The true origins of “Africa begins at the Pyrenees”

This deeply resented peripheralising aphorism was coined not by Alexander Dumas but by Dominique Dufour de Pradt or conceivably the Conde do Funchal.

Africa begins in the Pyrenees, according to this Sun OpenSolaris installer.

Africa begins in the Pyrenees, according to this Sun OpenSolaris installer. Image: Rafa Espada.

My last post is about the old problem of providing a slightly more useful answer to the question of where Hell is than “Where God is in His wrath,” or whatever. “Africa empieza en los Pirineos,” like the British M6, helps make the choice between Hell and Heaven relevant by creating a physical connection between the two. The phrase is one of a bunch used by residents of the Carolingian Coal and Steel Community (with bastard Norman outliers) to locate themselves in the European heartland.

Alexandre Dumas père is usually credited, which seems pretty unlikely since when Domingos António de Sousa Coutinho, Count of Funchal wrote in La guerre de la Péninsule sous son véritable point de vue (1816) that Dominique Dufour de Pradtfait commencer l’Afrique aux Pyrenées” Dumas was only 14. A quick trawl doesn’t turn up any written record of M de Pradt having used the phrase, but his bestselling account of France’s dreadful experiences during the then recent Peninsular War, Mémoires historiques sur la révolution d’Espagne (1816), contains a sturdy exposition of the substance behind the slogan:

It is an error of geography to have assigned Spain to Europe; it belongs to Africa: blood, manners, language, the way of life and making war, in Spain everything is African. The two nations have been mixed up for too long–the Carthaginians who came from Africa to Spain, the Vandals who left Spain for Africa, the Moors who stayed in Spain for 700 years–for such a long cohabitation not to have confused the race and customs of the two countries. If the Spaniard were Mohammedan, he would be completely African; it is religion that has kept it in Europe.

C’est une erreur de la géographie que d’avoir attribué l’Espagne à l’Europe; elle appartient à l’Afrique: sang, mœurs, langage, manière de vivre et de combattre; en Espagne tout est africain. Les deux nations ont été mêlées trop longtems, les Carthaginois venus d’Afrique en Espagne, les Vandales passés d’Espagne en Afrique, les Maures séjournant eu Espagne pendant 700 ans, pour qu’une aussi longue cohabitation, pour que ces tranfusions de peuples et de coutumes n’aient pas confondu ensemble les races et les mœurs des deux contrées. Si l’Espagnol était Mahométan, il serait un Africain complet; c’est la religion qui l’a conservé à l’Europe.

I believe both de Pradt and do Funchal attended the magnificently sociable Congress of Vienna, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that the former used it there as a way of expressing succintly his view of the post-Napoleonic era and the latter gratefully noted it for future use–it seems unlikely that a Portuguese count would have either classified himself as African or been so modest as to deny authorship of such a striking phrase. Dumas fils, says Néstor Luján, denied that his father would have uttered the phrase, both being passionate admirers of Spain,

despite having been stoned by the entire population of a village in the province of Granada whose name I do not care to recall.

Not exactly a resounding endorsement.

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    1. Lavengro
      May 3rd 2010 21:34

      I haven’t heard this for some time now, but about 15 years ago a Catalan asked me, with a tortured expression, whether Spain was really a European country. I replied that Spain could never be properly European as long as people kept on worrying about that question.

    2. Trevor
      May 4th 2010 08:14

      I can imagine another equally bleak view that says it won’t be properly European until it understands the question, whatever it may be.

    3. xavi
      June 25th 2010 00:30

      I wonder who gets to decide who is European and who is not… it is very easy to critisize Spain for its perceived brutality and comfortably forget British brutality in the colonial wars, French brutality in the peninsular war or German brutality as recently as seventy years ago.
      It is very easy to say that Spain was occupied by moors for 700 years and assumme that they munst have left an “ugly” african stain in Spain and then conveniently ignore that the porcentual amount of moors in spain at its peak is lower than the proportion of moors in France today. And that only the very south of Spain was actually occupied by 700 years, and yes, of course they left some cultural trace behind,´but this is hardly negative thing, just something that makes Spain richer than it would be without it.

