down by the riverside – the river as a boundary

In so many places around the earth, rivers are also boundaries. Rivers, of course, are natural geographic formations that are often difficult for people to cross or to get around. And so in the history of peoples and communities and nations, rivers have inevitably become boundaries that define those peoples and relations between them.

 So the St. Lawrence River forms part of the boundary between the Canada and the United States in Eastern Ontario.

The Colorado River forms part of the boundary between the United States and Mexico.

The San Juan River forms a large part of the boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The Zambezi River forms a part of the boundary between Zambia and three other countries – Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Nambia.

Rivers are these natural geographic formations that in many places have also become political boundaries. One people or nation lives on one side of the boundary, and another people or nation lives on the other side of the boundary.

There are at least two ways of to think about rivers as boundaries. And we’ve already been thinking about river boundaries in one particular way – we’ve been thinking of them in terms of a separation – in terms of something that divides people or keeps them apart. From this point of view, the river as a boundary might even be a point of contest or conflict – the river as boundary might become a source of animosity and political strife – or even of war. One simple, historical example – in the war of 1812, American troops crossed the Niagara River to attack British settlements near Fort George and Fort Erie. The British and aboriginal populations there eventually pushed them back across the river. From this first point of view, the river is something that divides or keeps people separated from each other. Continue reading