Thursday, February 24, 2005

Recapping the Timeline III

History gives us many examples of groups that expanded geographically with the purpose of transmitting some religious or spiritual views. Among the well-known cases are those of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

Sometimes, the spread of such views is known only through later analysis. For example, Africanists have noted the division in African society centered around the blacksmith taboo. This division of society may have taken place in the Sahel at some ancient epoch. According to Pierre Clement and C.A. Diop, a pro-blacksmith group consisted of artisan kings, who valued manual labor, and had an open, non-caste society.

The other opposing group taboos the blacksmith, has warrior kings, despises manual labor and has a closed, casted society. This societal division had spread throughout much of Africa in ancient times and is still present to some extent today.

In the Austronesian dual world, the division of the Nusantao trading clans along some idealogical lines would be a natural enough development. I have suggested that this was along traditionalist versus exclusivist lines. The traditionalists wanted to preserve the older rather egalitarian society in which equality was valued, while the exclusivists sought to build powerful elites by strictly limiting membership into the upper classes/castes.

To some extent this division may have still been present in the conflict between the medieval kingdoms of Zabag and Wakwak. Numerous notices of Wakwak mention slaves or the slave trade, while these are largely absent with regard to Zabag except during the latter's decline. In Neolithic China, the Dawenkou culture gradually stratified its society but did not adopt human slavery until close to its demise, possibly under the influence of the southern Liangzhu culture. Among the latter, such intense social stratification seems to have been present from the beginning.

Diop states that in Africa the closed society that carries the blacksmith taboo often blames the blacksmith for having stolen the secrets of the gods. This, of course, reminds us of the myth of the fallen angels and Prometheus.

Among the Nusantao, the exclusivist camp though appears as those who wish to share their knowledge. This also is apparent in the stories of the fallen angels and Prometheus, although in this case there is no clear division between open non-casted as opposed to closed casted societies. The knowledge transmitted is thought to lead to the downfall of humanity, and I would suggest this originates from the early situation within the Nusantao clans.

These divisions are brought to a head by the great volcanic eruptions that send shockwaves through the trading network. I have suggested that the stories of the eruptions and the linked clan wars, sometimes fashioned into battles of gods or spirits, are rooted in reality.

The evidence suggests they are not independent inventions to explain phenomenon of one sort or another as might be suggested by some mythologists. The different accounts scattered over various parts of the world provide independent and generally consistent geographical pointers as to the location of these events.

Although these geographical clues are sometimes vague, when taken as a whole they provide a clear picture that indeed correlates with the archaeological and other evidence.

There are real events and real migrations that can account for the wide dispersal of these myths, which in and of themselves literally direct us, with varying degress of clarity, to their own epicenter.

Paul Kekai Manansala