Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 3/3

Welcome back. Today we’re finishing up with The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a Wanderer among the Aborigines.

Buckley (in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of our adventure,) was an English convict sent to Australia in the early 1800s. He escaped from the prison ship, hoping to make it to Sydney, which turned out to be about 1000 miles away. He had nearly died of thirst before some friendly Aborigines found him, saved his life, and, believing him to be a recently deceases relative returned from the grave, adopted him into their tribe.

Unfortunately, life in the “state of nature” was horribly violent, with tribes frequently attacking each other. Buckley blames most of the violence on fights over women, but occasionally notes the ways local animist beliefs also contribute to unending cycles of murder and revenge, in this case after a man who’d joined their community died of a snake bite:

1426857301587“The cause of this sudden unprovoked cruelty was not, as usual, about the women, but because the man who had been killed by the bite of the snake belonged to the hostile tribe, and they believed my supposed brother-in-law carried about with him something that had occasioned his death. They have all sorts of fancies of this kind, and it is frequently the case, that they take a man’s kidneys out after death, tie them up in something, and carry them round the neck, as a sort of protection and valuable charm, for either good or evil.”

EvX: Note that Buckley’s adoptive family, his sister and brother-in-law, who’ve been helping him since the tribe saved his life years ago, was killed in this incident.

I recently read an account of Florence Young’s missionary work in the Solomon Islands (which are near Australia.) I haven’t been using these Christian Heroes books for Anthropology Friday sources because they aren’t first hand sources and I have no capacity to judge their accuracy, but they are still pretty interesting if you’re a middle schooler hankering to read about Christian missionaries. Anyway, the book recounts an identical justification for the cycle of violence on the Solomon Islands (which was quite threatening to Florence herself.) Every time someone died of any natural cause, their family went to the local witch doctor, who then used magic to determine who had used malicious magic to kill the dead guy, and then the family would go and kill whomever the witch doctor indicated.

The advent of Christianity therefore caused a power struggle between the missionaries and the witch doctors, who were used to being able to extort everyone and trick their followers into killing anyone who pissed them off. (See also Isaac Bacirongo’s account of the witch doctor who extorted his pre-pubescent sister as payment for a spell intended to kill Isaac’s wife–note: Isaac was not the one buying this spell; he likes his wife.)

Returning to Buckley, after the death of his friends:

“I should have been most brutally unfeeling, had I not suffered the deepest mental anguish from the loss of these poor people, who had all along been so kind and good to me. I am not ashamed to say, that for several hours my tears flowed in torrents, and, that for a long time I wept unceasingly. To them, as I have said before, I was as a living dead brother, whose presence and safety was their sole anxiety. Nothing could exceed the kindness these poor natives had shown me, and now they were dead, murdered by the band of savages I saw around me, apparently thirsting for more blood. Of all my sufferings in the wilderness, there was nothing equal to the agony I now endured.” …

“I returned to the scene of the brutal massacre; and finding the ashes and bones of my late friends, I scraped them up together, and covered them over with turf, burying them in the best manner I could, that being the only return I could make for their many kindnesses. I did so in great grief at the recollection of what they had done for me through so many years, and in all my dangers and troubles. ”

After this, Buckley cares for his deceased relatives’ children, a blind boy and a little girl. This goes about as depressingly as expected:

“Our small community remained in perfect harmony for many months, until, unfortunately, a young man about twenty years of age, belonging to another tribe, arrived. This youth was taken seriously ill a few days after joining us, and although we did all we could for him he died. This event created great distress, and by way of changing the scene, our small party broke up, and left the Karaaf on a short hunting excursion. After a time we fell in with the deceased young man’s family, who, on being informed of his death, expressed great astonishment and rage, fancying it had been brought about by some unfair means on our part. This excitement arose to such a height, as to approach what it would be mercy to describe insanity. After a time, they forced the poor blind boy away from me, and killed him on the spot, because he had happened to be in the same hut in which the young man died, believing he had been in some way the means of his death.

“After this, they roasted the body in the usual manner; but whilst this was going on I left, with the little girl, moving on, and on, until meeting the tribe to which the man belonged to whom in her infancy she had been promised; I explained all the particulars of the sacrifice of her poor blind brother. They immediately vowed vengeance, and two or three of them set out for the purpose of murder, returning in a few days with the intelligence that they had killed two
of the children of their enemies. …

“Having transferred her to the care of these people, I set off alone, determined to live by myself in order to avoid a repetition of the scenes I had witnessed, and all further intercourse with the natives.”

EvX: Buckley didn’t live entirely alone–he got married twice in this period–but he did try to avoid large tribal gatherings for a long while, and lived mostly alone for some time, out of both grief and a practical desire to avoid danger. During that time he built himself a couple of huts and a fishing weir that served him well. After several years it appears he resumed interacting more with others, as he reflects later:

“I had seen a race of children grow up into women and men, and many of the old people die away, and by my harmless and peaceable manner amongst them, had acquired great influence in settling their disputes. Numbers of murderous fights I had prevented by my interference, which was received by them as well meant; so much so, that they would often allow me to go
amongst them previous to a battle, and take away their spears, and waddies, and boomerangs. My visits were always welcomed, and they kindly and often supplied me with a portion of the provisions they had, assuring me, in their language, of the interest they took in my welfare.”

Stanley island rock art showing European ships
Stanley island rock art showing European ships

EvX: Despite his friends and remaining family, at the first news of English ships in the area, Buckley rushed to the spot. He attempted to make contact, but couldn’t swim out to the ship and couldn’t convince the ship to send a boat to him (Buckley had, at this point, forgotten how to speak English.) Buckley was again heartbroken until another ship showed up, and he found the English colonists and tried to approach them:

“Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out–my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure [Buckley was around 6’5” or taller,]–dressed, or rather undressed, as I was–completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions, which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread–calling it by its name–a cloud appeared to pass from over my brain, and I soon repeated that, and other English words after him. …

The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861
The first settlers discover William Buckley, by Frederick Woodhouse, 1861

“Word by word I began to comprehend what they said, and soon understood, as if by instinct, that they intended to remain in the country; that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom–as they said–they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.”

EvX: Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people, with whom Buckley lived, claims that they did have chiefs:

Prior to European settlement, 25 separate clans existed, each with an arweet, or clan headman.[5] Arweet held the same tribal standing as a ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri people.

The page on ngurungaeta says:

Ngurungaeta is a Woi-Wurrung word meaning ‘head man’ or ‘tribal leader’. Used by Clans of the Woi-Wurrung tribes and Taung Wurrung Ngurai-illum Wurrung ref First Peoples, GaryPresland.[1] Ngurungaeta held the same tribal standing as an Arweet of the Bunurong and Wathaurong people. The current Ngurungaeta is Murrundindi.

Ngurungaeta include:

  • Bebejan – one of the seven ngurungaeta who signed the 1835 treaty with John Batman[2]

Signing of the threaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist's impression)
Signing of the treaty between John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders (artist’s impression)

John Batman is the leader of the colonists Buckley is here discussing. By all accounts, Batman was not a nice guy–he massacred villages, kidnapped children, and negotiated treaties with people who had no hope of understanding what he really meant.

According to Buckley, the Aborigines had intended to murder Batman and take all of his trade goods–something was definitely opposed to. Despite his friendships with the natives, Buckley longed to be rescued and return to English society. He therefore worked hard to convince the Aborigines not to kill Batman, and likewise, tried to stop the settlers from killing the Aborigines (including acting as an interpreter in a capital murder trial, successfully preventing an Aborigine man from being executed for a crime he didn’t commit.) In the end, of course, there was nothing Buckley could do about white treatment of the Aborigines, a subject matter far too vast for me to deal with it here.

I find it interesting that throughout these sorts of accounts–and I include here Napoleon Chagnon’s account of the Yanomamo, famed for their violence–people still tend to believe in the essential goodness of their companions. Buckley does not say, “Oh, these Aborigines, they’re evil people who kill people and eat them!” No, he repeatedly states his gratitude to them for saving his life, taking them in, and treating him kindly. His feelings of grief upon the loss of his Aborigine family appear quite genuine. He does not think they should murder and eat each other, but he does not seem to attirbute these behaviors to character flaws. Likewise, though Buckley criticizes the English for their mistreatment of the Aborigines, he does not declare them evil, either.

Nor does Napoleon Chagnon dislike the Yanomamo tribesmen he’s lived with, despite the fact that he knows full well that a great many of them are murderers!

Which leaves us with our ultimate questions:

What does it mean to be good?

What does it mean to be evil?

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Anthropology Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, pt 2

1280px-aboriginal_art_wall_-_panoramioWelcome back to Anthropology Friday, The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years among the Aborigines.

To be fair, Buckley was not an anthropologist. He was just a soldier-convict-guy who happened to get lost in Australia and was adopted into an Aborigine tribe. Years later he found colonists, re-joined white society, and dictated his life’s story, resulting in this book.

Buckley doesn’t relate many of the standard “cultural” tropes that I tend to associate with Aborigines–he makes no mention of the Dreamtime, says very little about myths, and is silent on coming of age rituals or magic rites.

Perhaps these weren’t prominent among the Aborigines he happened to live with, or he never learned about them, or he just thought them less interesting or important to his future readers than his accounts of violence. Certainly they were much less important to his life than the constant threat of death.

But he does include some cultural details, many of which I’ve excerpted below. (BTW, I’m including some images of Aborigine art, but none of them are–as far as I know–related to the folks Buckley lived with. They’re just here to look nice.)

Aborigine counting:

“We remained in peace and quietness, until a messenger came from another tribe, saying we were to meet them some miles off. Their method of describing time is by signs on the fingers, one man of each party marking the days by chalkings on the arm, and then rubbing one off as each day passes. ”

The bunyip--a very confused beast
The bunyip–a very confused beast

The Bunyip, a mythical creature:

“In this lake, as well as in most of the others inland, and in the deep water rivers, is a very extraordinary amphibious animal, which the natives call Bunyip, of which I could never see any part, except the back, which appeared to be covered with feathers of a dusky grey colour. It seemed to be about the size of a full grown calf, and sometimes larger; the creatures only appear when the weather is very calm, And the water smooth. I could never learn from any of the natives that they had seen either the head or tail, so that I could not form a correct idea
of their size, or what they were like. ”

EvX: Some people claim that the inclusions of details like the bunyip imply that Buckley’s account is untrustworthy. Obviously any account probably has some inaccuracies, but I don’t think the bunyip should be counted against Buckley anymore than Herodotus’s giant ants against his Histories. Buckley lived in a land of unfamiliar plants and animals, and his friends told him, “That thing in the tree is a koala; that hoppy thing is a kangaroo; that thing that just went swish plop out of sight in the swamp is a bunyip,” and he took them at their word.

Later in the account Buckley expresses some doubts on the matter, noting that the aborigines were afraid of the bunyip and thought it bad luck to try to hunt it, but he wanted to find and kill one when they weren’t around to figure out what sort of creature it was.

