Colonized brains: ignorance and the victor’s version of history

A positive aspect of the social networks is the fact that we take a glimpse into other cultures and places throughout the world and talk to people with a different background. It is indeed very enriching, and it provokes some awkward situations as well! For instance, a young fellow from India, Vivek Singh, asked me about the history of his country before the East India Company poked its nose in there. It made me feel embarrassed to acknowledge my ignorance, as I explained to him how in the western countries – as stated by Walter Benjamin: “History is told by the victors”- we are only taught history when/only as much as it involves western people, and western versions of it only. I feel we have a huge gap in our knowledge, no wonder we may behave as hillbillies when we encounter cultures and behaviours different to ours.

Gramsci Foucault

I resorted to Ravi Kumar (www.hindicenter.com), who sent me some bibliography on colonial and post-colonial contexts in translation. I tried to fill the gaps by researching a bit and trying to reflect in order to answer Vivek Singh’s question: why were the colonial incursions in America and India so different?

We could say that time was an important factor, as more than one century separates both invasions. The way they happen was also particular to each of them; the Spaniards assumed to role of “gods” and took over, plundering, raping and erasing entire cultures with their microbes and swords alike. The British disguised it as commercial intentions only, while they publicised it as a “christianising enterprise” in their homeland. Their intentions were not as bare faced as that of the Spaniards’ because Indian society was very much developed, organized and sophisticated already, so they could not get away so easily.

India1795

They landed at Surat in 1612 with the permission of prince Khurram, who allowed them to trade there. A hundred years after that, in 1712, empires within India crumble, there are uprisings and invasions from Persia and Afghanistan. The East India Company take advantage of the invasions effected by other countries and the vacuum of power by the death of Aurangzeb (1707) to impose their own idea of an empire, displaying their own private army and plan to take direct control over the land in order to increase their profits. In the battle of Plassey (1757) they fight against the forces of the Nawab Surajudduallah of Bengal, backed by France -out of their own self-interest, I guess-. The Indian side fails, due to Surajudduallah’s General Mir Jafar’s treachery, who was made the new ruler of Bengal by the British as a reward for betraying his own fellow citizens -that sounds familiar throughout history, doesn’t it?-.

The Indians started to build alliances in order to better fight the British. In 1764, Mughal emperor Shah Allam II allied with Mir Qasim -Mir Jaffar’s son, who had turned against the British rule- and Shujaudduallah -ruler of Awadh- to expel the Brits. It results in another failure, in the battle of Buxar (1764); they were allowed to rule their areas but forced to acknowledge the East India Company as administrator.

The company started becoming a political force and its ambitions to gain control of India started to be obvious. For the next year they exerted their power through a combination of diplomacy and sheer force. By 1840 India was under its rule. The company exploited Indian resources, started introducing Christianity -which they were advised not to do during the first stages of their sojourn-, and developed an increasingly aloof, arrogant and racist attitude. They also introduced their language, a fact which is one of the basic and most common weapons used by colonialism. Indian craftsmen became ruined, as the Europeans living in India introduced cheaper products from British factories -a phenomenon which is also familiar nowadays, but the other way round, impulsed as well by the Europeans’ outsourcing-. The British established a kind of “apartheid” which resulted in the higher rank posts being reserved for their own kind. They also introduced the Doctrine of Lapse, allowing themselves to annex any land whose ruler died or which did not have a male heir -of course they practised gender apartheid as well-. India became an important site to exploit for Britain, thus Queen Victoria became the official ruler.

Advertisements

The Origin of the English Language II

As you will remember from my previous article on the origin of English, it is a close relative of German, even if Present day English does not bear much resemblance to its “cousin”. We must take into consideration that although both languages had a great part of their vocabulary in common to begin with, in the case of English, only 85% of it survived the Norman invasion – above all basic vocabulary -. Now, let’s see some basic similarities.

 

We can find several similarities in lexicon, such as the existence of some words in Present day English and German whose origin can be traced right back to Old English:

OE sprecan / PdG sprechen / PdE speak

OE nū / PdG nur / PdE  now  

OE cū / PdG Kuh / PdE cow 

OE cyning / PrG König/ PdE king

and others whose resemblance to Modern German is patent, while the equivalent terms in Present day English are no longer their descendants:

OE burg / PdG Burg (castle) / PdE fortress

OE beame / PdG Baum / PdE tree

OE þū / PdG du / PdE you

OE oððer / PdG oder / PdE or

OE scīene / PdG schön / PdE beautiful

OE niman / PdG nehmen / PdE take

another similarity which links Old English to Present day German is the prevalence of self-explained compounds:

hydrogen – Wasserstoff (water-stuff), telephone – Fernsprecher (far speaker)

lēohtfæt – lamp-lēoht (lēoht = light, fœt = vessel)

fiellesēocnes – epilepsy (falling sickness)

