vrijdag 23 maart 2012

The myth of the American nomad



Even if a lot of people now know that horses were introduced by the Europeans, and that the Hollywood Indian thus is NOT a authentic picture of how native peoples lived when Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, there still remains that romantic idea of wandering nomads, living in harmony with Mother Nature. Even among a lot of native peoples themselves. This is because of a lack of proper education and a focus on European and Europeanized pre-1500 history.
I can present this history in 5 phrases:

Man originated in Africa, wandered around the world, and, around 10.000 years before the birth of Christ, invented agriculture in the Middle East.

A good 5000 years later the first cities and states arose in that same area and civilization spread around the world reaching Old Greece around the year 1000 BC.

Things also happened in China and India but Greece is the founder of modern Western Civilization so we focus on that.

They developed true alphabetic writing and democracy, passed that over to Ancient Rome, which was later transformed into an empire that eventually took over Christianity, spreading this faith throughout Europe and beyond.

The new faith blossomed in the Middle Ages and was spread in the Renaissance by the big discoverers in the world like Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

The last 500 years are even easier:
Europe conquered America, had big wars about which Jesus was the best one, created new fabulous art styles and ways of thinking, established colonies in the east and thus controlled the whole sea trade around the world out of which eventually grew more and more competition between the European superpowers (mostly Spain, Portugal, France, Netherlands, England) that resulted in the reducing of Portugal, Spain, and in the end the Netherlands so that finally only France and England ruled the waves.

After the death of the French Sun King however, only England was left although they didn’t enjoy that for too long, being kicked out of North America by their own subjects which made France very proud again, trying once more to establish French power in Europe and failing to do so because of England and the new powers like Austria-Hungaria, the German empire and the Russian Czardom in the east.

Three more wars followed between the old and the new superpowers while in the mean time they conquered Africa, Asia and Australia, establishing the new democratic, free and civilized state of living we all enjoy today…

Happy end?

Of course not. Not only because this is a very simplistic version of European history, and also not because the dubious last phrase (which seem to imply that European colonization did only good to the other continents), but also, last but not least, because it IS ignoring the fact that North & South American history, African history, Asian and Australian history, is world history too.

World history that is ignored in most books in school, but also at the university. Even the internet is quite Eurocentric… (if you don’t believe this, check out Google Translate and count the amount of American, Australian, and African languages. And if you believe this is about numbers of speakers, just count the total amount of speakers of the following European languages used by Google Translate: Basque, Esperanto, Galician, Irish, Icelandic, Latin, Maltese & Welsh. Compare this to American languages like Quechua, Aymara & Guarani or African languages like Hausa, Wolof, and Amharic)

It might seem obvious that knowing something about Amerindian history is useful to North and South American people. Just like African history seems useful to African people. But even on those continents, very little is known and most history taught in schools is European history (although in the Americas it’s a lot worse than in Africa since the latter one is almost entirely independent of Europe and/or its descendants, while the Americas are almost entirely ruled by Neo European countries, most of them established in the 19th century)

But what about WORLD History? Should Europeans or Asians learn Amerindian, African, and Australian history? Did American Indians, Africans, or Aboriginal peoples in Australia and the Pacific have a large influence on world history, worth learning? Although most people won’t realize it, the simple answer to this question is YES. And the most simple answer to the question WHY then is “Because of these great European discoverers like Columbus and Da Gama”. They brought Europeans in contact with “The Other”, it was because of their voyages that modern day globalization is what it is. Europe is not an island. European peoples are not more or less unique than others. History shouldn’t be only about one continent, simply because nowadays we think that the world has been Europeanized or Westernized. Globalization is globalization because it covers the world. Without peoples, products, markets, cultures, religions, languages, economies, science, and inventions from other places than Europe, Europe would still be the tiny place it is. One of the great achievements of Europeans was to trade, communicate, work together, and share with other peoples on other continents. In this way Europeans learned from non-Europeans and taught to non-Europeans. Europeans globalized the world for the first time, but this was only possible TOGETHER with peoples from other continents. It is time we recognize this.

So, man originated in Africa, wandered around the word and started agriculture in the Middle East. And the Andes. And Mexico. And China. And the island of Papua. And India. And Western, and Eastern Africa. And eastern North America. Crops and civilizations spread around the world, not from one place, but from many.

Around 5000 years later the first complex societies arose, not only in the Middle East but also in Peru, Egypt, China, and India. Cities, organized religions, writing systems, pyramids, temples, and organized trade, and leadership appeared. Why first in these places? Nobody knows for sure although there are of course a lot of educated guesses. 

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