondents said they were atheist before the encounter, but only 10 percent said they were after.
"Additionally, approximately one-third (36%) of respondents reported that before the encounter their belief system included a belief in ultimate reality, higher power, God, or universal divinity, but a significantly larger percentage (58%) of respondents reported this belief system after the encounter."
What's more, 89 percent of respondents said the encounter led to lasting improvements in well-being or life-satisfaction. Why? The researchers suggested that "ontological shock" — the state of being forced to question your worldview — may "play an important role in the enduring positive life changes in attitudes, moods, and behavior attributed to these experiences."
"As such, it is possible that, under appropriate supportive set and setting conditions, DMT could show promise as an adjunct to therapy for people with mood and behavioral problems (e.g. depression and addiction)," the researchers wrote.
The study also noted that DMT encounters have a lot in common with near-death and alien-abduction experiences, which also have been shown to produce long-lasting changes in personal beliefs.
What are DMT elves?
Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?
The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once described one of his DMT experiences:
"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.
These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"
McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien." But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.
Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to speak directly to the gods. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.
In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that "at least half" of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.
"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".
Of course, many people believe that DMT elves are merely hallucinations. But the question remains: Why do so many people encounter similar beings?
One answer: That's exactly what people expect to encounter. After all, it's likely that people who seek out a rare and intense drug like DMT have researched it, and possibly stumbled across McKenna's machine-elf idea. So, that's the image their brain produces. (An Erowid survey on the topic of DMT beings once included the question: "Do you know who Terence McKenna is?" 54 percent of respondents reported having some knowledge of him.)
Another explanation comes from a 2004 DoseNation article by James Kent, the author of "Psychedelic Information Theory — Shamanism in the Age of Reason". Kent argued that "humans across all cultures have alien and heavenly archetypes embedded in their subconscious, and psychedelic tryptamines can access the archetypes with a high level of success."
Kent said he's encountered DMT elves during his own experiences, and that he's even managed to have "rudimentary conversations of sorts" with them. In his personal experiments, he tested whether these beings could reveal to him any information that he himself would be incapable of knowing. They couldn't.
Manuel Medir / Getty
"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."
It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look nothing like elves or aliens. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.
In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves?
You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.
Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point.
In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."
DMT elves may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.