On marriage (paging HBDChick):

Bradshaw rock paintings,
Bradshaw rock paintings

“The only ceremonies they use preparatory to marriage are, in the first place, to get the parents’ consent, the suitor’s best claim is being a good fighter, and an expert hunter, so as to be able to protect and provide for a family. They are not at all particular as to the number of wives such men have; consequently some have five or six wives, and others none at all. If a man wishes to have a man’s grown up sister for a wife, he must give his own, if he has one, in exchange; but they are very averse to marrying one of their own relations, even of a distant degree.

“If a woman is supposed to have a child who is not her husband’s, they consider it a great disgrace; and to the infant, death is almost certain. If again, a family increases too rapidly,
for instance, if a woman has a child within twelve months of .a previous one, they hold a consultation amongst the tribe she belongs to, as to whether it shall live or not; but if the father insists upon the life of the child being spared, they do not persist in its destruction, and especially if it is a female.”

EvX: Female privilege.

I have read that the % of fetuses aborted in the US today and the % of infants infanticided in premodern cultures is about the same.

Continuing:

“I may as well here also mention a curious custom they have relative to their domestic affairs … In many instances, a girl, almost as soon as she is born, is given to a man. After this promise, the mother of the child never again voluntarily speaks to the intended husband before he takes her to himself nor to any of his brothers, if he has any; on the contrary she shuns them in the most careful manner.”

EvX: I don’t know if we should take him literally that infants were engaged to grown men, but at any rate, since the stated cause of much violence was that a girl who had been promised at birth to one man was desired at marrying age by another man, it seems like a great deal of violence could have been eliminated by discontinuing this custom.

Air burial:

“The next morning, those who remained went to the tribe to which the murdered man belonged, and found him rolled up in his rug, ready to be tied up in a tree, a mode of disposing of the dead, who were not enemies, unknown to me before. They selected a strong, if not a lofty tree, and in the branches, about twelve feet up, they placed some logs and branches across, and sheets of bark; on these they laid the body with the face upwards, inclining toward the setting sun, and over it was placed some more bark and boughs, and then logs as heavy as the branches would bear; all this being done to protect the body from the birds of prey.”

Religion:

“They have no notion of a Supreme Being, although they have of an after life, as in my case; and they do not ofler up any’ kind of prayer, even to the son or moon, as is customary with most other uncivilized people. They have a notion, that the world is supported by props, which are in the charge of a man who lives at the farthest end of the earth. They were dreadfully alarmed on one occasion when I was with them, by news passed from tribe to tribe, that unless
they could send him a supply of tomahawks for cutting some more props with, and some more rope to tie them with, the earth would go by the run, and all hands would be smothered. Fearful of this, they began to think, and enquire, and calculate where the highest mountains were, and how to get to them …so as to have some chance of escape from the threatened
danger.”

“The next day we moved on to another fresh water lake of considerable extent, where we encamped, not very much at our ease, as we saw another tribe on the opposite shore. In the middle of the night we heard a dreadful uproar in that direction, and in the morning learned that those we had seen before dark had been fallen upon by some others whilst they were sleeping; so on hearing this we went to their assistance. On our arrival a horrid scene presented itself, many women and children laying about in all directions, wounded and sadly mutilated. Several of the poor creatures had rushed into the lake and were drowned. The few who had escaped were hiding themselves in the reeds; but on our proffering assistance and protection, they joined us, and went to our huts. The dead were left, it not being safe to lose time in burying them, as our number was not sufficient to make us safe from a similar attack.”

1024px-st_georges_road_aboriginal_history_mural_3Organization:

“Having come to another halt, the better way perhaps will be, for me here to state, that the tribes are divided into families; or rather, I should say, composed of them, each tribe comprising from twenty to sixty of them. They acknowledge no particular Chief as being
superior to the rest; but, he who is most skilful and useful to the general community, is looked upon with the greatest esteem, and is considered to be entitled to more wives than any of the others. They contrive to keep a tolerable account, by recollection, of their pedigree, and will not, as I observed before, knowingly marry a relation, except where two brothers happened
to be married, and one dies; in that case the survivor claims the widow; in fact, as many wives or widows as he has left behind him. Should the women object, there is little chance of their lives being spared, as this law of custom is absolute.”

EvX: Not female privilege.

“They are in general, very kind to their children, excepting the child is from any cause, believed to be illegitimate ; and again, when a woman has been promised to one man, and is afterwards given to another; in such case, her first-born is almost invariably killed at its birth. The tribes would be much more numerous were it not for these barbarous and inhuman sacrifices.

“As soon as the children are able to toddle about, they begin, as if by instinct, to search for food, and at four or five years of age, are able to dig roots and live without the aid of their parents, to whom, as may be supposed, their drapery, and washing and combing, etc., is no sort of trouble. They are all stark naked, and tumble about in the lagoons and rivers, like so many jolly young porpoises playing in the sun.”

EvX: I suspect he is overestimating the foraging capabilities of 5 yr olds.

Cannibalism and mental illness:

“They have a brutal aversion to children who happen to be deformed at their birth. I saw the brains of one dashed out at a blow, and a boy belonging to the same woman made to eat the mangled remains. The act of cannibalism was accounted for in this way. The woman at particular seasons of the moon, was out of her senses; the moon, as they thought, having affected the child also, and, certainly, it had a very singular appearance. This caused her husband to deny his being the father, and the reason given for making the boy eat the child
was, that some evil would befall him if he had not done so.”

“However, the man himself having escaped, he, with others, went in the night to the hut of the savage who had killed his brother, and speared him dead; having done which, they cut the most of the flesh off his body, carrying it away on their spears to mark their triumph. The next day and night there was a continued uproar of dancing and singing, to notify their joy at these horrible events, during which, the mangled remains of the man were roasted between heated stones, and they eat part of them, and no mistake; for I saw them join in the horrible repast, and was requested to do so likewise, which of course I refused to do, evincing the greatest disgust at their proceedings.”

EvX: Buckley appears to feel some guilt upon relating this incident, because it will reflect badly upon his friends in the minds of his readers:

“Having been rescued from death by starvation, it is only natural that I should, from a feeling of gratitude, desire to save the natives from so great a reproach; but the truth must prevail, and that many of the natives inhabiting this part of the continent of New Holland are cannibals, under particular circumstances, cannot be doubted.” …

“Strange as all these cannibal ceremonies may appear, it is proper to explain, that many are performed out of what they consider respect for the deceased, the cap bones of whose knees, in this instance, after being carefully cleaned, were tied up in a sort of net of hair and twisted bark. Under such circumstances, these relics are carried by the mothers, tied round their necks
by day, and placed under their heads by night, as affectionate remembrancers of the dead. ”

1426857301587Music:

“All those I met with, excepting in times of war, or lamentation, I found to be particularly fond of what they consider music, although they have no kind of instrument except the skin rug, which, stretched from knee to knee, they beat upon, others keeping time with sticks. So passionately attached are they even to this noise, that they often commence in the night, one family setting them on, until at last they one and all become a very jolly set, keeping it up in one continual strain until daylight. I have often wished them and their enchanting enlivening strains on the other side of the Continent, with the queer old conjuror who manages the props already mentioned…”

Life and Death:

“Considering how they are exposed to the weather, it is wonderful how little they suffer from idleness; for, excepting a sort of erysipelas, or scurvy, with which they are sometimes afflicted, they are In general very healthy. I never observed any European contagious disease prevalent, in the least degree; and this I thought strange. There was at one time however, I now recollect, a complaint which spread through the country, occasioning the loss of many lives, attacking generally the healthiest and strongest, whom it appeared to fix upon in preference to the more weakly. It was a dreadful swelling of the feet, so that they were unable to move about, being
also afflicted with ulcers of a very painful kind. ” …

“The natives live to about the same age, generally, as civilized people, some of them, to be very grey-headed. They have an odd idea of death, for they do not suppose that any one dies from natural causes, but from human agencies: such as those to which I have alluded in previous pages of this narrative. The women seldom have more than six children, and not often so many. So soon as they have as many as they can conveniently carry about and provide for, they kill the rest immediately after birth : not to eat them, as may be supposed, but with the idea that, for the sake of both parties, and under such circumstances, death is practical mercy.”

Technology and trade:

“… I must say something about their tomahawks … The heads of these instruments are made from a hard black stone, split into a convenient thickness, without much regard to shape. This they rub with a very rough granite stone, until it is brought to a fine thin edge, and so hard and sharp as to enable them to fell a very large tree with it. There is only one place that I ever heard of in that country, where this hard and splitting stone is to be had. The natives call it karkeen; and say that it is at a distance of three hundred miles from the coast, inland. The journey to fetch them is, therefore, one of great danger and difficulty; the tribes who inhabit the immediate localities being very savage, and hostile to all others. I was told, that it required an armed party of resolute fighting men, to obtain supplies of this very necessary article; so that the tomahawk is considered valuable for all purposes.”

EvX: Constant war makes trade impossible.

In a second incident that, like the Bunyip, appears to be based more in myth than reality, Buckley relates having met the Pallidurgbarrans:

“I had almost forgotten to say, that in my wanderings about, I met with the Pallidurgbarrans, a tribe notorious for their cannibal practices; not only eating human flesh greedily after a fight, but on all occasions when it was possible. They appeared to be the nearest approach to the brute creation of any I had ever seen or heard of; and, in consequence, they were very much dreaded. Their colour was light copper, their bodies having tremendously large and protrubing bellies. Huts, or artificial places for shelter, were unknown to them, it being their custom to lay about in the scrub, anyhow and anywhere. The women appeared to be most unnaturally ferocious, children being their most valued sacrifice. Their brutality at length became so harrassing, and their assaults so frequent, that it was resolved to set fire to the bush where they had sheltered themselves, and so annihilate them, one and all, by suffocation. This, in part, succeeded, for I saw no more of them in my time. The belief is, that the last of the race was turned into a stone, or rock, at a place where a figure was found resembling a man, and exceedingly well executed; probably the figure-head of some unfortunate ship. ”

The Pallidurgbarrans are apparently mythical, (I’ve been able to find rather little about them at all,) and Buckley’s account is given with no particular context connecting it to the rest of the narrative, indicating that it might, indeed, have been made up.

Of course this does not rule out the possibility of the account having some basis in fact–perhaps they are a tribe known more popularly under another name–though it seems unlikely that Buckley himself ever actually encountered them.

The story is actually a very common mythic trope–the woods (or swamps) are filled with sub-humans who engage in various acts seen as evil by their neighbors, such as cannibalism, incest, rape (carrying off women from nearby tribes,) etc. For example, the aboriginal people of Taiwan have a festival that commemorates a tribe of “dark-skinned pygmies” which they claim to have wiped out 400+ years ago for being too friendly with their women. Folks on the isle of Flores, Indonesia, speak of the Ebu Gogo–literally, “grandmother who will eat anything.” Wikipedia recounts:

The Nage people believe that the Ebu Gogo were alive at the time of the arrival of Portuguese trading ships in the 17th century, and some hold that they survived as recently as the 20th century, but are now no longer seen. The Ebu Gogo are believed to have been hunted to extinction by the human inhabitants of Flores. They believe that the extermination, which culminated around seven generations ago, was undertaken because the Ebu Gogo stole food from human dwellings, and kidnapped children.[4]

An article in New Scientist (Vol. 186, No. 2504) gives the following account of folklore on Flores surrounding the Ebu Gogo: The Nage people of central Flores tell how, in the 18th century, villagers disposed of the Ebu Gogo by tricking them into accepting gifts of palm fiber to make clothes. When the Ebu Gogo took the fiber into their cave, the villagers threw in a firebrand to set it alight. The story goes that all the occupants were killed except perhaps for one pair, who fled into the deepest forest, and whose descendants may be living there still.

