Posts Tagged ‘Geography’

African History in Maps

July 5, 2020

Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980).

This is another book which I though might be useful for those with an interest in African history and archaeology. Colin McEvedy wrote a series of similar books, showing the progress of history through maps. They were on ancient, medieval and modern history, as well as an Atlas of World Population, with Richard Jones. This does the same for Africa, using maps of the continent from geological times through to 1978. The earliest is of the planet 175 million years ago, when Africa was part of a single supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Subsequent maps show how this had split into the modern continents by about 50 million years ago. This is followed by a map showing the development of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. The book then goes on with maps showing the early pre-human and human sites, the emergence of the different racial populations and language groups, and the various African peoples and the great states and civilizations, beginning with Nubia, Egypt, and Carthage. It shows the great migration and movements of peoples and their dispersion across the continent, and its population at various points in history. The maps also show Africa with southern Europe and the near east to illustrate how the empires from these areas expanded into Africa, such as Rome, Persia and the Arabs. Sometimes the movement of conquest was in the other direction, such as Carthage, whose territory included part of modern Spain, and the Almoravids, who rule Islamic Spain and part of northwest Africa. Some maps are of the continent as it was known to the ancient and medieval geographers in 1350, as well as the travels of Ibn Battuta, the Portuguese voyages of 1482-8, Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India of 1497-8, population and trade routes c. 1600, the foundation of European enclaves and trading forts, the population in 1800 and the European geographer’s view of the continent the same year and then in 1856, the European exploration of the east African lakes, and their invasion and conquest of the continent. The emergence of the newly independent African states is shown in a series of maps from 1960 onwards. The last map is of the African population as it was expected to be in 2000.

The blurb for the book runs

This is a succinct account of civilisation in the continent that gave birth to the human species.

It is a fragmented and turbulent history in which the movements of peoples contrast with the creation of permanent states – Egypt, the earliest organized kingdom in the world; Carthage, the trading city that built an empire to rival Rome; Nubia; Abyssinia; Mali, the land of gold; Benin and Zimbabwe. Seamen probe its coast, traders cross its deserts and gradually the exploiters move in; and then, in the twentieth century, Africa finds the leaders it needs to re-establish its independence and create the nation-states of today.

Using the formula successfully established in his previous historical atlases, Colin McEvedy outlines this progress with the aid of fifty-nine maps and a clear, concise trext. Though his synthesis will be especially useful to those involved in the teaching of African history, its broad perspectives will undoubtedly appeal also to the general reader.

This is obviously a dated book, and I’m not sure if some of the anthropological language used to describe some of the African races would be acceptable today. For example, the book distinguishes between Negroes, Pygmies and Bushmen. Obviously much of the book is very much as Africa was seen by outsiders, such as Arab travellers like Ibn Battuta, and the European explorers and conquerors. This is doubtless partly because many African cultures did not possess a written language before the appearance of Europeans. They did possess their own oral histories, and the Islamic empires of north Africa and Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia were literate. In the case of the Islamic states, this was in Arabic, which served as the official language in the same way Latin did in medieval western Europe.

Despite its limitations, I still think this might be useful for people with an interest in African history. The texts accompanying each map are short, often no more than two pages, so the book should be accessible to ordinary people and not just university students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bolsonaro – The Fascist Destroying the Brazilian Rainforest and Threatening Human Survival

August 24, 2019

Mike’s just put up a post this evening urging his readers look at an article on the Open Democracy website about the burning down of the Amazon rainforest by Brazil’s Fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a right-wing extremist, who defends Brazil’s military dictatorship. He also backs the campaign of the logging companies and the ranchers to open up the Amazon to exploitation and cultivation.

Except that, as Mike’s article points out, the soil is so poor that it only lasts for two harvests after the trees have been cut down. I can remember studying the problems of the Amazon, and similar parts of the planet, in the ‘A’ level geography class at school. Part of the course involved the Third World. The Amazon is a precious global resource, because its vegetation soaks up something like 20 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide. That’s why it’s been called the ‘lungs of the world’. It’s also the home to countless precious and endangered species of animals and plants. And biologists are also interested in it because some of the plant species may possess medicinal properties, and so be immensely valuable in the creation of new drugs and treatments for disease.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon do practise a form of agriculture, ‘slash and burn’. They cut down an area of forest to cultivate, but only do so for a fixed length of time before moving on to another area and leaving that part of the jungle to regenerate. It’s sustainable as it doesn’t exhaust the soil, as Western-style agriculture does.

It’s also an outright attack on the Amazon’s indigenous peoples themselves. The ranchers and loggers are very jealous of the extensive lands allotted to the Amerindian tribes as their reservations. These peoples have suffered a long, miserable history of European persecution. Following the European invasion of the New World, they were enslaved by the Portuguese settlers. Those that survived the devastation brought about by European diseases, that is. Conquistador accounts of journeys through the Amazon describe cities and communities that were wiped off the map. These accounts were thought to be just legends until archaeologists began discovering the house platforms and other remains belonging to these now vanished communities. These civilisations were vast, and it seems that the Amazon may have had a population of several millions before the catastrophe of European contact.

