National Anthems and Their Geographic Implications

In 1931, the Star-Spangled Banner was signed into law as the official national anthem of the United States.

While our national anthem is essentially a battle hymn (take a look at the lyrics here) that is not the case for many countries in the world.

Israel and Palestine

Take these translated lyrics of Israel’s national anthem:

The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

The lyrics define a particular place that is sacred to Israelis and then exclaim that, for two thousand years, it has been their destiny to live there. (Use our rich collection of resources to better understand the spiritual geography of that particular place—Jerusalem.

Of course, this claim of land ownership based on sacred grounds has some folks up in arms—literally. If you have watched the news at all for, oh … the last 40-odd years, you probably have heard about the Arab/Israeli conflict that has manifested itself in border disputes between Israel, its Palestinian population, and its surrounding Arab neighbors.

Perhaps it is no surprise then, that Palestine’s national anthem is one of struggle against adversity:

By my strong will and my inflaming rage, my volcanic revenge
By my yearning blood for my land and home
I have climbed the mountains and combated struggles
I have subdued in the impossible and smashed the shackles

The violent-yet-heroic lyrics suggest a national culture of pride and a longing for a day when Palestinians can reclaim what many interpret as their lands.

The two anthems, of course, represent the cultural identities of these countries in much the same way our Star-Spangled Banner represents ours—as a general barometer of national identity but in no way a consensus.

Australia

Some countries, like Australia, choose not to extol military victories, but instead proclaim the geography of their territories. This verse is primarily concerned with the physical geography of the country:

Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts,
Of beauty rich and rare

Indeed, Australia is surrounded—girt—by oceans on all sides!

In another verse, lyrics proclaiming Australia’s location in the Southern Hemisphere are combined with descriptions of its governmental system and continuing legacy as a nation of immigrants.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We’ll toil with heart and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours,
Renowned through all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas,
We’ve boundless plains to share

Do your students think “nations of immigrants” such as Australia and the U.S. have “boundless plains to share”, or are these lyrics another reference to conflict?

Canada

The Canadian national anthem recently underwent a lyrical change, substituting a gender-neutral pronoun in its opening verse:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all of us command.

The earlier lyrics read:
 
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
 
Why do your students think Canadians wanted a more inclusive national anthem?
 
North Korea
 
 
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) immediately identifies the nation’s geography as its defining feature:
 
May the  morning sun
shine on the rivers and mountains of this land
 
A specific geographic landform, Mount Paektu, is specifically mentioned in the second verse. Mount Paektu is considered the ancestral origin of Koreans among many on the peninsula.
 
Do your students identify a specific landscape with national identity?
 
South Sudan
 
 
The world’s newest national anthem belongs to the world’s newest recognized nation, South Sudan. The lyrics of “South Sudan Oyee!” are less geographic than other anthems on this list:
 
We rise raising flag with the guiding star
And sing songs of freedom with joy;
For justice, liberty and prosperity
Shall forever more reign.
 
Do your students think South Sudanese geography contributes to national identity? Take a look at our resources surrounding the “Lost Boys,” refugees from the Sudanese Civil War of the 1980s and 1990s, for some perspective.
 
Brazil
 
 
Like North Korea, Brazil’s national anthem identifies a specific place (the Ipiranga River, which flows through São Paulo) as a national landmark:
 
The placid shores of the Ipiranga heard
the resounding shout of a heroic folk
And the sun of Liberty in shining beams
shone in the homeland’s sky at that instant
 
Do your students associate landmarks with concepts like liberty or justice?
 
Where in the world?
 
So after taking a look at some of these national anthems, do you see your country’s anthem in a new light? What geographic elements, cultural or physical, are described in the song? 

Finally, consider where anthems are most likely to be heard. Why do your students think national anthems are associated with sports, and not other spectator events such as theatre, dance, or gaming? 

One thought on “National Anthems and Their Geographic Implications

  1. Yes, I practically find these two lines interesting and eye catching.
    “For those who’ve come across the seas,
    We’ve boundless plains to share;”
    So is it indeed a wonder why people from all over the world come down here to live?
    At this point of time, there are already hundreds of boat people seeking asylum to live in this vast country.

    Like

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