Europeans, of course, have their child-snatching fairies and man-eating trolls, and we Americans have our “the woods are full of creepy serial killers” horror-movie trope.

We’ll continue next week!

Anthropology (yes!) Friday: The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines…

William Buckely
William Buckely

Hey everyone, today we are reading The Life and Adventures of William Buckley: 32 years a wanderer amongst the Aborigines of the then unexplored Country Bound Port Phillip, the province of Victoria. (That is a long title.)

Buckley, a British soldier caught stealing a bolt of cloth, was shipped out to their penal colony in Australia, ran away to the bush, nearly died, and was rescued by the Aborigines, who taught him how to live off the land. He lived with them for 32 years (from 1804 through 1835,) without sight nor sound of another Englishman, and had likely given up hope of ever returning to civilization when colonists finally arrived in the area. In 1852 he dictated his life’s adventures to John Morgan, who wrote the book, and wow is it Hobbesian.

We’ll start with Buckley’s first encounter with the Aborigines:

Approximate location of Buckley's wanderings
Approximate location of Buckley’s wanderings

“…I thought I heard the sound of human voices; and, on looking up, was somewhat startled at seeing three natives standing on the high land immediately above me. They were armed with spears, and had opossum skins thrown over their shoulders, partially covering their bodies. Standing as they did, en an elevated position, armed too, and being myself totally defenceless, I confess I felt alarmed … They were however soon upon my track, and shouting what I considered to be a call for me to come out, I resolved to do so; indeed I could not have remained there long on account of the water.

“With but faint hopes of meeting with good treatment at their hands, I crawled out from my shelter, and surrendered at discretion. … After seizing both my hands, they struck their breasts, and mine also, l making at the same time a noise between singing and crying: a sort of whine, which to me sounded very like premeditated mischief. Pointing to my hut, they evinced a desire to examine it, so we entered. … One made up a large fire, another threw off his rug and went into the sea for crayfish, which, on his return, he threw alive into the flames, at the same time looking at me with an expression as much as to intimate that they intended to grill me next, by way of a change of diet. I can afford to smile, and even laugh now at the recollection; but, at the time, I assure the reader, I was by no means satisfied with the prospect before me, or with my visitors. At length my suspense ended, by their taking the fish, fairly dividing them, and handing to me the first and best portion.”

EvX: In his defense, the Aborigines in the area did practice cannibalism, though I think of the ritual variety.

Buckley parts ways with his new acquaintances, nearly dies of thirst, then encounters some more Aborigines:

Buckley's escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist
Buckley’s escape from the convict ship and discovery by the Aborigines, by Tommy McRae, Aborigine artist

“Whilst searching for the gum already mentioned, I was seen by two native women, who watched me unperceived. … Presently they all came upon me unawares, and seizing me by the arms and hands, began beating their breasts, and mine, in the manner the others had done. After a short time, they lifted me up, and they made the same sign, giving me to understand by it, that I was in want of food. The women assisted me to walk, the men shouting hideous noises, and tearing their hair. When we arrived at their huts, they brought a kind of bucket, made of dry bark, into which they put gum and water, converting it by that means into a sort of pulp. This they offered me to eat, and I did so very greedily.

Artist's interpretation of Buckley's apperance
Artist’s interpretation of Buckley’s apperance

“They called me Murrangurk, which I afterwards learnt, was the name of a man formerly belonging to their tribe, who had been buried at the spot where I had found the piece of spear I still carried with me. They have a belief, that when they die, they go to some place’ or other, and are there made white men, and that they then return to this world again for another existence. They think all the white people previous to death were belonging to their own tribes, thus returned to life in a different colour. In cases where they have killed white men, it has generally been because tkey imagined them to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they were hostile. In accordance with this belief, they fancied me to be one of their tribe who had been recently killed in a fight, in which his daughter had been speared also. …

Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined
Wathaurong people, from the tribe Buckley joined

“I remained with them all that night, but in great anxiety, not knowing their intentions; I thought several times of endeavoring to make my escape, but in my weak state, it was impossible. The women were all the time making frightful lamentations and waillings–lacerating their faces in a dreadful manner. All this increased my anxiety and horror, which was added to in J the morning, When I saw the frightful looking demons they had made themselves. They were covered with blood from the bounds they had inflicted, having cut their faces and legs into ridges, and burnt the edges with fire sticks sticks. …”

EvX: Once Buckley learned their language, he figured out that all of this lamenting was for “his” sake, since they believed him to be their family member whose death they were still sad about, and whom they thought had returned from the dead after suffering such horrible traumas that he had clearly lost his memory, forgotten how to speak their language, and become a half-starved idiot who didn’t know how to gather food.

Once the mourning ends, there proceeds a great deal of singing, dancing, and celebration:

“The reader, in these colonies, will be aware that what I had witnessed was nothing more than a great Corrobberree, or rejoicing, at my having come to life again, as they supposed. After eating some roots I lay down by the side of my new friends, and although so recently highly exited, yet I enjoyed a sleep undisturbed by dreams, either of the past, the preset, or the future.”

r331409_1494994EvX: So Buckely is basically “adopted” into the Wathaurong tribe, taking the place of the dead man everyone believes him to be. “His” sister and brother-in-law take charge of him, making sure he has food and water, teaching him to hunt and speak, etc.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page on the Wathaurong people doesn’t say much about their traditional culture or lifestyle beyond:

Wathaurong, also called the Wathaurung and Wadawurrung, are an Indigenous Australian tribe living in the area near Melbourne, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. They are part of the Kulin alliance. The Wathaurung language was spoken by 25 clans south of the Werribee River and the Bellarine Peninsula to Streatham. They were sometimes referred to by Europeans as the Barrabool people. They have inhabited the area for at least the last 25,000 years, with 140 archaeological sites having been found in the region, indicating significant activity over that period.

Personally, I am extremely skeptical of any group sticking around in the same spot for 25,000 years, but I’m not in the mood to go hunting down the relevant archaeological journals to see if someone has proved conclusively how to distinguish Wathaurong artifacts from those of their neighbors and that those same artifacts were being produced in the area 25,000 years ago (or someone could dig up an ancient skeleton and test its DNA to see who it matches.) Regardless, someone was living there.

From here the book is dominated by accounts of violence, eg:

“in the mean time, the women behind the huts were all fighting with clubs and sticks. Presently the men, excepting the two with me, rushed toward them, in order to separate the combatants, after which they brought roots which they roasted and offered me. What the fight was about I could not understand, but think it must have originated in the unfair division of the food.”

“At break of day, I heard a great noise and talking; at length I saw that a quarrel had ensued, for they began to flourish their spears as a token of hostilities I should here observe, that these spears are very formidable weapons, about twelve feet long, sharp at one end; others are about half that length, being made of a kind of reed with pointed sticks joined to them; these are sharpened with hard cutting stones, or shells. …

“After a little time, and a great deal of challenging bluster, the two tribes commenced fighting in reality. When my relations, for so for convenience, I suppose, I must sometimes call them, saw what was going on, they led me a short distance off, where they remained
with me, looking at the conflict. It was any thing but play work–it was evidently earnest. One man was speared through the thigh, and removed into the bush, where the spear was drawn, A woman of the tribe to which I had become attached, was also speared under the arm, and she died immediately. At last peace was restored, and the parties separated, except about twenty of the tribe to which the woman belonged who had been killed…”

“we left this place, and joined a friendly tribe, about fifty in number, and on the evening of our meeting had a Corrobberree. The next day we all started together to meet another tribe; but on joining, from some cause or other, they quarrelled, commenced fighting, and two boys were killed. I could not then understand what all these quarrels were about, but afterwards understood that they were occasioned by, the women having been taken away from one tribe by another, which was of frequent occurrence. At other times they were caused by the women willingly leaving their husbands, and joining other men, which the natives consider very bad.”

“After the skirmish just mentioned was over, the tribe to whom the boys belonged retired farther into the bush, when we made our huts, as I have described, with boughs and bark. Suddenly in the night, the others came upon our party and drove us away. The bodies of the two boys who were killed were laying in one of the huts, so they cut off their legs and thighs, carrying them away; the remains of their bodies our people burned in the usual manner…”

“On our arrival at the battle ground, about twenty miles distant, we found five different tribes all collected together, and ready for action. The fight commenced immediately, and it lasted about three hours, during which three women were killed, for, for strange to say, the females in these quarrels generally suffered the most. These continual contests alarmed me, for the contending parties were always pointing toward me, as if I had been their origin, and I again began to think I should be sacrificed as a peace offering. Quiet was at length restored, and the tribe we had joined separated from the others, and came toward where I was standing. ”

Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)
Waddies (Aboriginal war clubs) made by the Aranda people

“we were unexpectedly intruded upon by a very numerous tribe, about three hundred. Their appearance, coming across the plain, occasioned great alarm, as they were seen to be the Waarengbadawa, with whom my tribe was at enmity. … The women ran with their children into the bush, and hid themselves, and being a living dead man, as they supposed, I was told to accompany them. On the hostile tribe coming near, I saw they were all men, no women being amongst them. They were smeared all over with red and white clay, and were by far the most hideous looking savages I had seen. In a very short time the fight began, by a shower of spears from the contending parties. One of our men advanced singly, as a sort of champion; he then began to dance and sing, and beat himself about with his war implements… Seven or eight of … our opponents, then got up also, and threw their spears at him; but, with great dexterity, he warded them off, or broke them every one, so that he did not receive a single wound. They then threw their boomerangs at him, but he warded them off also with ease. After this, one man advanced, as a sort of champion from their party, to within three yards of him, and threw his boomerang, but the other avoided the blow by falling on his hands and knees, and instantly jumping up again he shook himself like a dog coming out of the water. At seeing this, the enemy shouted out in their language “enough,” and the two men went and embraced each other. After this, the same two beat their own heads until the blood ran down in streams over their shoulders.

“A general fight now commenced, of which all this had been the prelude, spears and boomerangs flying in all directions. The sight was very terrific, and their yells and shouts of defiance very horrible. At length one of our tribe had a spear sent right through his body, and he fell. On this, our fellows raised a war cry, on hearing which, the women threw off their rugs, and each armed with a short club, flew to the assistance of their husbands and brothers; I being peremptorily ordered to stay where I was, my supposed brother’s wife remaining with me. Even with this augmentation, our tribe fought to great disadvantage, the enemy
being all men, and much more numerous.

“As I have said in the early part of this narrative, I had seen skirmishing and fighting in Holland; and knew something therefore, of what is done when men are knocking one another about with powder and shot, in real earnest, but the scene now before me was much more frightful, both parties looking like so many devils turned loose from Tartarus. Men and women were fighting furiously, and indiscriminately, covered with blood; two of the latter were killed in this affair …

“Soon after dark the hostile tribe left the neighbourhood, and, on discovering this retreat from the battle ground, ours determined on following them immediately, leaving the women and
myself where we were. On approaching the enemy’s quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot, and wounding several others. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors triumph.”

