Monday, 1 July 2013

Le Tour de France & Corsica & The Marquesas Islands

Tonight, before the 3rd stage of the 100th Tour de France in Corsica, I googled to get more background after yesterday's ride. A word caught my eye. Maqui and maquis. So superficially similar to the word Marquis and Marquesas. Could there be a connection? What I learnt was that a maqui is a dense growth of shrubs growing about 2-4 metres high, throughout the Mediterranean area. I wondered whether the Marquesas Islands had been named as such because someone noticed similar vegetation. Further googling reminded me that a marquis is a non-British nobleman with a ranking between a duke and a count, and that a marquise is the wife or widow of a marquis or a woman holding the rank of marquis in her own right. The word entered Middle English (as marques) from the Old French marchis ("ruler of a border area") in the late 13th or early 14th century. The French word was derived from marche ("frontier"), itself descended from the Middle Latin marca ("frontier"), from which the modern English words "march" and "mark" also descend. I enjoyed one clever word player who remarked 'The "marquis" (a nobleman) stepped silently through the "maquis" (a dense growth of shrubs in the Mediterranean area) and into the "marquee" (a large tent, often with open sides)'. How impressively rich our language can be! Regrettably the Mediterranean scrub surrounding this year's Tour de France riders is not relevant to the Marquesas Islands. It would seem that the name "Islas de la Marquesa de Mendoza" was given them by the first European visitor in 21 July 1595. The Spanish explorer and navigator, Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, named the islands in honour of the wife of the Viceroy of Perú (García Hurtado de Mendoza, 5th Marquis of Cañete). She was the patron of the voyage. I am yet to discover when the Mendoza part of the name fell out of use. Of course the islands always have had their own native names; Te Fenua ‘Enata and Te Henua Kenana When the Spanish arrived there were approx 90,000 people living on these islands. By the end of the late 19th century, perhaps 6000 local people remained. The incoming diseases and the murder of locals by the visitors accounted for most of the shocking decline.

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