These sites are also of interest to ecologists, as the ‘black soil’ there has the power to regenerate, and restore its fertility.

Despite being protected under Brazilian law, the persecution and maltreatment of Amerindians continued into the 20th century. Encroaching farmers shot them as troublesome pests on their land. A few years ago, attacks by a group of loggers left one tribe virtually extinct. Although there were survivors, they are too few to form a viable breeding group. When they pass, so does their ancient people.

This is what is threatened by the actions of Bolsonaro and his backers in big business by the mass destruction of the rainforest. And if it goes, it may mean that the rest of the world goes with it as climate change becomes even more massive.

I realise that the subject of the Amazon is immensely touchy with patriotic Brazilians, who feel that it’s a resource they should be allowed to exploit. And I’m very aware that if the world declared that Britain should not be allowed to cultivate, or should be forced to rewild some of its forests, our people would similarly be indignant.

But this goes beyond the rights of individual nations. This is a catastrophe that threatens the world. The international community must join forces and aid the left-wing activists and ecological opposition in Brazil, if we are to preserve the rainforest and ourselves.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/24/brazil-is-burning-its-way-to-climate-change-apocalypse-and-the-rest-of-the-world-is-happy-to-allow-it/

Sam Seder of Majority Report fame has also put up a video on YouTube in which Michael Brooks and his team identify Bolsonaro as the Human species’ greatest threat to survival. Here it is.

Zelo Street Demolishes Times Anti-Corbyn Smear

February 25, 2019

It seems the media really are absolutely terrified of Corbyn getting into No.10, as they’re increasing their vilification. Not only are the accusations that he, and his supporters in the Labour party, are anti-Semites are coming thick and fast from the Independents and the Blairites with the Labour split, but the right-wing, and specifically the Murdoch press, are falling back on the old canard that he’s a Trotskyite.

This morning, the good fellow at Crewe behind the Zelo Street blog put up a piece demolishing the latest attempt by the Murdoch press to defend Tom Bower’s biography of the Labour leader. This is the hit piece on Corbyn, which has screamed that he’s a ruthless operator, who has skillfully removed all ‘centrist’ – read: Thatcherite – opponents – who stood in the way of his ruthless ascent to power.

The claim itself is nonsense. Corbyn won the first Labour election partly because the Thatcherite vote was split between three candidates. And far from being a ruthless Machiavellian intriguer, one of the complaints I’ve heard is that he isn’t ruthless enough. When he first came to power, he was expected to purge the party bureaucracy of Blairites, just as Blair and Brown had purged the apparat before them and stuffed it full of their supporters. But he didn’t. If he had, we wouldn’t be suffering this mess now.

As for the revelations in Bower’s biography that supposedly reveal what an absolute blackguard he is, they’re incredibly disappointing. One of the worst of these came from his ex-wife, who says that he ignored her emotional needs, was boring and talked about politics all the time. What a bastard! This is hardly spousal abuse, It’s just two people, who were unsuited to each other. This fortnight’s Private Eye sent it all up with a spoof of it, by Tom Boo-hoo-hooer, with the title ‘Chapter 94, How Corbyn Wet the Bed, Cried All Night and Pooed his Nappies’.

Faced with this ridicule, the Times has seen fit to try to defend Bower, with the allegation that Corbyn is an academic failure – he apparently got two ‘Es’ and a failure at ‘A’ levels – but became a Trotskyite while teaching geography in Kingston, Jamaica. Corbyn went over there as part of the VSO programme. Apparently it was his experience of the 1968 Kingston riots that turned him into a radical leftist determined to create a British Communist state.

Zelo Street remarks that there are several problems with this. Firstly, no-one in Corbyn’s family told Bower about this, and the idea that they were deliberately concealing it from the old hack is absurd. David Osland on Twitter pointed out that at the time it would have been difficult for Corbyn to have become a Trotskyite in Jamaica, as there was then no Trotskyite movement there. Another Tweeter also pointed out that the real Trotskyites had Corbyn down as a trendy leftie, like Margaret Hodge, rather than anything further and more serious. John Field then made the point that most people accusing him of being a Trotskyite don’t actually know what a Trotskyite is. The article concludes

‘Exactly. Bower has been touring the TV studios, rambling on about communism without one gram of fact to back it up. He is just smearing with the objective of delegitimising Corbyn.
Trouble is, he’s not very good at it. Bit like the press which is enabling him, then.’
See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/corbyn-biographer-trotskyism-smear.html
And that’s also my experience of talking to people, who believe he’s Trotskyite: they don’t know what a Trotskyite is, and don’t off any evidence that he is one. None whatsoever. They don’t provide any evidence that he belonged to any Marxist organisation, let alone specifically Trotskyite one, or that he believes or has said anything remotely about Trotskyite dogma. It’s just smears without any shred of supporting evidence. But it’s said by the Times, the Mail and the rest of the dying press, so their readers believe it.