What History can teach us

The impact that history plays on modern events is one of the most overlooked factors in our society. Even more disturbing is the fact that even its influence on minute and seemingly “unimportant” factors is ignored, with humanity opting to look at the present situation as a “new phenomena”; a genesis of an occurrence. Today, the rise of talks on reparations and justice for crimes committed over two centuries ago have helped in sparking an interest into why such talks would take place. Many resorted to dictionaries and website articles for the meaning and information regarding certain terminologies and why certain things that were proclaimed to have happened in the past happened. To go into this article continually talking about the importance of history would not do justice to the topic, so let us look at a few examples.

The African continent

The African continent is the second largest of the continents, both by land space and by human population. Approximately 1.1 billion people call this land mass home, with many declaring it to be the very cradle of civilization; the place that saw the birth of humanity. Africa is home to some of the oldest civilizations, some of which are still in existence today, only as countries with different ethnic compositions and political systems; far smaller versions to their once ancient, vast forms.

The two of most notable mention are the Egyptian and Ethiopian nations.

Ancient Egypt Pyramids
The Ancient Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx statue

Egypt is described as being the oldest existing civilization on the planet, having arose along the southern plains of the Nile River in the year 3200 BC. Some even speculate that it is older. Disputes are made concerning the origin of writing, with some stating that it originated in Sumer in Mesopotamia and others concluding that it arose from the ancient Egyptians during a period that existed before the occurrence of the 1st dynasty of Egyptian kings. Egypt also brought to the world inventions such as paper, make-up, the ox-drawn plough (for agriculture), black ink, the sun dial, and wigs. They were masters of architecture and invented a calendar system that was used as guide for the development of future calendars by the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, and of course, the Gregorian calendar which is widely used throughout the world today. In actuality, the Egyptian calendar consisted of 365 days with 12 months occurring in each year. Each month consisted of 30 days except the last month which was given 5 extra days. This calendar was structured based on the flood cycle of the Nile river to give farmers a clear vision as to the best times to plant crops and to reap harvest. They also instituted seasonal separations, observing three main seasons; akhet (the season of inundation), peret (the season of growth) and shemu (the season of harvest).

A map of the African continent from 1276 AD showing the vast reaches of the Ethiopian empire

Although Egypt is well known as an ancient civilization and a source of innovation, its actual effect on the globe might not be as large as that of Ethiopia, although its global influence is probably more well-known. Ethiopia, which was in ancient times known as “Kush” or “Cush”, is a nation situated to the Eastern regions of the African continent, just south of Egypt. The name “Ethiopia” comes from the Greek word “Aithiopia” which means “charred” or “burnt”. “Aithiopia” also is derived from the root word “Aithiops” which literally means “I burn”, specifically referring to a “burnt-like” appearance in the faces of the inhabitants. It is also traditionally seen that many of the inhabitants of ancient Egypt came from pre-organized Cush. This means that the original inhabitants of both Egypt and Ethiopia would have been people of a dark-skinned nature. A well known part of Ethiopia’s history is its lineage of kings and emperors, in particular the Queen of Sheba (mentioned in the Holy Bible and other historical texts), King Menelik I (traditionally believed to be her son), Emperor Menelik II, and Tafari Makonnen, who was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1930, becoming the last of Ethiopian emperors. Perhaps the most impacting mentions of Ethiopia in history come from the Holy Bible’s mention of the nations multiple times, most notably in the book of Genesis in the creation account, and  the nation’s mention in the two oldest of Greek texts written by the philosopher Homer; Iliac and Odyssey. In these two texts Ethiopia was described as a place where the Greek gods frequently visited for rest and for inspiration, communing regularly with the Ethiopians.

