Episode 3 (Segment 2): The Key Players

Uploaded by BlackStudiesOnline on 16.02.2012

On to Egypt. Egypt is a society that is a typical river civilization and it’s heavily
dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile River which brings in nutrients into the Nile
Valley that are essential to survival and makes it possible to harvest crops from year-to-year.
Now what type of culture is going to flow from that setting? When you think about Egyptian
culture and civilization what do most people associate that with? Pyramids? Now you're
probably thinking what does that have to do with survival in that particular region. It
turns out that in a culture that is heavily dependent on knowing when these annual floods
are going to come, pyramids come in handy. The pyramids were very carefully constructed
oriented north-south east- west -- 4-sided pyramids -- oriented in that particular way.
Now why is that important? Well, if your survival depends on knowng when these annual floods
are coming the pyramids will literally tell you that. What are pyramids? Well, turns out
their gigantic sundials. So you can tell by the orientation of the shadow when you can
expect these annual floodwaters to come. Egyptians are not the only ones who are heavily dependent
on knowing what time of year it is. There are other highly agricultural societies that
need to know when to plant and harvest. Some of the most noble of them happen to be the
Aztec and the Mayans who are also pyramid builders. They built the pyramids in much
the same way and for the very same reason. Other aspects of Egyptian society also make
perfect sense when you consider the setting. Patrilineal, patriarchal, male-dominated,
hierarchical and polytheistic -- multiple gods. Now look at some of the most prominent
gods in the Egyptian pantheon. You've got a God of the sun. This is the God that's going
to tell you when to plant and when to harvest, so it's essential to have a godlike that in
this type of setting. God of the Nile. Also if you're in a setting that relies on your
God of the Sun, Ra or Osiris, God of the Nile, it would be a good idea for your ruler to
have a good relationship with the gods. Thus you are going to endow your rulers with godlike
status. Again, the religion and culture that comes out of the setting is going to tell
you a lot about how people survive in this particular setting.
Now, let's talk a little bit about West Africa. We're talking about a different climatic region,
so you can expect the folks were talking about in West Africa to be culturally different
from the folks in Egypt. In the sub-Saharan grassland, we have folks growing a variety
of grains and cereals, but most black folks in the United States with a history dating
back to the period of slavery came from the equatorial rain belt region -- a great many
of them from the area of present-day Nigeria. So what kind of culture can you expect to
come out of that region? Well, this is a region that's forested, but what may seem a bit counterintuitive
is that this is not a place that's particularly well suited for growing food. Why is it that
you have such huge trees in this thickly forested region? Well, turns out that the only thing
that will grow there. Because of the constant soil erosion your agriculture is going to
consist of plants with deep roots that are not going to not get washed away as soon as
the first rains come. So grains, cereals stuff like that is not to work in the equatorial
rain belt. What types of foods are you going to grow? You are probably going to grow things
like yams, watermelons, sweet potatoes, radishes things that have deep roots. That's the only
thing that can be grown there that won't get washed away when the rains come and erode
soil. That also happens to be the reason why if you asked the majority of Americans what
is America's pie, they'll say apple pie but if you asked most black folks they will say
sweet potato. Also, culturally this is going to be a region
that's going to rely on oral traditions to pass information from one generation to another
generation. Now, why not do it through writing? Are these folks just not as smart as the European
folks? Well, in the interest of reframing, another way to put that is, why is it that
we consider literary cultures to be more advanced? Is that because it happens to be the norm
in Europe? Well, remember this is a different cultural setting and a different means of
survival is going to be adopted and therefore they're going to have a different means of
transmitting information from one generation to the other that is not look the same as
it's going to look in Europe. Where does paper come from? Well, turns out Europe was a preliterate
society until they got paper from Asia. Egypt wrote its records mostly on papyrus. Those
types of things are not in West Africa. So, you're going to have to come up with another
way of transmitting information from one generation to the next. The tendency to note difference
and place it in terms of hierarchy comes largely from a European framework. Since this program
seeks to frame things differently, suffice it to say that Europe transmitted information
one way, West Africans transmitted it another way, and neither is more or less advanced.
So, we've already talked about the first major player on the scene, that is Egypt. Egypt
sits on some prime real estate. The 2nd two major players on the scene, Greece and Rome,
are very quickly going to realize that in order to get what they need to survive they
need to somehow go through Egypt. Europe as it turns out is predisposed toward expansion.
Europe doesn't have a whole lot of natural resources so in order to get what they need
to survive they are going to have to expand or die. Again, if you look at the culture
that comes out of that need for survival what you see in Greece and Rome? Aries, God of
war. You see Poseidon (or Neptune in Rome) God of the sea. In order to expand you’re
going to need a strong Navy. The pantheon of gods in Greece and Rome tell you a lot
about survival in that particular region just as Egyptian religion tells you a lot about
survival in Egypt. So, Greece and Rome structure their society around getting what they need
to survive, which means access to trade to Asia, and in order to get their going to somehow
have to get through Egypt. That's the reason why Alexander the Great in 322 BC conquerors
Egypt and makes it a Grecian province -- the same thing with Rome for the same reason.
They're going to capture much of North Africa and the gateway to the Middle East, which
means access to China in order to get what they need to survive. By the time Rome conquers
much of North Africa, they have already established a relationship with the folks in the trans-
Sahara. So already folks in West Africa and the trans-Sahara are linked into this global
network of trade that Rome has established for its own reasons because they need access
to trade in China. Now, we've already discussed how Rome based its entire society -- its military
and its civil society -- around its need to access trade with Asia. And that's working
well for Rome for a while -- until about the 5th century A.D. when we have a new player
on the scene the Muslims. Around the 5th and 6th century A.D., Islam is starting to expand
across North Africa, across Egypt -- the Mameluk Empire. Coincidentally you have a subsequent
decline in Rome. Why? Because access to trade with Asia has now been blocked by the Muslims.
So, what happens to Rome? What happens to Europe? It starts to crumble you have bubonic
plague, middle ages, feudalism, warlordism -- it's a very violent time not a very pleasant
place to live. Why? Because the fundamental structure that Rome and Western Europe had
based its society on now has been jerked right out from under them. This new phase of European
history is largely going to concern itself with that problem. How do you reclaim this
territory that you lost the Muslims? Well, they figure they might be able to do that
during the Crusades, it didn't work quite that well. And, when that failed what's their
other option? Well we'll go by sea. But much of the rest of the history of Europe is going
to be around the central need of accessing trade with Asia.
Now, remember the sub-Sahara is already linked to this global network of trade that Rome
was controlling. So what happens as Rome declines? West Africa expands. They are figuring ... What
happened to our neighbors to the north? We were linked into this economic trade network
and now they're gone. So they better expand so they can fill that vacuum that Rome has
left. There are some new players on the scene as well and that's going to dominate events
in West Africa for the next several years. What West Africa is going to very quickly
understand is that if they want to play with these new guys on the scene, as Islam is expanding
across North Africa, they had better get with the Muslim program which means converting
to Islam which they had done by the Mali Empire. What we are going to see emerge here is that
West Africa is going to base his entire society -- its civil structure, its organizational
structure and its social structure -- around trans-Saharan trade over Muslim controlled
trade routes. So what kind of culture are you going to get
based on that need? Well, we already talked about the conversion to Islam, that's pretty
important. In order to sustain long-distance trade across the Sahara, I guess you'd better
import camels in order to have these camel caravans. The main thing that West Africa
has plenty of is gold and gold is going to be traded pound for pound the same value as
salt. Now why is also important? Well, if you're society is based on long-distance trade
your going to need salt in order to be able to preserve food across these long caravans.