If we look at its grammar, Old English resembles German more than it does Present day English:  nouns and adjectives have four cases, adjectives have three separate forms, one for each gender, and verb inflection is less elaborate than that in Latin but yet it has distinct endings for person, number, tense and mood, and we can also find a remarkable resemblance since we start studying verb conjugation:

infinitive – bīdan(remain) / present simple, second person singular – bītst, third person singular – bīt(t)

Old English, a synthetic language just like Modern German, contrasts in the most striking manner with Present day English due to the complete absence of inflections in the latter, where this kind of complexity is unnecessary, as it conveys meaning – as an analytic language – through the placing of the words alone, without resorting on inflectional morphemes. As a Germanic language, Old English developed a twofold declension; a strong declension which is used with nouns when they are accompanied by a definite article or similar (demonstrative, possessive pronoun), and a weak declension, used when the noun is preceded by such determinants, which has remained in use in Present day German, whereas in Present day English adjectives bear no inflections at all.

gōd cnæpling- gut Junge

sē gōda cnæpling-der gute Junge

 

 

 

 

 

 

The outcasts and the New Poor People Law in literature.

“Oliver Twist” was published in 1838, in the midst of what came to be known as the Time of Troubles: the severe economic and social difficulties attendant on industrialization during the 1830s and the 1840s, after a brief period of prosperity between 1832-36. A crash in 1837 and a series of bad harvests produced unemployment, desperate poverty and riots. People lived in

crowded slums packed with unsanitary housing,and children toiled in unimaginable brutal conditions.

oliver
In the political background, the Poor Law Amendment Act, AKA New Poor Law, was passed in 1834 by the Whig government. Its aim was the reformation of the country’s poverty relief system. The PLAA curbed the cost of poor relief in England and Wales and created workhouses, replacing the existing legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601.
The New Poor Law was based on the theories developed by Malthus and Bentham; according to Malthus, the population increases faster than resources, and according to Bentham, people tend to accommodate to what is pleasant and would tend to claim relief rather than working.
All these facts are reflected in the novel by Dickens, whenever he addresses to one of the institutions devised for the poor, such as the workhouse where Oliver’s mother dies or the institutions where Oliver asks for “some more”. They try to deter poor people from staying in them for too long by providing them with poor helpings of unedible food and making them toil hard.
This facts are also reflected in the methods devised in “People of the Abyss” by Jack London, written in 1903,where the outcasts are forced to toil and to pray if they want to benefit from a scarce helping of skilly.
We can also find the same deterring methods within “the spike” in “Down and out in Paris and London”, by George Orwell.
The PLAA was only repealed in 1948 (1948!!!)

The origin of the English language I

Within the Indo-European family tree, surviving languages show various degrees of similarity due to their common origin, bearing a more or less direct relationship to their geographical distribution. They fall into eleven different groups: Indian, Iranian, Armenian, Hellenic, Albanian, Italic, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Celtic, Hittite and Tocharian.

indoeuropean-language-family-tree

Germanic, which antedates the first written records, can be divided into three branches: East Germanic, North Germanic and West Germanic.

East Germanic comprises languages such as Gothic – which accounts for the first written record of Germanic, in the shape of runes in Scandinavia – Burgundian and Vandalic.

North Germanic, which gave way to Old Norse, or early Scandinavian and from which two branches grow out of dialectal differences; on to the East, developing into Swedish and Danish and the other to the West, developing into Norwegian and Icelandic -the most literary of all, with an important body of heroic literature such as the Elder or Poetic Edda compiled by Snorri Sturluson (12th-13th centuries) -.

edda

Finally, there is West Germanic, to which English belongs, and which separates in High German and Low German due to the operation of the 2nd Sound Shift, by which West Germanic voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ and voiced plosive /d/ changed into other sounds in AD 600 in the southern mountainous Germanic area, but not in the lowlands (North). This phenomenon of unknown origin is often assumed to have its origin in the contact with non-Germanic population due to the migration of foreign tribes into Germanic territory.

Thus, High German is the origin of Rhenish, East Franconian, Bavarian and Alemannic, and Low German divides into Old Saxon (essential constituent of Plattdeutsch), Old Low Franconian (basisfor Dutch and Flemish), Old Frisian and finally, OLD ENGLISH.

map 1

Old English is not entirely uniform, though. It comprises four dialects: Northumbrian, Mercian – each bearing their distinctive features and their common ones -, West Saxon and Kentish. Nearly all Old English literature preserved in manuscripts come from West Saxon, which attained the position of literary standard and was eventually cut short by the Norman invasions, giving way to a standard based on the dialect used in the East Midlands.

map2

Abortion in Spain

Up to 1985, abortion was considered as a criminal activity in Spain. The only period of history when it was legal started with the Second Republic (1931), with geographical differences, as it was more liberally applied in more developed areas such as Catalonya. This period lasted until the end of the Second Republic and the defeat of the different factions fighting in the Spanish Civil War by General Franco in 1936 and the subsequent four decades of dictatorship.

