Friday, 19 November 2010

What Does A Country’s National Anthem Reveal About The Country?

Flags furling and rows and rows of handsome uniformed soldiers marching to brass bands playing patriotic national anthems – this is probably the most common association a national anthem of any country has.

Does a country’s national anthem tell something about a country, bare the soul of the nation? Themes like freedom after bloody struggles, violent threats to outsiders are common as also a multi-racial, multi-lingual and even multi-religious world-view like in Nepal's new national anthem.

National anthems are usually very pompous and solemn affairs, which rouse emotions. Rather often they also resemble military marches. With a booster dose of patriotism any national anthem appeals to the passions of the people of the land. But, if we study the words of the national anthems of different countries, some words stand out as keywords and symbols of that particular culture.

National anthems have some typical themes.  Freedom from oppression, ancient land, our land is more beautiful and bountiful than others, we shall stand up and fight all aggressors, we shall drive away all enemies, God save our monarch – these are very often repeated themes.
  • Does the phrase “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto, In God we trust…Rockets red glare, bombs bursting in the air!” in the US national anthem reveal “manifest destiny” to conduct just wars and to conquer?
  • Do the words “Wide spaces for dreams and for living…” describe Russian character? 
  • Do the words “Scatter her enemies and make them fall; confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks…” in God Save the Queen of UK reveal a historical track record of being engaged in such activities?

Explicitly Ethnic or Religious Themes in National Anthems

Some national anthems are explicitly ethnic as “Hatikvah”, the Israeli one “As long as deep in the heart, the soul of a Jew yearns”. Mongolia is also proud to proclaim, “Our sacred revolutionary country is the ancestral hearth of all Mongols.” Mongolia adds a cautionary note though; “Our country will strengthen relations with all righteous countries of the world.” So representatives of “not righteous countries” (whatever than means!) should stay away from Mongolia.
  • North Korea – This Korea is THE Korea – “Let us devote our bodies and minds to supporting this Korea forever.”
  • South Korea – Surprise! This is THE Korea – “Our Korea hail!
  • Niger – “May the glorious voice of our race, free from tutelage, rise united surging as one man…”
  • Saudi Arabia – “My country may you always live, the glory of all Muslims!”
  • Vatican – “And peace to men who love Christ!”
  • Yemen – “An Arab I am in all my life!”

Threats and Violence in National Anthems

Some national anthems threaten enemies with all kinds of outcomes.
  • Afghanistan – Don’t mess with us! - “The land of peace, the land of the sword – Its sons are all brave”
  • Albania – God has special plans for Albania! - “For the Lord Himself has said that nations vanish from the earth, but Albania shall live on.”
  • Algeria – Our guns speak as no one listens otherwise!  - “When we spoke, nobody listened to us. So we have taken the noise of gunpowder as our rhythm, and the sounds of machine guns as our melody!”
  • Mexico – Lots of blood around. “May your countryside be watered with blood! …The patriotic banners saturated in waves of blood!”
  • Palestine – A very Guerrilla camp vision! “Palestine is my revenge….I will live as a guerrilla, I will go on as a guerrilla, I will expire as guerrilla until I return…”
  • Vatican – “Force and terror will not prevail, but truth and love will reign!”
  • Yemen – “No foreigner shall dominate over Yemen!”

In spite of all propaganda to the contrary, the German national anthem, does not contain violent threats. The first stanza “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles!” however is strictly “verboten” nowadays as only that stanza was used during the Nazi regime. In fact, it is rather peaceful, talking of brotherly stand, German women, loyalty, wine and song inspiring us to noble deeds.

Enemies Mentioned in National Anthems

Some national anthems specifically mention categories of enemies though not often other states.

  • Italy – “Mercenary sword are feeble reeds…the Austrian eagle has lost his plumes. This eagle that drank the blood of Italy and Poland, together with the Cossack…”
  • Bolivia – “If someday, any foreign power should try to subdue Bolivia…that pretentious aggressor”
  • France – Suggestion of foreign enemies with “impure” blood. “ our fields the roar of these ferocious soldiers who came right here in our midst to slaughter our sons and wives …may their impure blood flow in our fields..”
  • Laos – “The Lao people of all origins are equal and will not allow imperialists and traitors to harm them!”
  • Libya – “Woe to the imperialists! And God is above the treacherous tyrant!”
  • Luxembourg – “Protect this Luxembourger land from foreign yoke and woe!”

Non-human Enemies in National Anthems

In some anthems, the enemies are not people but other tribulations.
  • Malawi – “Put down each and every enemy, hunger disease and envy!”
  • Lesotho – “Keep us free from conflict and tribulation!”
  • New Zealand – “From dissension, envy, hate and corruption guard our state.”
  • Nigeria – God save us from our leaders! - “O God of creation, direct our noble cause, guide thou our leaders right…”

National Anthems Mention Rulers

Some anthems mention the ruler of the land (always male).
  • Bahrain – “Protected by our courageous Amir.”
  • Bhutan – “The protector who guards the teachings of the dual system. He, the precious and glorious ruler..”
  • Brunei – “God bless his majesty with a long life…Lord save Brunei Darussalam!”
  • Japan – “May your reign continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations…”
  • Jordan – “Long live the King! His position is sublime.”

Women Mentioned in National Anthems

  • Botswana – “O men awake and women close behind them stand.”
  • Denmark ­ “Strong men and noble women still uphold their country’s honour!”
  • Latvia – “Our lovely daughters near our singing sons appear!”

Peace and Goodwill in National Anthems

  • Belarus – Peaceful to begin with! – “We the Belarusians are peaceful people…living in a hardworking and independent family!”
  • India – “The saving of all people waits in thy hands!”
  • Liechtenstein – “Long live our fatherland, Through the bond of brotherly love, united and free.”
  • Lithuania – “May the Lithuanian sun take away the darkness!”
  • Nepal – Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka or “Made of Hundreds of Flowers” – “Land of knowledge, land of peace!”
  • New Zealand – “Peace, not war shall be our boast.”

Multiracial Theme in National Anthems

  • Nepal – Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka or “Made of Hundreds of Flowers proudly proclaims ”Multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious and with a large culture progressive nation ours…”
  • New Zealand – The Aotearoa or God Defend New Zealand mentions “Men of ev’ry creed and race gather..”
  • Russia – “Eternal union of fraternal peoples!”

Directions to Go in National Anthems

  • China – “Let us build our new Great Wall! …Brave the enemy’s gunfire, march on!”
  • Vietnam – Battlefield! “Let us hasten to the battlefield! Forward! All together marching!”

National Anthem Trivia
  • National Anthems Without Words - Bosnia, San Marino and Spain have national anthems without official words.
  • National Anthem With Stanzas in Different languages – The South African national anthem is sung in Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English all five national languages of the country.
  • The national anthem of Vatican City, 'Inno e Marcia Pontificale', may only be performed in the presence of the pope or one of his representatives.
  • The shortest national anthem is the Kimigayo of Japan with only five lines.
  • The longest national anthem is the Greek one with 158 verses.
  • A foreigner created the same melody for the national anthem of two countries, Finland and Estonia. Frederick Pacius was German and not Estonian or Finnish.
  • Enoch Mankayi Sontonga gave the tune for the national anthems of three countries, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
  • A drinking song became a national anthem – The Star Spangled Banner of USA. In 1814 Francis Scott Key witnessed the British attack on Fort McHenry. This inspired him to write the poem, 'The Defense of Fort McHenry'. This poem was set to the meter of 'To Anacreon in Heaven' - a contemporary popular drinking song