EvX: After a while I got tired of recording battles and decided just to count them:

Fights: 34
Deaths: 60

I can’t promise that I caught 100% of them; some sections of the book were badly scanned and hard to read. Also, the numbers only reflect the deaths Buckley specifically reported. In instances where he merely said something like “a few people died,” or “many people died,” I recorded only that a fight had occurred, not deaths. So the real death toll must actually be much higher than my accounting.

To be fair, these occurred over the course of 32 years, but Buckley began trying to avoid fights later in the book, so there may have been many more fights his tribe was involved in that didn’t make it into the book.

Consider, for quick comparison, how many people you have personally seen murdered or killed in battle. Chances are none–only 4/100,000 people are murdered in the US every year, and most other Western countries have even lower rates.

Luckily for Buckley, his status as already dead meant that no one thought it worth bothering to kill him again.

Buckley blames the constant warfare on fights over women, but a certain aspect of magical thinking frequently at play in animist religions is also clearly present: any death, even by natural causes, is believed to have been caused by human malice. As I noted back in my previous Anthropology Friday on the Aborigines, they had quite complicated explanations for how someone could have secretly snuck into another tribe’s camp and magically killed them without anyone else noticing. As a result, any death, even by wholly natural causes, could lead to the members of one tribe deciding to exact murderous revenge on another tribe, which would naturally endeavor to return the favor.

In a recent interview, Napoleon Chagnon, the anthropologist famous for studying the Yanomamo, (who are famous for being very violent,) stated:

The important thing that I’ve discovered about the Yanomamö is the answer to the question of a lot of highly educated people in our society who say, “Oh, it would be so wonderful if we could just go back to an earlier time when life was so much simpler, and pleasant, and neighbors cooperated…” And what I found is the further back in time you go, the more that unpleasant things are ubiquitous in your environment. Violence is just around the corner, and wishing for a return to the noble savage past is possibly one of the biggest errors that one might make philosophically. I don’t think life in the state of nature was nearly as pleasant as a lot of people would like it to be.

One example I give from my travels across the United States: I happen to have been invited on a trip into the Grand Canyon by the man who was then Governor of Arizona, Fife Symington, and we had the park ranger, the archeologist for the Grand Canyon area, along with us, and he took us into parts of the Grand Canyon that most tourists don’t see. One of the most astonishing things we saw, Pueblo houses built into the edge of the Grand Canyon, with a 1,000-foot drop below, and these houses were occupied by prehistoric Indians who were so terrified of their neighbors that they’d climb down vines and ropes with their kids on their back, and firewood under their arm, and the day’s catch in their baskets, because they were just terrified of their neighbors. And that’s the way the Yanomamö live. Even the missionaries who have lived among the Yanomamö the longest have pointed out repeatedly to me and other people that these people are terrified of neighbors. It’s like Hobbe’s war of “all against all” in many respects, and Rousseau is way off the mark. …

PINKER:  What about standing back and saying—at some point they must figure this out—”We’re avenging that death, which was caused when they avenged the previous death, and the cycle of violence keeps going on. Is there some way that we can extricate ourselves from this cycle?” Did that thought occur to them? Because they must at some point do the math and realize, well, not every killing could be in revenge.

CHAGNON:  You are asking a profound question here. And the answer to that is best explicated in an incident that happened to me when the Yanomamö began being aware of Venezuelans, for example. It was a territorial capital 200+ miles away, and some of the missionaries sent young guys to the territorial capital to learn practical nursing to come back to the village and treat snake bites, and scratches, and wounds, and things like that, and to give them malaria pills. And they taught them how to use microscopes.

But one of these guys came back and he was just terribly excited when he told me that he discovered policia. I was like, “Well, what’s policia?” “They will grab people and haul them off and put them in these little separate houses, if they do something wrong. And I think we need policia, because my brother killed a man from Iwahikorobateri five years ago, and I’m always worried that the Iwahikorobateri are going to come and kill me, because he’s my brother.” And he thought that if they had law, law would be a good thing. …

PINKER:  So you discovered kind of a Yanomamö Hobbes, who discovered the Leviathan.

CHAGNON:  Right.

We’ll return to both Buckley and Chagnon’s interview (which I must credit with inspiring me to read Buckley’s account) later… Perhaps in Part 2.

YES Two Out of Africa Events! (Also, Aborigines)

I’ve long suspected (given the archaeological evidence, like 80,000 year old human remains in China,) that there were two Out of Africa (OOA) events–an early one that headed east, toward Australia, and a later one that headed everywhere (including Australia)–and now it looks like this has been genetically confirmed:

Graphic created by the Estonian genetics team cited in the NY Times article. Their full article: Genomic analyses inform on migration events during the peopling of Eurasia
Graphic created by the Estonian genetics team cited in the NY Times article. Their full article: Genomic analyses inform on migration events during the peopling of Eurasia

Isn’t this a great graphic? My hat’s off to the Estonians. Beautiful work.

Graphic created by the Estonian genetics team cited in the NY Times article. Their full article: Genomic analyses inform on migration events during the peopling of Eurasia

Here’s another one they made (sadly small) with less color and more detail on the Eurasian lines. (IIRC, Chinese have more Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans, so technically the schematic ought to be a wee bit more complicated than this, but it’s already complicated enough and this is a solid general overview.)

It might just be the sleep dep + lots of coffee talking, but I am so excited about this.

Some quotes from the NY Times article:

In Israel, for example, researchers found a few distinctively modern human skeletons that are between 120,000 and 90,000 years old. In Saudi Arabia and India, sophisticated tools date back as far as 100,000 years.

Last October, Chinese scientists reported finding teeth belonging to Homo sapiens that are at least 80,000 years old and perhaps as old as 120,000 years. …

Examining their data separately, all three groups came to the same conclusion: People everywhere descend from a single migration of early humans from Africa. The estimates from the studies point to an exodus somewhere between 80,000 and 50,000 years. …

n Papua New Guinea, Dr. Metspalu and his colleagues found, 98 percent of each person’s DNA can be traced to that single migration from Africa. But the other 2 percent seemed to be much older.

Dr. Metspalu concluded that all people in Papua New Guinea carry a trace of DNA from an earlier wave of Africans who left the continent as long as 140,000 years ago, and then vanished.

Obviously, in science, replication and caution are key. Don’t get too excited. These results might turn out to be wrong–sometimes samples get contaminated or data coded incorrectly and we get results that turn out to be completely wrong. And, okay, this isn’t really “huge” in the grand scheme of things–we’re only talking about 2% of Papuans’ ancestors, not, like, 40% of them. But it does explain all of those anomalously old findings.

Now someone needs to explain the Red Deer Cave People:

The Red Deer Cave People were the most recently known prehistoric Hominin population that did not look like modern humans. Fossils dated to between 14,500 and 11,500 years old were found in Red Deer Cave and Longlin Cave in China. Having a mix of archaic and modern features, they are (tentatively) thought to be a separate species of humans that persisted until recent times and became extinct without contributing to the gene pool of modern humans.[1]

On a related note, we have some awesome news about Aborigine DNA/language trees: A genomic history of Australia and Why Australia is home to one of the Largest Language Families in the World. (Well duh it’s because Aborigines spent thousands of years as tiny bands of hunter gatherers, in which each isolated band started developing its own language.) These articles have an oddly inverted structure, (burying the lead, I guess,) so let’s rearrange the abstract for coherency:

We estimate that Aboriginal Australians and Papuans diverged from Eurasians 51–72 kya, following a single out-of-Africa dispersal, and subsequently admixed with archaic populations. … Papuan and Aboriginal Australian ancestors diversified 25–40 thousand years ago (kya), suggesting pre-Holocene population structure in the ancient continent of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania). However, all of the studied Aboriginal Australians descend from a single founding population that differentiated ~10–32 kya. We infer a population expansion in northeast Australia during the Holocene epoch (past 10,000 years) associated with limited gene flow from this region to the rest of Australia, consistent with the spread of the Pama–Nyungan languages.

(kya = thousand years ago). So about 10-32 thousand years ago, one group of Australians conquered all of the other groups of Australians.

The science article notes:

To the researchers’ amazement, the genetic pattern mirrored the linguistic one. “It’s incredible that those two trees match. None of us expected that,” says paleoanthropologist Michael Westaway of Griffith University, Nathan, in Australia, a co-author on the Willerslev paper. “But it’s confusing: The [genetic splits] date to 30,000 years ago or more but the linguistic divisions are only maybe 6000 years old.”

Willerslev says he first thought the languages must be much older than thought. “But the linguists told me, ‘no way.'”

Both types of data also show that the population expanded from the northeast to the southwest. This migration occurred within the last 10,000 years and likely came in successive waves, Bowern says, in which existing languages were overlaid by new ones. This expansion also seems to correspond with a stone tool innovation called a backed edge blade. But the accompanying gene flow was just a trickle, suggesting that only a few people had an outsize cultural impact, Willerslev says. “It’s like you had two men entering a village, convincing everyone to speak a new language and adopt new tools, having a little sexual interaction, then disappearing,” he says. Then the new languages continued to develop, following the older patterns of population separation. “It’s really strange but it’s the best way we can interpret the data at this stage.”

Three things going on here. 1. The group from the north conquered the group from the south, raped their women, and imposed their language. They were able to do this because they had better weapons (“backed edge blades.”) But the group from the north was not very big, and so did not leave a very big genetic signature.

2. They conquered an existing population structure, at which point their language got absorbed into that structure, probably picking up some linguistic substrate from the groups’ previous languages along the way. Since most people learn language from their parents, it’s not too surprising to find cases where language and genetics line up. (Note that people do not always learn languages from their parents.)

3. Intellectuals are kind of naive.

The other really interesting thing here is that the linguistics team came to their conclusions by feeding a big database of Aboriginal words into a computer and having it run similar algorithms to the ones geneticists use for examining human ancestry (see the lovely graphics above.) I’ve been wondering for a long time why they don’t just do this, and am excited that they finally are.

Now please someone put all of the languages + reconstructed proto-langauges into the computer and find the most likely trees.

(Sorry, Nick. The regularly scheduled Anthropology Friday is going to have to wait a week. There just aren’t enough days.)

Maps, maps, maps (pt. 2/2: Australia)

Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543
Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543

Yes, the answer to Tuesday’s final query is that the Dieppe maps, (including Guillaume Brouscon’s,) show a great big landmass almost exactly where Australia actually is, a good 50 or 60 years before the first documented European sighting. (By Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, in 1606.)

800px-Australia_discoveries_by_Europeans_before_1813_enThere’s this funny gap in human knowledge of Australia. 50,000 years ago, humans equipped with little more than sharp rocks and pointy sticks managed to get to Australia and make themselves home. Then, for the next 49,500 or so years, everyone else forgot that it was there. (Aside from a few lost souls from India who washed up, IIRC, abut 10,000 years ago.) (It looks like the southern coast of Australia wasn’t even explored [by sea,] until 1801.)

Even China, an organized polity with excellent record-keeping, ship-making, and map-making skills going back centuries, does not show Australia on its maps (at least not on any map I’ve found,) until 1602.