During the Second Republic, it was Federica Montseny, an anarchist who was Minister of Health in the left-winged government in office, who recognized and legalized the right of women to have an abortion.

After that, during Franco’s dictatorship, 100,000 abortions a year would be practiced, although this is just an estimation, given the stigma it meant for women and their families and the secrecy that surrounded the issue. The most dramatic events are reflected in the following figures: from 200 hundred to 400 women died as a consequence of clandestine abortions in 1976, during the period known as “la transición democrática” (democratic transition after Franco’s government; he was already dead by then). The upper classes resorted to travelling to London. Here in Spain it was illegal to have an abortion, and those who had one could be put to jail for 12 years. There weren’t anti-baby pills or condoms available; well, there were some sold in the black market, but apart from this, they weren’t available. As they couldn’t used those methods, they were usually faced with the aftermaths, and then, women had to resort on remedies such as throwing themselves out of windows, shoving a parsley stem/knitting needle/steel hanger up their vagina or have an internal rinse with bleach and detergents. Great fun, huh? I’ve actually met people who has done these things.

Actress María de Medeiros as she was in the film "Henry and June"

In 1985, after some years of “democracy” had gone by (and some deaths and imprisonments of women and doctors whose news form part of my childhood memories), the government legalized abortion again. There were three cases in which women could have an abortion:

-rape (first 12 weeks)

-foetus malformations (up to 22 weeks)

-danger for the woman’s physical or psychical health (anytime during pregnancy)

The rest of cases were considered punible.

This law was subtituted by another in 2010 by Zapatero’s government. In this new law they don’t consider the three cases, but abortion is considered  a right without any doubt or condition up to the 14th week of pregnancy, 22 weeks if there were malformations or danger for the mother’s health and no limit if there were foetal anomalies which are incompatible with life. Also, young women aged 16 and 17 could have an abortion without having to ask their parents for permission.

Now, under Rajoy’s legislation the 2010 law is no longer valid, and Secretary of Justice Alberto Ruiz Gallardón has elaborated a law which brings women’s rights far beyond the 1985 law. In case of foetal anomalies which are incompatible with life, who have to deliver your baby to then watch it die before your eyes after your labour hours. The evaluation of danger for the mother’s health has to be done by independent doctors and young women can’t have an abortion without their parents permission.

We must now take into consideration that health-related issues are only one of the causes to have an abortion. 98% of abortions have more to do with economy, work, age or emotional issues. And we only have add up the crisis to this fact in order to build a time bomb…, once more.

Diamonds in the dirt

There has been much talk here in Spain about the levels of poverty we are reaching. I am talking about the average citizen, or course, because as you must know, corruption in Spain stays mainly in the plain (and everywhere else) and euros in Spain stay mainly outside the country (they have a preferrence for Switzerland). Ana Botella, the former president Aznar’s wife (what a surprise, Cornelius Nepote) and mayor of Madrid (please do not miss her speech last year for the Olympics 2020, utterly ridiculous) decided to impose a fine which amounts to 1038 American Dollars (750 euros) on those who search in the rubbish. I think she has decided to take this measure to avoid a certain image which could affect investors’ decisions upon spending money in a ruined country. She wants us to look sleek and politically correct although it is only the political class who is taking the money. Oh, well… The Monarchy is taking the money too, I forgot, my apologies to the crown for forgetting their part in it. Both stink with corruption, stained with moral rubbish in which they feed. How dare they complain that the average citizen looks for food in the trash cans? Does it paint a poor image?

"La brecha", by González de la Cuesta.

“La brecha”, by González de la Cuesta.

The fact is that every time I go shopping or do some errand lately, I see up to three different people in three different spots looking for things among the rubbish. Usually, they carry a neat little shopping trolley, one of those made of cloth with two little wheels that we see at supermarkets and they proceed to their searching. Is there anything wrong with this? Job opportunities are scarce, and there is a lot of still edible stuff in the cans next to supermarkets. Why haven’t they regulated on throwing away edible stuff when there are so many people in need?

This is the society of programmed obsolescence, our dear consumer-based society in which we are valued for the amount of stuff that we consume and we are expected to support society by keeping on buying and discarding material things. This means that the rubbish cans are packed with usable stuff and this is no recent issue. I have picked up interesting things from rubbish cans myself. Part of my clothes come from discards of others and they are as nice as they could be. And I’ve always liked the idea of buying second-hand clothes: less waste for the planet, less influence by the companies that play with a certain image of women, less concern about hundreds dying in a clothes factory in Bangladesh which collapses…

I guess this is considered marginal and belonging to the lumpen-proletariat, but it does have a dignity in it. More than politicians and aristocrats can say in this country.