Straight From China/ World History

Christopher LaBorde - Senegal


May 2, 2013

This one’s for you, Covey

If you look at the history of the world, it’s all been kind of random, and following the path of human nature. The advention of institutionalized religion, the human conquest of the world, slavery. Even now we think we are advanced. Think about how far we’ve come. Think about how much left we have to go.

Even “Angry Birds” is over here. This is not the Africa we all imagine, grass skirts and tongue clicks with bad guys hanging in every shadow. Senegal is plugged into the world, it is connected. Senegal is connected enough for vendors to import inexpensive goods from China and resell them for a profit. Even in one of the most rural villages they have flashlights, plastic bowls, money economies, little candies, bleach. And not only do the villagers have enough to cover the essentials (from what I have observed), they have some extra money to buy extra things, the non-essentials. I was surprised to see that they can buy pretty much anything they want, within reason here, things that make life more comfortable, more convenient. It’s just nowhere near the level that we do this in the U.S.

There’s no electricity in my village (I hardly even notice it), or plumbing (I notice that one). My family gets the majority of their food two ways. 1st from the World Food Program (A collaborative effort of developed countries to provide food to poorer countries; many developed countries buy sacks of rice from China to send to these poorer countries) they get about 50 kilos of white rice every 3 months. It is not their main source of food, but it does help. A Lot. 2nd, from the fields that my father farms. My Tokura (Namesake, and also my host Dad) here has a corn field, a rice field, and a peanut field. After they harvest these fields, the yield lasts just until the next season. And once the work of harvesting is done, it seems like there’s not too much other work, except for chores. Cooking, washing clothes, choping wood, house repairs, washing dishes, drawing water, chilling. There is A LOT of free time in the village. My friends in the village tell me there is no work in the village during the dry season (the season when they’re not farming). From my American lens, I had just assumed there would be always something to do.

Okay, so the history of the world, as we know it. Human Nature. Ever since humans realized they could exploit the resources of other beings, they’ve done it. We’ve used horses, dogs, elephants, chickens, and even humans. When a tribe realized they could conquer another and exploit humans as a resource, they did it. When Rome conquered empires, they exacted slaves. The Aztecs, the Incans, the Mayans, the Romans, The Qin, the Han, the Song. The Malians, the Ghanaians, the Hindi, the Persians, the Americans, and the Europeans. The 16th-19th century slave trade was so abhorrent because it was that of one continent taking over the entirety of another, and exploiting the human resources on a scale never before heard of, and because we were at a point in our civilization where we knew that it was wrong morally. But it was abolished eventually. Progress is slow, but it is still progress. It’s funny to think that the lightbulb was invented at the relative same time in our history that slavery was formally denounced. We are much more advanced technologically than we are morally.

As far as for it being random, Race. It just so happens that it was the Europeans, the humans with lighter skin, who developed the technology to explore the world. They were housed in circumstances that allowed them to advance quickly, and develop technology faster than the other civilizations. My father here says that it was God’s will, but I think that everything that happens here is random chance. Plus the combination of millions of little intentions. The culture also encouraged the spreading out and “discovering” of new lands. The culture also allowed for the subjugation and conquering of these lands. We will always judge, and slavery was a terrible thing, but that is just what arrived to take place on this earth, in our history. And it’s over now, for the most part.

My older brother here complains of the incompetencies of his government. This jolts me to recognize that government, and money, are relatively recent implementations in Africa. Before the French colonized, there was no standardized currency, no unified government. The world today is based on a European model of government; Democracy, Bureaucracy. It’s amazing to think that democracy is prevalent in the world today, even in the developing countries.

The United States and Europe have an entire history, a culture of money and government. The African continent is relatively new to the game, and once the colonists pulled out and arbited political boundaries, the people were left pretty much to fend for themselves, with little pushes from former colonizers who still exert a fair amount of political and economic influence.

Colonization and exploitation of another people’s resources isnt the prettiest thing. But we should also recognize that without colonization, Africa would not have organized (or disorganized) governments, or be locked in to the global trading system. There would not be paved roads or electricity. Colonization brought Africa onto the world playing field, into a functional level in the world system, although it itself was a system of subjugation and exploitation. Look around, the system’s not entirely vanquished. The whole world still follows this European system.

Remember reading in the history books that Europe conquered the world? Travel a little, you can see the effects and manifestations of this. French is what is taught in schools here, not Pulaar, or Wolof. French colonized Canada, English Protestants and countless immigrants occupied the United States, The Spanish, Mexico and South America, The Dutch, Phillipines and South Africa, British, Australia, Indonesia, India, China.

The history of the world. The history of man. How many civilizations, how many species will come after us, all with their own stories, and problems. How many exist already in this vast universe? And with all of us stuck up  in the microcosms and small problems of our lives.

We are all small pieces, of a very big puzzle.

Christopher LaBorde