There Are Two Continents

For dozens of years, the human species have engaged ourselves in dweebish fights about how many con­ti­nents there are. Seven? Six, because America is one continent? Eight, because if Europe is a continent, then surely India deserves to be? Five, because they’re both just sub­con­ti­nents of Eurasia? Four, because of “Eur­afrasia”?

Enough. There are two:

A map of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

The Œcumene (ee·kyoo·mə·nee) holds what is trad­i­tion­ally con­si­dered the “Old World”, as well as the scattered islands of Australia and the Pacific seas. It stretches from the glaciers of Iceland and the sandy deserts of the Sahara to the rain­forests of Borneo and the harsh Aus­tra­lian Outback, and is home to over 6.6 billion people, the vast majority of the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

A map of America and Antarctica.

Cēmānāhuac (say·mah·nah·wack) consists of the con­ti­nents of America and Antarctica, stretching from the Alaskan fjords and the swamps of the Mississippi to the world’s lungs in the Amazon rainforest and the frigid wastelands of the Antarctic. It is home to 960 million people, though almost none of them live in the southernmost region of Antarctica.

Ambiguities may arise in off-shore islands that may not be able to be definitively assigned to either continent, such as the isolated islands of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. I’ve tried my best to assign them all to one or the other.

Iceland, though lying in between two continental plates, is definitively part of the Œcumene, having been settled from the east by Norsemen rather than from the west by Inuit. Similar reasons apply for Svalbard and Jan Mayen, both sparsely-populated isles controlled by Norway.

The Azores have strong cultural ties to Portugal, so, though the islands of Flores and Corvo lie on the North American plate, they are grouped with the rest as part of the Œcumene.

The island of Kerguelen lies within the Antarctic Convergence and on its own submerged microcontinent reaching out to Antarctica, so it can safely be classified as part of Cēmānāhuac. The same goes for the Heard and McDonald Islands.

The islands of the Pacific have long been grouped together with Australia as part of the continent of “Oceania”, and are almost all included in the Œcumene, even the American-aligned isles of Hawaiʻi and Rapa Nui. The islands of Clipperton and the Galapagos are grouped in Cēmānāhuac, however, as they are far closer to there than the Œcumene’s mainland, and were first inhabited by settlers going east from Cēmānāhuac rather than Polynesians going west from the Pacific.

Finally, the threading of the boundary between the Aleutian isles and the Bering Strait is a careful task, as there is a strong cultural linkage between the easternmost reaches of Russia and the westernmost tendrils of Alaska, and no obvious physical breakage point, with the North American plate continuing far into the Russian mainland. The best way of dividing it, then, is a political one; Russian islands such as Big Diomede and the Commander Islands are part of the Œcumene, while U.S.-American islands like Little Diomede, St. Lawrence Island, and Attu are part of Cēmānāhuac.

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