Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'm Reading Wrong.

I'm supposed to be writing about Singapore development in 1984, occupation by the Japanese in 1942 and colonialism by the British in 1819. All of which will take disgusting amounts of research about their respective cultures.

But what am I actually reading about?

PRE-COLONIAL AMERICA.

Seriously, it's dead interesting. Did you know that at the time of its conquest, the Incas had the biggest empire in the world - bigger than Ming China, Ivan the Great's Russia or Songhai? They never invented writing, so they employed thousands of men simply to remember administrative records (and inscribe them on knotted strings). And Pocahontas's rescue of John Smith from human sacrifice might have actually been a part of a ritual formally inducting John as a member of the tribe (first we threaten to kill you, then we embrace you) - after all, she was a priestess in training. And god, the thickness of population and sophistication of culture that existed across the Americas before an estimated 95% died from European diseases... all early Europeans were astounded by the high levels of activity and commerce and health and technology (their arrows shot further and more accurately than pistols, their huts kept out the rain better than English huts)...

And all of it got destroyed. Well, not all of it: there's a larger body of remnant texts in Nahuatl (Aztec) than in Classical Greek. But the incredible range of civilisations that existed across the Americas of which later settlers only saw disease-ravaged scattered tribes...

And I'm not even halfway through the book. Click here to check it out on Amazon, but you should be able to get it from anywhere. When I picked it up at Borders, my father said we had it already, 'cos he got 1491 mixed up with that incredible heap of malingering trash 1421. Typical.

(I also have gigantic stacks of writers from Hong Kong that I ended up buying. Some of them in fan ti zi. Yoiks.)

4 comments:

Laremy said...

These bloody ang mohs!

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

...not really the fault of the white people living today lah. Certainly most of the colonists were horrible people, but it's interesting to note how clueless most of them were about disease (both them and the Indians thought it was caused by the wrath of God).

In the meantime, I think Westerners more than Asians are exercising a curiosity to know about and celebrate these lost cultures (partly due to geographical heritage and guilt). Let's not be pots calling the kettles black.

矛盾 said...

In 1902, the Mexican poet Amado Nervo had written a poem in honor of the President Benito Juárez (a Zapoteca Indian), which he read in the House of Representatives, titled Raza de Bronce (Race of Bronze) praising the indigenous race, title which later in 1919 the Bolivian author Alcides Arquedas would give his book. Bronze (noble metal amalgamated of various metals) came to be metaphor for mestizaje (the mixing of the races.) According to the thinking of Vasconcelos, a Cosmic Race, the race of the future, is the noble race that is formed in the Americas since October 12, 1492, the race of mestizaje, an amalgam of the indigenous races of the Americas, the Europeans, the Africans, the Asians, the world — in a word, the human race made of a mixture of all the races which Vasconcelos called the Cosmic Race.

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

But heterosexual miscegenation is so power-based! Black guy, white girl; white guy, Chinese girl; Chinese guy, Vietnamese girl...