    4. JD
      June 27th 2010 13:28

      There are endless variations on the theme. Vicente Risco, the major intellectual in early Galician nationalism, divided the peninsula racially into Euroiberia and Afroiberia. The Galicians were Celts and superior. The Valencians were Moors and inferior. (He also defended the Nazis’ approach to Jewry as the necessary reaction of the German nation.)

    5. Trevor
      August 5th 2010 11:13

      Mahmoud Ahmadinejad begs to differ: “Look at this country of England — a small island in West Africa. These people made weapons and ships; they attacked people; they subjugated India, whose area is 10 times the size of England, whose populations is tens of times larger!”

    6. sirlawrenceofarabia
      January 30th 2012 21:23

      When the British were living in thatched huts the Arab city of Cordoba had 2 miles of street lighting. I’m talking about 1,000 years ago.

    7. observadorimparcial
      January 31st 2012 13:30

      Eso es muy relativo. Es como si yo dijera que Asia comienza en los paises nordicos porque viven alli los lapones, que son de raza oriental.

    8. observadorimparcial
      February 2nd 2012 07:59

      Todo ésto son peliculas que se montan como la de la leyenda negra. Si ésta hubiera sido cierta y en efecto se hubiera producido tal genocidio en la America hispana, ¿Como se explica que hoy en dia el 90 % de la poblacion mexicana y el 85% de la poblacion boliviana o peruana tengan sangre indigena, mientras en Estados Unidos y Canada dichos indigenas son tan solo entre el 1 y el 2%? Estas proporciones demuestran que fueron los anglosajones los que exterminaron a los indios.

    9. trebots
      February 2nd 2012 22:55


    10. observadorimparcial
      February 5th 2012 09:10

      All this are movies that are mounted like the black legend. If this had been true and in fact that genocide had occurred in Hispanic America, how is it that today 90% of the Mexican population and 85% of the Bolivian or Peruvian population have Amerindian blood, while in the United States and Canada Amerindians are only between 1 and 2%? These ratios show that anglo saxons were who almost exterminated the Amerindians.

    11. Candide
      February 5th 2012 16:11

      That’s it, OIP? No further scrutiny of History, demographics and the specific socio-political contexts?

      Let me guess: you’re Spanish.

    12. observadorimparcial
      February 5th 2012 18:27

      Of course, I am Spanish.

    13. Candide
      February 5th 2012 21:27

      And of course you have to toe the party line.

    14. trebots
      February 6th 2012 00:18

      Can we loop this thread back to “Lavengro” at #1 and introduce the idea of a non-geographical continuum?

    15. observadorimparcial
      February 6th 2012 08:09

      What do you mean by “to toe the party line?” I do not belong to any party.

    16. Candide
      February 6th 2012 14:54

      Yes sir, Mr Trebots. Anyway I much feel like Phil Connors.

    17. observadorimparcial
      February 6th 2012 17:46

      Who are Phil Connors?

    18. observadorimparcial
      February 6th 2012 17:49

      Sorry, I meant who is Phil Connors?

    19. Candide
      February 6th 2012 19:07,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=1757818b46afd945&biw=1280&bih=866&ix=hea&ion=1

    20. trebots
      February 7th 2012 00:22

      Excuse me, but you seem to be forgetting that this blog is dedicated to exalting Styrian pumpkin seed oil.

    21. observadorimparcial
      February 7th 2012 08:54

      Why talk now of Styria? Are you an Austrian Nazi?

    22. trebots
      February 7th 2012 09:55

      You’re early mate: But the prime month in the year for trolling is Oclaber, when the Pike are fattened by their summer’s seed, the weeds are rotted, … Chuse to troll in clear, and not muddy water, and in. windy weather, if the wind be not easterly.

    23. Candide
      February 7th 2012 13:12

      Well, OIP, someone has to say it: Trebots is actually a panslovenian activist, and he has never been able to digest the territorial split/loss.