1602 is still before 1606, but we will discuss these Chinese maps in a minute.

Portugal had a policy, in the 1500s, of treating its nautical maps as official state secrets. French spies, therefore, went and bribed Portuguese map-makers into sharing their secrets, the results of which are probably the Dieppe maps, due to their many Portuguese and French labels, indicating French cartographers working off Portuguese originals.

All of which raises the question of WHO was exploring Australia in the early 1500s. Was it the Portuguese? If so, they’ve done an excellent job (a few bribed cartographers aside,) in keeping it secret. Unlike the fabled Viking settlement in Vinland, we have yet to discover any hard evidence, such as Portuguese DNA or artifacts in Australia, that would confirm an early Portuguese presence.

The “Australia” landmass on the Dieppe maps is labeled “Jave la Grande.” Wikipedia claims that this name comes from Marco Polo:

“As explained by Sir Henry Yule, the editor of an English edition of Marco Polo’s travels: “Some geographers of the 16th century, following the old editions which carried the travellers south-east of Java to the land of Boeach (or Locac), introduced in their maps a continent in that situation”.[3]”

Behaim's Erdapfel globe, 1492
Behaim’s Erdapfel globe, 1492

The problem with this explanation is that in the two and a half centuries of map-making between the publication of Marco Polo’s adventures and the drawing of the Dieppe maps, no one stuck in a giant continental blob of land south of Indonesia, labeled “Jave la Grande” nor anything else. Jave la Grand does show up on some of these maps, but as a quite ordinary island about where you’d expect it. EG, the Erdapfel globe of 1492 (too early to include Columbus’s discoveries, which weren’t known until 1493, but definitely disproving the idea that people in Columbus’s day thought the world was flat.)

I find it highly unlikely that the Dieppe cartographers suddenly decided to turn “Jave la Grande” into a great big landmass in a spot where no prior European maps had ever shown land, and happened, totally by accident, to position it where there actually is a continent.

The Erdpafel's depiction of the Pacific, including Java Major
The Erdpafel’s depiction of the Pacific, including Java Major (aka Java la Grande)

It seems far more likely that they were working off charts that happened to show a large landmass in this spot, and needing a name for it, they chose the closest thing they could find in Marco Polo’s account. (I would not worry about the location being slightly off, due to these maps predating our ability to find longitude at sea by over a hundred years.)

That leaves the question of how Australia got on the charts. Just as the French got their information from the Portuguese, the Portuguese may have gotten their information, in turn, from someone else, like the Chinese, Indonesians, or Islamic mariners.

The Wikipedia page on Islamic geography is inadequate for me to draw any conclusions from it.

Japanese copy of Matteo Ricci's Kunyu Wanguo Quantu world map
Japanese copy of Matteo Ricci’s Kunyu Wanguo Quantu world map

As I mentioned earlier, the first Chinese maps (that I know of) to show Australia are from 1602, after the Dieppe maps. The Kunyu Wanguo Quantu were created by Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary. The Kunyu Wanguo Quantu combines, for the first time, the geographic knowledge of Europe and China.

Sancai Tuhui World Map
Sancai Tuhui World Map, the Shanhai Yudi Quantu, of 1609

Ricci got to China by hopping aboard a Portuguese vessel, which dropped him off at their colony in Goa. From there he traveled to Macau, and then to Beijing and the Forbidden City (though he never met the Emperor.) So I think it highly likely that Ricci had access to (or knowledge of) Portuguese maps/discoveries, or the Dieppe maps themselves. I suspect that Ricci’s knowledge of Australia did not come from Chinese sources, because the Chinese world map Shanhai Yudi Quantu, (1609,) though inspired by Ricci’s work, does not show Australia.

The Indonesians are another potential source. I don’t know anything about the history of Indonesian map-making, but the Wikipedia page on the prehistory of Australia intriguingly informs us:

…the people living along the northern coastline of Australia, in the Kimberley, Arnhem Land, Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York had encounters with various visitors for many thousands of years. People and traded goods moved freely between Australia and New Guinea up to and even after the eventual flooding of the land bridge by rising sea levels …

Indonesian “Bajau” fishermen from the Spice Islands (e.g. Banda) have fished off the coast of Australia for hundreds of years. Macassan traders from Sulawesi regularly visited the coast of northern Australia to fish for trepang, an edible sea cucumber to trade with the Chinese since at least the early 18th century. Tamil sea-farers also had knowledge of Australia and Polynesia before European contact.[37] …

The myths of the people of Arnhem Land have preserved accounts of the trepang-catching, rice-growing Baijini people, who, according to the myths, were in Australia in the earliest times, before the Macassans. …

In 1944, a small number of copper coins with Arabic inscriptions were discovered on a beach in Jensen Bay on Marchinbar Island, part of the Wessel Islands of the Northern Territory. These coins were later identified as from the Kilwa Sultanate of east Africa. Only one such coin had ever previously been found outside east Africa (unearthed during an excavation in Oman).

Ruysch Map
Ruysch Map

So it is possible that the accounts of any of these folks could have made it onto local maps, and made their way from there to the Portuguese and the Dieppe maps (though I will note that if the Macassans got there in the 18th century, that is after the Dieppe maps, but I don’t know how exact that date is.)

There is, however, a potentially more mundane explanation for this odd landmass: it could just be South America. To European mapmakers of the late 14 and early 1500s, it was not at all clear that Columbus had discovered the edge of a new continent, rather than some islands off the coast of Asia–hence Ruysch’s 1507 map that show Massachusetts merging into China.

Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland
Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland

In the days before mariners could easily check their longitude at sea, the location of various islands could only be estimated by calculating the direction and speed the ship that had reached them had been going, eg, “Three days’ sail to the West.” This meant that islands could appear in different spots on different maps, which sometimes resulted in islands getting duplicated in maps created by compiling several earlier charts. Iceland, for example, shows up twice on this map:

I think it possible, therefore, that the Dieppe map makers had before them one map which showed the coast of Brazil as an island near Indonesia, and a second map showed it as part of a continent in between Europe and Asia, and simply recorded both on their combined map. Personally, I think the shape of Jave la Grande looks more like South America than Australia, but perhaps if I could read thee maps or examine them in more detail, I would revise that assessment.

Beatus T-O style Map showing the antipodes, 1050
Beatus T-O style Map showing the antipodes on the far right, AD 1050

This would be a case of the Dieppe map makers getting lucky, not unheard of phenomenon. Medieval Europeans believed, for example, in a mythical “fourth continent” located on the other side of the world, called fanciful names like “the antipodes” (“the backwards feet,” a reference to the amusing idea that people on the other side of the world are standing upside down relative to oneself–again, proof that Europeans well before Columbus knew the Earth is round;) or less fancifully, “terra australis,” “southern land.” Since the Bible commands Christ’s disciples to spread his Gospel to “the four corners of the Earth,” Medieval mapmakers, faced with only 3 continents, figured there had to be a fourth. But since philosophical opinions conflicted regarding this fourth continent, it was not always included on maps.

The European age of exploration pushed the borders of this fourth continent increasingly southward, as the vast expanse of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans were found not to harbor it, until it was restricted to the area south of South America. But here folks got lucky, and spotted an actual continent right where their maps said there ought to be one. Likewise, when Australia first showed up on European maps, it was supposed to be a northern promontory of this most southerly land, and so depicted. Thus the name “Terra Australis” came to be inscribed on this territory.

So we are still left with a mystery: did someone actually map Australia before the Dutch, or did the Dieppe map makers just get lucky?

 

Maps Maps Maps: A short history (pt 1/2)

Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland
Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland

Old maps are full of curiosities, like completely mythical islands (eg, Hy-Brasil,) land masses radically out of place or duplicated, and massive changes in scale from one side to the other.

Historical map-makers had three main problems: 1. They couldn’t measure longitude, 2. Their maps were often based on compilations of lots of maps from many different sources, often resulting in confusion, and 3. Some groups were more wiling to share their maps than others. (For example, there are lots of questions about what exactly the Portuguese knew in the 14 and 1500s, like rumors that Portuguese fishermen were secretly hauling in cod off the coast of Massachusetts–more on the Portuguese later.)

c5933People generally made good maps of their local areas fairly early on–the Chinese have some excellent early early maps, for example. But beyond the immediate and local, maps quickly became less detailed and more stylized, as in this “T-O” style medieval map, which obviously is not even trying to be accurate, but to express a theologic point.

Since early sailors did not usually strike out over long stretches of open water, but headed to nearby ports or islands a few days’ sail away, I suspect that most early sea charts put a great deal of effort into describing the relevant rocky shoals to avoid and safe harbors to take advantage of, and not so much effort into describing the broad curve of continental coastlines.

While latitude can be fairly easily measured by simply measuring the height of the North Star in degrees (if you are at the equator, the North Star will lie on the horizon; if you are at 45 degrees north, the North Star will be 45 degrees high in the sky;  if you are at the North Pole, the North Star will be directly above you, or 90 degrees. If you can’t find the North Star, you’re south of the equator.) (Wyrd Smythe explains in more detail if you are confused.)

But there is no easy, low-tech way to determine longitude, your east-west position on the Earth’s surface. Longitude is not a huge deal when island-hopping short distances, but it becomes a huge deal once you’re undertaking multi-week trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific voyages, where a storm can suddenly blow you days off course and you end up crashing into rocks you didn’t know were there. For example, in 1707, four British Navy warships were pushed off course by storms off the coast of England and crashed into the Isles of Scilly. 1,550 sailors drowned, prompting the British government to offer a 20,000 pound prize for anyone who could figure out a way to accurately determine longitude at sea.

recreation of Ptolemy's world map
Recreation of Ptolemy’s world map

The lack of knowledge and inability to make good measurements rendered even the best early maps of the world objectively terrible.

Here we have a reconstruction of Ptolemey’s world map, based on the geographical knowledge of AD 150, and Al Idrisi’s map drawn for Roger II of Sicily in 1154. Idrisi did a good job depicting Sicily, but nearby Italy is a complete mess, and he duplicates Ptolemy’s mistake of essentially depicting India as a big island (actually, probably confusion between the size of India vs. the size of Sri Lanka,) and Ptolemy’s complete confusion about the angle of Africa’s east coast.

Tabula Rogeriana, created by Al-Idrisi
Tabula Rogeriana, created by Al-Idrisi

Al Idrisi did know about the Pacific ocean and the east Coast of China, which Ptolemy did not, but his geography of Denmark and Britain are worse than Ptolemy’s, despite having been based in Europe while working.The lack of advancement in geographic knowledge available in the Mediterranean over 1,000 years is striking (though I would not be surprised to find out that folks were working with much better maps of local currents and shoals in their areas than their ancestors had been using in Ptolemy’s time.)

Gangnido map
Gangnido map

On the other side of the world, Chinese and Korean maps show a similar pattern. The Gangnido (aka Kangnido,) map of 1402, created in Korea, shows Korea, China, the Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. I think India is very slightly projecting from the lower-left side of the China blob, with Sri Lanka a bit more properly sized than on Ptolemy’s map.