The Indian sub-continent

A painting showing an Indian doctor conducting Rhinoplasty (Plastic surgery) on a patient. Here, the doctor is rebuilding the patient’s damaged nose

The nation of India by itself has a greater population than the entire continent of Africa. It is a peninsula that protrudes out of the southern end of the Asian continent and is home to a culture that is rich and vast, all built around the river system of the Indus river. The Indus River Valley Civilization dates back to around (or even before) 5,000 BC and, along with Mesopotamia (centered around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) and the Nile River Basin Civilizations, is one of the three major Civilizations that were established which brought about formal human settlement. Ancient India and the surrounding sub-continental areas (present day Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh) are arguably the most influential players in global health and scientific research and innovation. One of the grandest eras in Indian history was the Gupta dynasty which occurred from 320 AD to 550 AD. Under the leadership of King Chandragupta I (of special mention), India witnessed one of its greatest periods of peace, prosperity and innovation. During Chandragupta’s reign, India developed the modern-day numerical system (the invention of the numbers 1-9), including the decimal system and the number zero, which were developed by the India mathematician and astronomer Aryabhatta. Aryabhatta also developed the formula for finding the area of a triangle. Since a triangle represents the foundation shape of a polygon, this formula represented a major leap in the area of construction and engineering. India, despite popular knowledge, was also the birth place of the first theories suggesting the existing of the atom and the theory of relativity, many centuries before the birth of Albert Einstein and his relativity proposals. India is also the birth place of modern medicine and surgery, the latter of which was conducted in complicated fashion despite the absent of appropriate and effective anesthesia. Surgical procedures that were invented in India include Plastic surgery, Cataract removal and Dental surgery.

The West Indies

The peace treatise being made between the Kalinago chiefs and the British military leaders on St Vincent, 1773

The islands of the West Indies represent one of the most overlooked and underappreciated areas on the globe. The European entrance and the various slave trades and indentured labor movements that occurred created a gateway into the solidifying of the American continents and the West Indian islands as major players in the global economic situation. The West Indies in particular brought to the world a mixture of ethnic groups, the likes of which was not seen by Egypt, Ethiopia, China, Israel, India or any other ancient civilization. Not only did it bring Chinese, Indians, Portuguese, Scottish men and women, West Africans, Scandinavians, Western Europeans and Amerindians together, but it brought the prospect of interracial breeding into reality, on a scale that was not seen before. As a result, new ethnic groups emerged, creating a more kaleidoscopic human being, the like of which is popularly seen the world over today. From the West Indian region came nations that influenced the world in various ways, from sports and recreation, to economic and political issues. Jamaica became the first country in the Western Hemisphere (and one of the first in the world) to receive electricity in the year 1892, 13 years before American scientist and inventor Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. In 1773 a peace treatise was signed between the Kalinago people and the British settlers on the island of St Vincent, temporarily bringing the “Carib War” to a hault. This was one of the first occurrences in which a treatise was signed between native people and European settlers for peace arrangements in the Caribbean region and in the modern world. Also, in 1823, the African American ex slave, William Henry Brown, wrote the play “the Drama of King Shotaway” which was based on the Carib wars and the exploits of Chief Joseph Chatoyer on the island of St Vincent. This drama was the first drama ever written by an African American and ex-slave.

Many places around the world have been the host of various events and happenings that have helped to shape history, some well known to us and others practically hidden. When looking at situations that occur today, whether triumphant or tragic, one cannot help but inquire as to the historical events that would have occurred one-by-one, in a certain chronological order, to bring about a certain result. History can teach and show us so much. It can show us that innovation is an ongoing phenomenon. It can teach us that situations that occur now have also occurred in the past. It can then present the oxymoron of those same “reoccurring situations” having a new twist to them. Terrorist attacks, Cyber crimes, Pollution, Political rifts and shifts, scientific and medical innovations, war, famine, etc; they are all occurring and all have occurred before. What can we learn from the past? How can we use the knowledge of the triumphs and tragedies that occurred to shape the future. Perhaps, we can open our eyes and ears and just let history teach us a little bit.



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