      You’ll find variations of Štajerska moja dežela in many of his organ works. Double sense fully intended.

    24. observadorimparcial
      February 7th 2012 13:44

      Do not go around the bush. I also like to know if you 2 are men or women.

    25. trebots
      February 7th 2012 14:13

      Yes. I think it is you who is beating around his bush.

    26. Candide
      February 7th 2012 21:26

      Ain’t there someone got a big stick? JIC, I won’t come out of the… well, bush. What else.

    27. observadorimparcial
      February 8th 2012 07:09

      You have not answered my question of whether you are men or women. And Trebots, what exactly do you mean with your post number 14? Do you I have to remember that Spain has a per capita income higher than in Slovenia?

    28. Trebots
      February 8th 2012 11:38

      Men vs women: My doctor says that health cuts mean that that question can no longer be resolved.
      14: It’s relatively easy to say where Africa commences geologically, but Pradt’s notion that African and European personality traits can be isolated and that the frontier between these can be found on a map is absurd and dangerous. This post was mocking that notion.

    29. observadorimparcial
      February 8th 2012 12:42

      Your doctor? Do you visit a psychoanalyst?

    30. Candide
      February 8th 2012 20:14

      You’re getting this all wrong. Trebots is the evil personality. I am the mad one.

    31. Candide
      February 8th 2012 20:23

      We do occasionally play the old Kafir polo, don’t we Trebots?

    32. observadorimparcial
      February 9th 2012 08:25

      I’m not sure, you Kafir polo is that polo in which the ball is a dead goat to which the head off? I guess then that you are men.

    33. observadorimparcial
      February 9th 2012 08:30

      I think you’re a little liar. You say trebots is Slovenian. Slovenians do not play Kafir polo.

    34. Trebots
      February 9th 2012 11:26

      Nor did Marco Polo travel in the Republic of South Africa.

    35. Candide
      February 9th 2012 12:55

      Trebots is just too modest: Slovenians should be proud to have modernised the game using VW Polos instead of horses. And yes, in Slovenia women do drive.

      Horses don’t. No do they speak.

    36. observadorimparcial
      February 9th 2012 17:51

      Of course in Slovenia women do drive but in Afghanistan no. And kafir polo is not played in Slovenia.

    37. observadorimparcial
      February 9th 2012 17:56

      I was in Slovenia and I not see anyone playing kafir polo. What I saw were the caves where the olm lives.

    38. observadorimparcial
      February 9th 2012 18:19

      Maybe you’re one of those women Slovenian put your photo on the internet to try to catch a live Spanish in Spain and well out of hunger?

    39. observadorimparcial
      February 9th 2012 18:22

      “Moors and Africans”, but wealthy. So are the Spanish.

    40. Candide
      February 9th 2012 23:16

      Well, Trebots, I think our work is done.

    41. observadorimparcial
      February 10th 2012 14:59

      The work is not done because trebots have not fished still any Spanish man.

    42. Candide
      February 11th 2012 02:10

      Pfff. How do you think we got the ball for our last game?

      The olms of the Postojna caves are the poor pale souls of those who stayed on the field.

    43. observadorimparcial
      February 11th 2012 08:07

      So you are telling me is that you played the Kafir polo with the head of bin Laden?

    44. observadorimparcial
      February 11th 2012 08:12

      Oh no, that of playing Kafir polo with the head of bin Laden is what we do in Spain. In fact we bought it the Americans for 10 cents.

    45. observadorimparcial
      February 11th 2012 08:14

      The Americans left us at 10 cents after a hard bargain because they asked for 15.

    46. observadorimparcial
      February 14th 2012 12:40

      Why do not you write, Candide? Did you get a passport, like Bin Laden?

    47. Love, Imagination, and Wantoning Words: An Essay on and around Rikki Ducornet’s Gazelle | John Pistelli
      June 7th 2013 03:10

      […] Italians say, “Garibaldi didn’t unite Italy, he divided Africa.”  Or that “Africa begins at the Pyrenees.”  Or consider that commonplace of fascism and anti-Semitism that understands Judeo-Christianity as an […]

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