The Gangnido map is based on an earlier Chinese map, the Da Ming Hun Yi Tu of 1398, which is very similar, but might have the Malay Peninsula.

Now, you might be thinking, as I did, that “Africa” and “Arabia” look a lot like India on this map. Wikipedia assures us that they aren’t and offers this explanation, especially since it is difficult for us non-Koreans to read the map: 300px-KangnidoPoliticalDetails

But the total lack of a Malay peninsula is really confusing, as I assume anyone traveling from China to India would be quite are of this enormous detour in their way. It’s like drawing a map of Europe and leaving off Spain.

These maps show the difficulties of trying to compile one map out of many, as your maps may use vastly different scales. The Gangnido and Da Ming Hun Yi Tu maps combine information compiled from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian (the Mongol empire collected maps from all of its conquered nations,) and Islamic sources, eg, the voyages of Ibn Battuta.

I have noticed that no matter which explorer of south Asia we are talking about, whether Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Zheng He, or the Polynesians, none of them seem to have made it to Australia.

Neither do any of these early (1400s or before) maps seem to show Australia–in other words, the Chinese (and Koreans) were drawing recognizable maps of Africa and Europe before Australia.

Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543
Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543

European portolan charts appeared, seemingly ex nihilo, in the 13th century. The portolans used compass directions plus sailing directions to estimate distances between map points, thus producing a revolution in map accuracy. The compass roses are drawn directly onto the map for navigational convenience, as on this “Dieppe map” by Guillaume Brouscon, 1543.

It is getting late, so I am going to have to continue this on Thursday, when we will discuss the Dieppe maps in some depth. But let me know if you catch the most curious thing about them. 😉

 

 

The big six civilizations (part 5: China, Treasure Ships, and Eunuchs)

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I doubt I need to tell you that China was one of the first six major, basically independent civilizations to emerge in world history, but it was surprisingly late compared to the others.

Anyway, this post is going to only briefly look at the Erlitou, as I assume you are already fairly familiar with Chinese culture, and instead focus on the voyages of the Treasure Ships. And eunuchs.

The Erlitou culture appeared on the Li river around 1900 BC. The largest city, also called Erlitou, may have been home to 18,000-30,000 people, before the capital got moved and most of the folks moved away. They may have been the somewhat mythical Xia dynasty, but there isn’t enugh evidence, yet, to prove the association either way.

The Erlitou people had pottery, (and potters’ wheels,) could smelt bronze, were making silk, and raising domesticated plants and animals such as wheat, rice, millet, pigs, and goats. (Rice was originally domesticated in south Asia, but had spread by this point to China.) I believe they also had some form of proto-writing.

They weren’t the first folks in the area–they succeeded the Longshan culture, which had small farming villages and probably morphed into the Erlitou–but they appear to be the first large polity.

Now that’s all well and good, but the interesting stuff came later.

The many helpful comments back on my post, the Hikikomori Nations, pointed me to the naval journeys of Zheng He, who commanded the Chinese navy, battled pirates, and sailed to Indonesia, India, and Africa back in 1405-1433.

Then, almost as suddenly as these “Treasure Voyages” had begun, they ended. Wikipedia explains why:

The treasure voyages were commanded and overseen by the eunuch establishment whose political influence was heavily dependent on imperial favor. However, within Ming China’s imperial state system, the civil government were the primary political opponents of the eunuchs and the opposing faction against the expeditions. Around the end of the maritime voyages, the civil government gained the upper hand within the state bureaucracy, while the eunuchs gradually fell out of favor after the death of the Yongle Emperor.

This left me scratching my head. Eunuchs were a political block in early 15th century China?

The Wikipedia page on Eunuchs helpfully explains:

In China, castration included removal of the penis as well as the testicles. …

From ancient times until the Sui Dynasty, castration was both a traditional punishment … and a means of gaining employment in the Imperial service. Certain eunuchs gained immense power that occasionally superseded that of even the Grand Secretaries. Zheng He, who lived during the Ming Dynasty, is an example of such a eunuch. Self-castration was a common practice, although it was not always performed completely, which led to its being made illegal.

It is said that the justification for the employment of eunuchs as high-ranking civil servants was that, since they were incapable of having children, they would not be tempted to seize power and start a dynasty.

*Mind boggles.*

Sun Yaoting, right, and his biographer, left
Sun Yaoting, right, and his biographer, left

The last Imperial eunuch, Sun Yaoting, died in December 1996.

Here’s an Australian article about poor Sun:

For centuries in China, the only men from outside the imperial family who were allowed into the Forbidden City’s private quarters were castrated ones. …

Sun’s impoverished family set him on this painful, risky path in hopes that he might one day be able to crush a bullying village landlord who stole their fields and burnt their house.

His desperate father performed the castration on the bed of their mud-walled home, with no anaesthetic and only oil-soaked paper as a bandage. A goose quill was inserted in Sun’s urethra to prevent it getting blocked as the wound healed.

He was unconscious for three days and could barely move for two months. When he finally rose from his bed, history played the first of a series of cruel tricks on him – he discovered the emperor he hoped to serve had abdicated several weeks earlier.

Sun was eight years old at the time.

The young ex-emperor was eventually allowed to stay in the palace and Sun had risen to become an attendant to the empress when the imperial family were unceremoniously booted out of the Forbidden City, ending centuries of tradition and Sun’s dreams.

“He was castrated, then the emperor abdicated. He made it into the Forbidden City then Pu Yi was evicted. He followed him north and then the puppet regime collapsed. He felt life had played a joke at his expense,” Jia said.

If you’re curious, Yinghua Jia wrote a whole book about Sun’s life, The Last Eunuch of China. (It has 4.5 stars.)

You know, growing up, I heard fairly frequently about Chinese foot-binding (done to women) and harems (in various countries.) There was a fairly frequent intellectual subcurrent of “historical cultures were mean to women.” NO ONE EVER MENTIONED THE EUNUCHS.

Okay, carrying on: so there were apparently enough men whose parents had thought it a good idea to lop of their genitals in order to get them a job that they constituted an opinion-making polity within the Chinese government, and got into conflicts with the Confucian scholars, who I assume hadn’t been horrifically mutilated by their parents.

The Treasure Voyages were thought up by the Eunuchs, and the admiral of the Treasure Fleet, Zheng He, was a eunuch:

Zheng He (1371–1433 or 1435), often spelled Cheng Ho in English, was a Hui court eunuch, mariner, explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral during China‘s early Ming dynasty. Born Ma He, Zheng commanded expeditionary voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. …

As a favorite of the Yongle Emperor, whose usurpation he assisted, he rose to the top of the imperial hierarchy and served as commander of the southern capital Nanjing (the capital was later moved to Beijing by the Yongle Emperor). …

Zheng He was born into a Muslim family.[7][10][11]

He was a great-great-great-grandson of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a Persian who served in the administration of the Mongol Empire and was the governor of Yunnan during the early Yuan dynasty.[14][15] His great-grandfather was named Bayan and may have been stationed at a Mongol garrison in Yunnan.[7] His grandfather carried the title hajji.[1][16] His father had the surname Ma and the title hajji.[1][7][16] The title suggests that they had made the pilgrimage to Mecca.[1][7][16] It also suggests that Zheng He may have had Mongol and Arab ancestry and that he could speak Arabic.[17]

Zheng He had a distinguished career in the army before becoming head of the Chinese navy.

It is generally accepted (based on Ming dynasty records) that Zheng He died in 1433 at Calicut in India during the return leg of the seventh voyage and was buried in Calicut or at sea,[48] although some theories, based on artifacts associated with him and believed to be from later than 1433, posit that he died shortly after that voyage in 1434[48] or early 1435.[49]

A tomb was built for Zheng He in Nanjing. This is usually believed to be a cenotaph containing his clothes and headgear as his body was buried at sea or in Calicut, but other theories exist as to whether Zheng He was buried in Nanjing, and if so, where. In 1985, a Muslim-style tomb was built on the site of the earlier horseshoe-shape grave.[50] He adopted the eldest son of his elder brother, who was awarded a hereditary officer rank in the imperial guard.

The voyages of Zheng He
The voyages of Zheng He

As for the Treasure Fleet itself:

The grand project resulted in seven far-reaching ocean voyages to the coastal territories and islands in and around the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. … The first three voyages reached up to Calicut on India’s southwestern coast, while the fourth voyage went as far as Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Afterwards, the fleet made voyages farther away to the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.

While the voyages did result in better maps, they weren’t exploratory, like Columbus’s–the Chinese were already well aware that India and Africa existed before they set out:

Chinese seafaring merchants and diplomats of the medieval Tang Dynasty (618—907) and Song Dynasty (960—1279) often sailed into the Indian Ocean after visiting ports in South East Asia. Chinese sailors would travel to Malaya, India, Sri Lanka, into the Persian Gulf and up the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq, to the Arabian peninsula and into the Red Sea, stopping to trade goods in Ethiopia and Egypt (as Chinese porcelain was highly valued in old Fustat, Cairo).[11] Jia Dan wrote Route between Guangzhou and the Barbarian Sea during the late 8th century that documented foreign communications, the book was lost, but the Xin Tangshu retained some of his passages about the three sea-routes linking China to East Africa.[12] Jia Dan also wrote about tall lighthouse minarets in the Persian Gulf, which were confirmed a century later by Ali al-Masudi and al-Muqaddasi.[13] Beyond the initial work of Jia Dan, other Chinese writers accurately described Africa from the 9th century onwards; For example, Duan Chengshi wrote in 863 of the slave trade, ivory trade, and ambergris trade of Berbera, Somalia.[14] Seaports in China such as Guangzhou and Quanzhou – the most cosmopolitan urban centers in the medieval world – hosted thousands of foreign travelers and permanent settlers. Chinese junk ships were even described by the Moroccan geographer Al-Idrisi in his Geography of 1154, along with the usual goods they traded and carried aboard their vessels.[15]

Giraffe brought back on one of Zheng He's voyages, a gift to the Emperor from Somalia
Giraffe brought back on one of Zheng He’s voyages, a gift to the Emperor from Somalia

Nor was trade the main point, because Chinese merchants were already doing plenty of trade. Rather:

The Chinese expeditionary fleet was heavily militarized and carried great amounts of treasures, which served to project Chinese power and wealth to the known world. They brought back many foreign ambassadors whose kings and rulers were willing to declare themselves tributaries of China. During the course of the voyages, they destroyed Chen Zuyi‘s pirate fleet at Palembang, conquered the Sinhalese Kotte kingdom of King Alekeshvara, and defeated the forces of the Semudera pretender Sekandar in northern Sumatra.

There is some debate about exactly how big the Treasure Ships were, but the general consensus appears to be that they were some of (if not the) biggest in the world at the time, and carried about 27,000 people. (Total, not per boat.)

Due to bad record keeping (more on this later,) there is some debate (or spirited fantasy) about where, exactly, Zheng He (and other Chinese admirals) sailed:

He is best known for his controversial book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, in which he asserts that the fleets of Chinese Admiral Zheng He visited the Americas prior to European explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, and that the same fleet circumnavigated the globe a century before the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan. …

Menzies states in the introduction that the book is an attempt to answer the question:

On some early European world maps, it appears that someone had charted and surveyed lands supposedly unknown to the Europeans. Who could have charted and surveyed these lands before they were ‘discovered’?

