long-distance travel before magellan -- 09/16/20

Today's selection -- from The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World―and Globalization Began by Valerie Hansen. Long-distance travel and the inklings of globalization happened long before Magellan, da Gama, and Columbus:

"The long-distance slave trade in the Indian Ocean wasn't as large as in the Islamic world, probably because most societies were able to source slaves and other types of laborers locally. Moreover, the societies around the Indian Ocean didn't encourage the freeing of slaves as did contemporary societies in the Islamic world. As a result, they did not have to replenish their slave populations.

"The European voyages across these oceans around 1500 weren't the first chapter of globalization for the region. One thousand years earlier local mariners were already regularly traversing the sea routes later 'discovered' by da Gama and Magellan. Nor did European mariners introduce long-distance commerce, which was well established at the time of their arrival. What the Europeans wanted to do, and eventually did do, was cut out the middlemen and avoid paying duties to rulers. In Africa, the Europeans gained direct access to the sources of gold and slaves, and in the Spice Islands they found out how to purchase spices, woods, and other aromatics without going through middlemen.

"The most surprising journeys around the year 1000 took place between the Malay Peninsula and Madagascar on the east coast of Africa some 4,000 miles (6,500 km) away (just under the 4,400 miles, or 7,000 km, of Columbus's first voyage). Although Madagascar is only some 250 miles (400 km) off Africa's east coast, the language of the islands, Malagasy, is related to Malayic languages and not -- as you'd expect -- to the Bantu family of languages predominant in Africa and along the East African coast.

"Malagasy turns out to be in the same language group as Malay, Polynesian, Hawaiian, and the indigenous language of Taiwan. These Malaya-Polynesian languages have much in common: the Hawaiian word for 'forbidden' is kabu, while the Tahitians pronounce the same word as 'tabu' (the origin of 'taboo' in English). The peoples who settled the Pacific between 1000 BC and AD 1300 spoke languages in this family, as did those who went all the way to Madagascar.

"To linguists, then, it was clear that settlers speaking Malaya-Polynesian languages arrived in Madagascar before anyone from East Africa. Similarly, DNA tests on the modern population of Madagascar have shown that they have both Southeast Asian and African ancestors.

"Only recently have archeologists established the date when the peoples speaking Malayic languages came to Madagascar. They analyzed 2,433 charred seeds from eighteen archeological sites located on both the island of Madagascar and the East African mainland, which were dated between 650 and 1200. The East African coastal sites contained the seeds of sorghum, pearl and finger millets, cowpeas, and the baobab tree, all typical African crops, while the seeds found on Madagascar, such as rice, mung beans, and cotton, all originated in Southeast Asia. Some Madagascar sites produced only the remains of rice seeds, which point to the presence of presumably Asian settlers who ate a heavy rice diet. The voyagers also brought animals. Cats arrived in the 500 and 600s, chickens in the late 700s, and cattle, sheep, and goats in the 800s. The Malay settlements on Madagascar were well established by 1000."

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Valerie Hansen


The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World―and Globalization Began




Copyright 2020 by Valerie Hansen


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