Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Latest on Evidence for Chinese Presence in Africa in early 1400s

Looks like Gavin Menzies wasn't such a "nut case" after all, heh heh.  From BBC News.

17 October 2010 Last updated at 20:07 ET
Could a rusty coin re-write Chinese-African history?
By Peter Greste, BBC East Africa correspondent, Mambrui, Kenya

It is not much to look at - a small pitted brass coin with a square hole in the centre - but this relatively innocuous piece of metal is revolutionising our understanding of early East African history, and recasting China's more contemporary role in the region.

A joint team of Kenyan and Chinese archaeologists found the 15th Century Chinese coin in Mambrui - a tiny, nondescript village just north of Malindi on Kenya's north coast.

In barely distinguishable relief, the team leader Professor Qin Dashu from Peking University's archaeology department, read out the inscription: "Yongle Tongbao" - the name of the reign that minted the coin some time between 1403 and 1424.

"These coins were carried only by envoys of the emperor, Chengzu," Prof Qin said.

"We know that smugglers would often take them and melt them down to make other brass implements, but it is more likely that this came here with someone who gave it as a gift from the emperor."

And that poses the question that has excited both historians and politicians: How did a coin from the early 1400s get to East Africa, almost 100 years before the first Europeans reached the region?

When China ruled the seas

The answer seems to be with Zheng He, also known as Cheng Ho - a legendary Chinese admiral who, the stories say, led a vast fleet of between 200 and 300 ships across the Indian Ocean in 1418.

Until recently, there have only been folk tales and insubstantial hints at how far Zheng He might have sailed.

Then, a few years ago, fishermen off the northern Kenyan port town of Lamu hauled up 15th Century Chinese vases in their nets, and the Chinese authorities ran DNA tests on a number of villagers who claimed Chinese ancestry.

The tests seemed to confirm what the villagers have always believed - that a ship from Zheng He's fleet sank in a storm and the surviving crew married locals, meaning some people in the area still have subtly Chinese features.

Searching for clues

It was then that Peking University organized its expedition to try to find conclusive evidence. The university is spending $3 million (£2 million) on the three-year project.

Prof Qin's team chose to dig in Mambrui for two reasons.

First, ancient texts told of Zheng He's visit to the Sultan of Malindi - the most powerful coastal ruler of the time. But they also mentioned that Malindi was by a river mouth; something that the present town of Malindi doesn't have, but that Mambrui does.

The old cemetery in Mambrui also has a famous circular tomb-stone embedded with 400-year-old Chinese porcelain bowls hinting at the region's long-standing relationship with the East.

In the broad L-shaped trench that the team dug on the edge of the cemetery, they began finding what they were looking for.

First, they uncovered the remains of an iron smelter and iron slag.

Then, Mohamed Mchuria, a coastal archaeologist from the National Museums of Kenya, unearthed a stunning fragment of porcelain that Prof Qin believes came from a famous kiln called Long Quan that made porcelain exclusively for the royal family in the early Ming Dynasty.

The jade-green shard appears to be from the base of a much larger bowl, with two small fish in relief, swimming just below the surface of the glaze.

"This is a wonderful and very important piece, and that is why we believe it could have come with an imperial envoy like Zheng He," Prof Qin said.

Re-writing history?

While the evidence is still not conclusive, it undermines Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama's claim to have been the first international trader to open up East Africa.

He arrived in 1499 on an expedition to find a sea route to Asia, and launched more than 450 years of colonial domination by European maritime powers.

"We're discovering that the Chinese had a very different approach from the Europeans to East Africa," said Herman Kiriama, the lead archaeologist from the National Museums of Kenya.

"Because they came with gifts from the emperor, it shows they saw us as equals. It shows that Kenya was already a dynamic trading power with strong links to the outside world long before the Portuguese arrived," he said.

And that is profoundly influencing the way Kenya is thinking about its current ties to the East.

It implies that China has a much older trade relationship with the region than Europe, and that Beijing's very modern drive to open up trade with Africa may in fact be part of a far deeper tradition than anyone suspected.

In 2008 China's trade with the continent was worth $107bn (£67bn) - more even than the United States, and 10 times what it was in 2000.

"A long time ago, the East African coast looked East and not West," said Mr Kiriama.

"And maybe that's why it also gives politicians a reason to say: 'Let's look East' because we've been looking that way throughout the ages."


Unknown said...

...the spanish always brag, to believe columbus discovered american is to believe the greatest historical cuckold the world has ever known.
speaking of the chinese, a review of olmec pieces taking
2 hours or so of scanning will convince anyone of their oriental origin, especially the eared spoons
that are chopsticks.
a look into early southern chinese history will show they were
conquered by archers from the altai, even though they came in from korean ports of the east,
and left the nauatl based language,
yue=jyut/jyu, which is none other
than our nauatl word, yuhti(N)=
from the beginning, also the root
of, yuh'di(hebrew)=juden/judy/justice.
when one applies letra to,
ca(n)ton-ese=ca-tona(N)=sun being,
a reference to cave bear worship
of neander, whose farthest eastern
range was the altai mts, the word
also found as, karhunen(Finn)=
ca-tonatiuh(N)=bear=oldest finnish
clan of karelia.
this is another proof, clue if
you like, that language comes out of ritual myth, ritual myth out of cavebear solstice-christ neander worship, and nauatl pie transmits
this message at promethean cave level.
what to say about katonah, ny,
i don't know, but it seems clear
that cavebear christ worship
extended fron northern europe,
europe proper, iberia, hibernia,
inverness, (hibernate), hiver(Fr),
in cave complexes all the way to
the altai, with deer worship
alongside it.

Jan said...

Hola Carlos,

You bring up some interesting points about the extremely ancient use of the bear in shamanistic rituals and the worship of the bear spirit, and later as a bear goddess/god. A short check on the internet "bear in ancient religion" yielded lots of interesting information, most of which I didn't know. For instance, at this link is a lot of information about the ancient Celts and a bear sanctuary at Berne, "Artos/Arta" - bear. "Andarta" - strong bear - was worshipped at Die (Drome). There is further information, including the fascinating bit that the name Arthur may have a bearish meaning based on the old Celtic root "art-"!

At this website on Artemis, This page describes her cult in the southern and eastern regions of the Peloponnese. Here her most celebrated shrines were that of the bear-goddess of Brauron in Attika... .

There is that root "art-" again, in Artemis' name! And she is connected to the bear shrine at Brauron.

The bear was/is important to the Ainu; a spirit in the form of a man lives in the mountain but he takes the form of a bear to give his gifts of meat and fur.

The Sami long worshipped the spirit of the bear, and the bear was sacred to many indigenous peoples in North America. The reindeer was also sacred to them.

There are two root words related to bear that I found in the above information: "art-" and "ber-" --your letra =v/be(a)r=bear. Absolutely fascinating.

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