Poolside Dreams of Imperialism

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A paradise island... aaaah!

They opened the pool today.

High time, too. It's 27 degrees out this afternoon, and the sun has a direct manner about it, letting you know it's there in no uncertain terms. The only downside is the wind – sudden gusts up to 15 mph – that makes the water chilly and keeps blowing leaves onto the pool surface. We laugh and throw them back, in competition with the Piedmont's most annoying feature. Neighbours are friendly, relax and joke.

Strange to bare this much skin again, shy fellow that I am. Nice to find the suit still fits, even though the beach sandals that have been sitting behind the bathroom door for eight months have gathered a bit of dust. Lean back on nice new striped towel, stare at water...water with sunlight on it makes me sleepy, makes me doze, puts me in receptive state for alteration of synapses...fuels my need to go far away in my head...excites my astral hitchhiker genes...fuels my desire for....


WHAT? I sit bolt upright. Where did that come from? Oh, right, water. Makes me think of the Pacific Ocean. The upcoming Memorial Day holiday fires me with the patriotic, red-blooded American imperative to go claim guano for my native land.

You see, the Guano Islands Act of 1856 (United States Code, Article 48) states clearly that:

Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.

The Act even says the Navy will come and protect the guano for you. The Navy. Protect. Guano. I am elated at this discovery. Take me to the Pacific. Now.

For those of you who don't know, guano comes from the Quechua word for, well, guano – bird or bat droppings, or both. Monumentally useful, both as natural MiracleGro(TM) and – because of the nitrates – for making gunpowder. That was good stuff back in 1856. And it was right there for the taking – heaps of it, piles of it, mountains and whole islands of it, deposited there by un-housebroken seabirds, out in the sparsely-charted and wholly misnamed Pacific Ocean1. All you had to do was find it, push aside a few squawking parrots, and lay claim to the stuff in the name of Uncle Sam.

Of course, my claim would be "at the discretion of the President", but Mr Obama is from Hawaii2. In fact, I am surprised that Mr Obama has not claimed any guano himself, he being a Pacific Islander and all. He is being derelict in his patriotic duty here.

I shall go and claim guano for both of us. It is my manifest destiny. There must be some hard-working bats and birds out there just dying to claim US citizenship for their unhatched eggs. I could endow a mission – the St Francis of Assisi Mission for Wayward Waterfowl, or some such.

After all, we – the US of A, I mean, not the Gheorgheni family – now own about 100 islands claimed under the Guano Islands Act. The first one we claimed was Midway. I believe there was some unpleasantness during the Second World War, during which the Marines had to defend those guano islands from another empire...I suspect the bird droppings got rather expensive at that point.

If you think the Guano Islands Act is weird, what about the Guano Wars? Spain, Chile, and Peru all got into it in 1865. These days, guano mining is controlled by the Peruvian government. Guano. Mining.

Sad as it is to think about sailors and soldiers dying for bird droppings, I know a sadder thought. There is an island in the Pacific made completely of guano. The natives sold the mining rights, and now that the island is almost completely harvested, they'll have to find a new home.

That is one of the saddest things I've ever heard of. Never sell your terra firma out from under you. Even if it is made of manure.

It is utterly undignified for people to refer to the Guano Islands Act as "Congress's bird poop law". For shame. It's our bird poop, so there. We have a natural right to claim all the bird poop we can find. Why, those birds and bats might become communists, or something. I need to hire a boat right away...

It is at this point that I realise that I have been out in the sun too long. Time to go back into the air conditioning, get a coke, and reflect soberly on the fact that the Guano Islands Act teaches us a valuable lesson:

Imperialism is a lot of chicken poop, and always has been.

A ship in search of guano islands.

Fact and Fiction by Dmitri Gheorgheni Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

17.05.10 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Because it was neither calm nor especially peaceful, no matter what the tourist brochures claim.2He is, he really is, and he has the birth certificate to prove this. He says this, and I believe it. Do not write any more letters to the Hawaii Department of Health. They refuse to answer any more mail about our President's birth certificate. There is a name for people who doubt that Mr Obama is Hawaiian. They are called "birthers". I am not making this up. I am not making the guano thing up, either.

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