In the book, Menzies concludes that only China had the time, money, manpower and leadership to send such expeditions and then sets out to prove that the Chinese visited lands unknown in either China or Europe. He claims that from 1421 to 1423, during the Ming dynasty of China under the Yongle Emperor, the fleets of Admiral Zheng He, commanded by the captains Zhou Wen, Zhou Man, Yang Qing, and Hong Bao, discovered Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, and the Northeast Passage; circumnavigated Greenland, tried to reach the North and South Poles, and circumnavigated the world before Ferdinand Magellan.

Unfortunately, it looks like Menzies massively over-reached and doesn’t provide much proof, as many of his reviewers point out.

Our original question that started this whole quest was whether the Chinese discovered Australia (or New Zealand) before the Europeans. (And not Taiwanese-descended Polynesians, who obviously got to NZ first.)

According to Mega-Tsunamis, Chinese Junks, and Port Philip Bay (a very speculative article linked in the comments on the original post):

In 1450 AD, the catastrophic comet Mahuika descended upon the coast of New Zealand. Reputed to be twenty-six times as bright as the Sun, it discharged electrically and shattered Admiral Zhou Man’s Chinese fleet of some sixty ships. The fleet supported a thriving Chinese colony of Han, Tang and Song, mining gold, jade and antimony in New Zealand. The comet’s screaming noise blew out the sailors’ eardrums; they received horrific burns. …

These facts are recorded in the meticulous fifteenth century records of Chinese ambassador Zheng He. Historian Gavin Menzies claims that over nine hundred ships failed to return to China from Pacific expeditions in that tragic year.

I don’t know how much of this comes directly from Menzies’ work vs. other peoples’ speculations, but since Zheng He died in 1433 (or maybe 1435, at the latest,) I don’t think he was writing very much about comets in 1450. Further, I find it unlikely that Admiral Zhou Man was commanding a fleet of Chinese ships in 1450, given that the last Treasure Voyages ended in 1433, after which official Chinese sentiment turned against the voyages and the ships were left to rot in their docks. Wikipedia notes:

In the Ming court, the civil officials were the faction who were against the voyages.[143][156][168] In contrast, the eunuch establishment stood at the head of the fleet and the expeditions.[140][141][156][168] The civil officials condemned the expeditions as extravagant and wasteful.[168][169] Traditionally, they were political opponents of the eunuch establishment,[140][156][168] but also to the military establishments who crewed the fleet.[156] … On cultural grounds, the hostility came forth due to the trade and acquisition of strange foreign goods which stood in contrast to their Confucian ideologies.[171][172][168][169] The undertaking of these expeditions only remained possible as long as the eunuchs maintained imperial favor.[141][173]

The Hongxi Emperor was fiercely against the treasure voyages throughout his reign.[80] After the advice of Xia Yuanji, he ordered the cessation of the treasure voyages on 7 September 1424, the day of his accession to the throne.[93]

After 1433, the civil officials succeeded in halting subsequent maritime expeditions.[170] The ships were left to rot, while their lumber was sold for fuel in Nanjing.[170] The mariners were reassigned to load grain on barges of the Grand Canal and to build the emperor’s mausoleum.[170] After the voyages, subsequent Ming emperors would reject the Yongle Emperor’s policy of bringing the maritime trade into the structure of the tributary system.[140]

It also looks like there was some effort to suppress or destroy records of the voyages, (leaving ample room for folks like Menzies to speculate on what might be missing,) so that future leaders wouldn’t get the wrong idea and try to recreate them.

Further:

From 1405 to 1433, large fleets commanded by Admiral Zheng He—under the auspices of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynastytraveled to the Indian Ocean seven times. This attempt did not lead China to global expansion, as the Confucian bureaucracy under the next emperor reversed the policy of open exploration and by 1500, it became a capital offence to build a seagoing junk with more than two masts.[16] Chinese merchants became content trading with already existing tributary states nearby and abroad. To them, traveling far east into the Pacific Ocean represented entering a broad wasteland of water with uncertain benefits of trade.

While trade continued, official support and imperial navies did not, largely justified by the Haijin doctrine, which banned maritime shipping in 1371 and enforced to varying degrees over the years:

In the second month of the first year (1661) of Kangxi, the Qing court issued an imperial decree: The sea shore inhabitants will be ordered to move inland 50 li, to curb their links with the Taiwan rebels under Koxinga. Soldiers then moved in and set up the boundary: in just three days, all houses were razed to the ground and all inhabitants evacuated. … Warnings were placed on notice boards stating that “Anyone who dares to step over the border line shall be beheaded!” “Persons found a few paces over the border line, shall be beheaded instantly.”

This is, however, well after the time period we are discussing. It looks like the main reason the Treasure Voyages were canceled (aside from eunuchs vs. Confucian conflicts) is that the Mongols became a problem (the Mongols were frequently a problem, after all,) and China had to devote its energies to defending its land borders rather than sailing about the ocean.

Perhaps the best evidence either way would be maps:

Gangnido map
Gangnido map
Selden Map
Selden Map
page from the Mao Kun map, showing the South China Sea with Paracel and Spratly Islands
A page from the Mao Kun map, showing the South China Sea with Paracel and Spratly Islands

These are the maps I’ve found so far, none of which show Australia or New Zealand. The Mao Kun map is supposed to be based of Zheng He’s maps, and is divided into 40 pages, showing the coasts of China, India, east Africa, etc.

The Seldon Map, from the early 1600s, while very good, does not show Australia, and the Gangnido map (and its later, updated copies,) which people think may show the Arabian peninsula, Africa, the Mediterranean, and part of Europe on its left side, (but strangely, the Malay Peninsula and India were smooshed together into the left-hand side of the big China blob, according to the Wikipedia talk page.)

At any rate, it looks like Australia and New Zealand didn’t make it onto the maps until much later–if they were known to the Chinese, they were probably regarded as unimportant due to lack of valuable trade goods or political states to trade ambassadors with.

I find the difference between the official Chinese reaction to the Treasure Voyages and the European reaction to Columbus’s discoveries remarkable.

 

Anthropology Friday: Aboriginal Witchcraft

Another installment of Smith’s Aborigine:

“… it may be said that a rain-maker may neither have, nor profess to have, any skill outside of his own profession of rain-making. A medicine-man is generally one who uses the pointing-stick or the pointing-bone, the wirrie, the crystal, or the thumie, or the ngathungi. He professes to point the stick or bone at a person and to cause it to enter the body; and it is he who takes it or extracts it from the body, sometimes with the help of Puckowe [footnote: Known as the Grandmother Spirit. She is supposed to inhabit the dark spot, the Coal-sack, in the Milky Way.] …”

The author has very little respect for the rain making profession, which he believes is trickery practiced on the gullible:

“On some clear morning there may be no cloud in the sky, … But the rain-maker notes indications that a thunderstorm is coming, and that it will arrive, say, in three hours. He begins his incantation, and his wife advises all present that to warn their children that a storm is coming. … After a while black clouds appear in the distance, followed by a flash of lightning. … the storm is all around them. The rain-maker leaps out of his wurley, chanting his song of invocation to the spirits of the lightning, the thunder, the rain, and the wind, … ‘You have heard my call… you have come at my bidding.’ The children and youths and maidens are astounded at what they consider a wonderful performance.”

The Neilyeri … If, for instance, the Frilled Lizard totem tribe is desirous of doing an injury to the Carpet-snake totem tribe, one of its members would seek the aid of another person, say, a member of the Opossum totem tribe. The Frilled Lizard man would instruct the Opossum man to make the acquaintance of a Carpet-snake man. This he would do by asking a Tortoise totem tribe man to effect a meeting.”

The Opossum man goes and hangs out with the Carpet-snake guy for a week.

“… one night the Opossum man would whisper into the ear of the Carpet-snake man a word of warning, saying that the Frilled Lizard man was in possession of a great number of neilyeries, and was preparing them for use. Furthermore, he would say that he had heard that one of the neilyeries was to be used on a member of the Carpet-snake totem family…”

At that point, the Carpet-snake man looks across the fire and sees a Frilled Lizard man making weird hand motions with a pointing-bone, which causes the Carpet-snake man to become anxious and worried and have bad dreams, and the Opossum man keeps saying things to make him more paranoid.

“So the Carpet-snake man decides to consult the doctor, but the cunning Lizard man has already seen the doctor, and has retained his services with bribes.”

A big show is made, and the medicine-man says he has partially healed the man but cannot do it completely, because the spirits are hanging onto his sickness because they want him to die.

“The medicine-man … begins to cry softly, the tears flowing down his cheeks, and then he bid his patient good-bye. After his departure the relatives and friends congregate at the sick man’s wurley, and the latter tells them that the medicine-man is unable to cure him, and that he must submit to the wishes of his loved ones, who are standing beside him ready to welcome him to the Spirit World. So he turns his face toward the west, that mysterious land, and allows his spirit to take flight… Thus the soul passes away through the power of suggestion.”

I know that the “power of suggestion” is suspected to be the mechanism behind which many curses are supposed to work, but I still find the whole scenario rather over-complicated and far too prone to the intended victim deciding not to go along with it, especially compared with the rather fool-proof method of punching the guy you’re mad at.

“The wirrie is a charm stick of wood or bone … It is placed inside a dead human body, and is allowed to remain there until the corpse is decomposed. It is then removed and wrapped in emu-feathers, and surrounded by kangaroo or wallaby skin. Thus prepared, it is regarded as the most dangerous instrument of death. It requires very careful handling, as a prick from the point of it is capable of causing blood-poisoning and death. It may be, and usually is, thrust completely into the body of the victim while he is fast asleep.”

It’s amazing how many people think hunter-gatherers were all non-violent pacifists who never killed anyone or had any wars and, of course, were all nature-loving feminists.

The other amazing thing is that doctors in the 1800s couldn’t figure out that inadequate hand washing was behind the correlation between dissecting corpses in one’s spare time and one’s patients dying. Surely “dead things magically spread death” is just some dumb superstition.

Argh I a am still mad about that.

“The thumie is another death-dealing instrument. It consists of a rope or string made from human hair that has been taken from hundreds of people, alive or dead. It is believed that the minds of these people and their desires, loves, and hatreds are contained in the hair. …

“When one of the elders of the tribe is sick unto death the maker of this thumie asks a brother or a son of the sick one if he will take it to the sick man’s bed and place it under his body, and let him lie on it until he passes from this life into the Spirit Land. Thus his spirit will be absorbed by it. … he gives consent… the rope is wound about him, first at the hips, then round the trunk several times, and up under the arms, then loosely over the back of the neck and the head. One end is placed in the dying man’s hand, and the other is given to a person standing outside the wurley. …”

Australian Aborigines posing in front of their wurley.
Australian Aborigines posing in front of their wurley.

