The Guano Problem
Before we start, remember that chart of historical pigments? I made it into a poster! Update: And through next Friday (Eastern Standard Time) you can get 10% off by writing in “LOOKIAMHAGGLING” when it prompts for discount codes at checkout.
But on to guano. I feel a little bad poking fun at this, because as much as the phrase “poop-miner” makes me giggle, I can’t imagine a worse job. Like, if I died and hell was real and I was sent there (say, for making fun of poop-miners), I’d still probably have it better than a slave on the Chincha Islands circa 1850.
These poor guys would be lured from China with promises of jobs and money to send back home, but wound up working non-stop 16-hour days, in some of the worst conditions possible, until they died. Not that that sort of thing is confined to the past – from what I’ve read, Dubai was more or less built by people in exactly the same situation (warning: link is depressing), and it happens elsewhere too.
Anyway, what else? Oh! The Chincha Islands War! So, for a few decades there, guano was big business and guano-deposits were big targets, and in 1864 the Spanish fleet siezed the Chincha islands, which at that point produced something like 60% of the Peruvian government’s annual revenue. Soon the war expanded to include Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia as well, but that had less to do with bird poop so I’ll leave it there for now. But I will mention the ironically-named War of the Pacific, which started in 1879 and saw Peru, Bolivia, and Chile fighting over sections of guano-covered desert. Chile won, which was a bummer for both Peru, whose guano islands were more or less tapped out (crapped out?), and Bolivia, which wound up fully landlocked.
– Apparently, the Chincha islands were named for the Chincha people, who Francisco Pizarro met when he was conquistadoring. I found one other thing named after them – the chinchilla – apparently because of their fabulous chinchilla-fur clothing.
– If you noticed the weird star pattern on the flag in the third-to-last panel, good job! I almost put this comic out with modern flags, but then I remembered that there were like, 30 states at the time? 31? Oh god, did I copy the wrong flag? I totally did. Let’s just pretend the 1856 Guano Islands Act was passed in 1859.
– I don’t actually know if there’s a Chincha Islands Cemetery.
I feel like the next comic will be another one of those big charts – maybe another family tree, or maybe something different (but I hope still interesting).