“The rope is left for several weeks twined about the corpse, and by this time the body is putrefied or decomposed. Meantime the thumie has absorbed into itself the strength of the spirit of the departed. The thumie is considered to be sensitive to a wish or a desire on the part of the person who makes use of it… ”

“When many persons communicate to the hair rope a wish that some one shall give himself up as a victim to the ceremony that will cause death the sacrifice is willingly made without any effort to resist the demand. So it is thought that not only does the spirit assist in capturing a victim, but that in the pursuit it guides the operators through the forest of scrub, over mountain-tops, into fern-covered valleys, and across rivers, until they reach their destination. They say they walk on air, and that the spits have made or caused the air for a foot above the earth to become solid and soft. The air is moving, and they are being carried along with it in a direct line toward there victim.”

Then there is also dancing around and ritual chanting and drawing of effigies and declarations that the guy to be murdered must die. There follows a very long and much more mundane description of the murderers tracking down their victim on foot, taking lots of care to be extremely quiet and sneaky.

“At about three or four o-clock in the morning all the others arrive separately, one after another, until the whole twelve are assembled. Then the medicine-man unrolls the hair-rope, and places it upon a null-nulla, and the person holding the nulla-nulla wind the hair several time round it, and then creeps along toward the victim in the wurley, who, of course, is sound asleep. They wind the hair rope round his arms and neck in such a manner that they themselves shall not be exposed to the danger of allowing the sleeper to hold the rope with his hand. … Those holding the rope are unanimous in their thought-suggestion. [The victim] arises from his bed as if awake, and comes toward the men who are sitting upon the ground. he walks forward of his own accord, and lays himself upon their knees, with his face turned toward the sky, as if about to rest upon his bed. He remains in this position, and the medicine-nan comes forward, holding in his hand a flint knife made expressly for an occasion like this. He draws the skin of the victim from the hip toward the small rib. He makes a small hole in the body, and thrusts his little finger through it, and scoops out a small portion of the kidney-fat. Then the skin is allowed to return to its original position. The wound is pressed with smooth pieces of wood made for the purpose of keeping the edges together. …”

Nulla-nulla, with thanks to
Nulla-nulla

“Puckowe comes and heals the wound so that o one might be able to see the cut, and she takes from the man all consciousness of what has happened a few hours before

“Puckowe also goes to the place whee the ceremony was performed and removes all signs of the enemy and blood, and make the grass or broken twigs appear undisturbed. Then she returns to her home int he dark spot in the Milky Way. The medicine0man and the other men return to their homes, happy that they have secured their revenge and taken a life for a life.”

Meanwhile, the victim feels awful,  and his tribe decides that clearly he has been bewitched with a thumie and had a piece of his kidney removed, so they call upon their medicine man to get their thumie and go take revenge on whichever tribe did it to them.

 

 

Anthropology Friday: The Land of Perfection

Today we are continuing with excerpts from Smith’s Aborigine Myths and Legends. As usual, I am using “” instead of block quotes for readability.

In the chapter on religion, Smith tries to claim that Aborigine religion resembles Christianity. “Notwithstanding this lack of ceremonial religion, the believe in a Great Spirit, and the son of this Great Spirit.”

I believe Smith is overstating the resemblance.

Here is the chapter’s next section:

“The Land of Perfection

“On the Plain of Nullarbor [ed. note: probably Latin for “no tree”] there existed a wonderful and beautiful country. From legendary accounts it had the appearance of a city surrounded by four white walls, which varied in height from five hundred to a thousand feet. … Along the top of each wall there were domes and spires. The outside of the walls was composed of white quartz stone, and the inside was formed of a sky-blue stone resembling slate. …

“Thus in the land of perfection there was no need for one creature to prey upon another to live. … So all things lived in harmony. The most remarkable thing about this country was that n one had knowledge of it, or was conscious of its existence until he became ill or diseased in body, mind, or soul. … But before a soul could find entrance into that perfect land of bliss it must pass along a narrow ledge of rock. On one side of this ledge was a perpendicular wall, one thousand feet high, with a perfectly smooth surface. … On the other side of the ledge was a chasm–deep, dark, and unfathomable. …

“Beyond the ledge, upon the boundary line of the Perfect Land, were two cone-shaped crystals, that stood about two hundred feet high and measured about six hundred feet round the base. Round thee two crystals were coiled two snakes … Biggarroo is the good snake, and Goonnear the evil snake. …

Gumbaynggirr elder, Uncle Larry Kelly, with the Rainbow Serpent.
Not a picture of Biggaroo or Goonnear, but of a Rainbow Serpent, along with Uncle Larry Kelly, Gumbaynggirr elder

“A sick man journeyed along the road. … At last he reached the place where the two crystals stood. … Biggarroo and Goonnear called softly in their musical voices to the sick man, “This way, my friend. To me you may come. We were once of the same totem as you. Our mothers are one. You are my brother, and I am your brother.” …

“Biggarroo and Goonnear both proclaimed the same message. Biggarroo told the truth, but Goonnear lied. The sick man could not decide which one was the physician. … He took three strides toward the wicked Goonnear. Then his inner soul gave vision to the mental eye and perfect sight to the physical eye… He saw deceitfulness in the wicked, cruel eyes of Goonnear. Straightway he turned and walked into the open jaws of Biggarroo, the physician.

“After he had walked sixty pace or more along the monster’s throat … he decided that he would chose a quiet spot where the grass grew like a green carpet and flowers blossomed upon a bush, and that there he would lie down and rest. …

“He pressed on eagerly until he came to the middle of the snake. There he saw others of the human race. Some belonged to his tribe, and others ti tribes that were strange to him in the outer world. But in this inner world they all spoke one language; each held intercourse as a friend with friend, all being in sympathy. The thoughts of all were pure and free, but the people differed in their endowments. The more intelligent guided those of less understanding. All round in the interior of the snake there was abundant evidence that the human race passes from on from stage to stage until it is made perfect. …

“He awoke and rose up slowly, and walked to the open mouth of Biggarroo. He stepped to the summit of the cone and stood upright, with both hands clasped behind his back, with the dignity of some monarch beholding his kingdom. Suddenly there appeared a third eye on his face. … It was a wonderful eye, a magical eye, and it gave him wide vision and the power of looking through the veil of time. …

“The pilgrim’s soul desired to see the past once more… His single eye, the mirror of the soul, with keen vision traced the course of the sunbeams as they penetrated into the earth. First the frozen water, like a pavement of solid crystal covering portions of the earth, began to melt and flow in liquid state. Then the earth staggered and rolled and trembled as if in dreadful agony. Rocks rose and formed mountains, hills, and valleys, and the silvery liquid rolled between as rivers, streams, and lakes. When this work was completed, the Goddess of Light drew her mantle around her comely form, and retired into the darkness of everlasting night.

“Then the pilgrim’s soul led him again to the open jaws of Biggarroo. … [Biggarroo said,] ‘My child, it is the will of the Father Spirit that you, and all of the human race who resemble you, shall be like unto the Mother Goddess. The only way to attain eternal youth is to dwell within me for a season…’

“The pilgrim slept soundly, and a century passed before he regained his self-consciousness. He stepped forth out of the snake, and once more he walked to the summit of the crystal cone. … He looked, and was amazed to see that the barren earth had changed, that it was covered with vegetation that was very beautiful to behold. … Generation after generation of forest life forms came, grew, decayed, and passed on, and were buried and changed into other forms of matter far below the surface of the earth.

“He stood motionless, it seemed for only a day; in reality centuries came and went, passing the boundary line of the evermore. … The earth revolved, and time went on. The great monsters of the Reptile Age died out. Centuries again passed. Then came a pageant most wonderful to behold–the Bird Age…

“After the pilgrim beheld this wonderful sight, Biggarroo said to him, ‘ Go now, my child; enter the Land of Perfection.” … Then there came a time when a great and mighty storm arose in the south. It raised the water of the ocean with tremendous force, and drove it through the wall of the land of perfection. Then the Father Spirit… transferred the Land of Perfection to the Sacred Land, now known as the Milky Way.”

Anthropology Friday: Aboriginal Folklore

Today I have an excerpt from Aborigine Myths and Legends, by William Ramsay Smith, c. 1930. (As usual, I am dispensing with block quotes for the sake of readability. I have added pictures.)

Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)
Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)

What some Aboriginal carvings mean

At Manly, about six miles from Sydney, there are to be seen aboriginal carvings cut into the flat surface of the rock. Among them there is a figure of a male aboriginal with both arms outstretched and holding in one hand a waddy. Another human and a form represents a shark. In another group, there are four male figures, with a boomerang above the head of one and a fish between the legs of another. And, again, there are two figures, almost oval in shape, and one of the ovals has small circles cut out around the edge. All these, as well as the carvings, have a meaning. Each of the objects, whether an animal, bird, reptile, or fish, represents the totem of a tribe.

 

 

Aboriginal engraving, Manly, Australia, courtesy of Lonely Planet
Aboriginal engraving, Manly, Australia, courtesy of Lonely Planet

Tribe Totems.–As in the case of the Manly figure, where a fish is placed between the legs of a person, he fish is the totem of the tribe living in that locality. Before a tribe can occupy a hunting-ground it must select a totem—a fish, animal, bird, or reptile–anything, in fact, that has an existence. It may be sun, moon, wind, lightning, or thunder. Thus, in some instance, one may see a figure representing the sun or a half-moon. Sometimes one notices figures of a kangaroo and an emu, or two other forms. The kangaroo might be the totem of the tribe of the chief, and the emu might be the totem of his wife’s tribe.

This totemism plays an important part in the social life of the aboriginals. If, for example, a person has committed an offense, or has broken tribal law, he becomes a fugitive. He may travel to some distant part of the country. … He creeps along stealthily, listening intently for any sound, peering through the dense foliage in every bay or cove to see whether his path is clear, noticing every footprint on the way, reading every mark on the tree-trunks and on the surface of rocks, and scanning every mark to see whether there is hope of protection and friendship. To be seen would mean death to him. By and by the keen eye of the fugitive catches sight of the figure of his mother’s totem. Casting aside all fear, he walks boldly along the beaten track that leads to the camp, and presents himself to the chief. He produces a string of kangaroo teeth, made in bead fashion, and a bunch of emu feathers… . This is a sign that he belongs to the Kangaroo totem tribe, and that his mother belongs to the Emu totem tribe. He is received into either of these tribes, and becomes one with them, and participates in all their privileges.

Nulla-nulla, with thanks to
Nulla-nulla created by and for sale from Jagalingu.

At Manly one may notice two figures: a wallaby footprint and a kangaroo, a man figure and a weapon–it may be a boomerang or a nulla-nulla. This means that the Wallaby totem tribe occupied that country, and the Kangaroo totem tribe came and did battle with the Wallaby totem tribe and drove them away and took possession. … From the different figures carved on the surface of one rock one may infer that tribes of different totems shown in the figures occupied that locality.

There are other figures hewn in the rock. The oval with the small circles, referred to above, may represent the sun in its course; in other words, it may show that the aboriginals had knowledge of the earth’s motion. There are old men in each tribe who study the heavens at night; and at certain times of the year every night at intervals they will give a call, “The earth has already turned.” [Footnote: The aboriginals appear to have believed that the earth went round, because there is a saying which means, “The earth has turned itself about.”] This may be done with the idea of teaching the younger generation something about astronomy.

[EvX comments: while interesting, the earth-centric model of the universe is so immediately obvious and the heliocentric so difficult to prove that I am skeptical of such claims.]