I have always found history very interesting and it was when I realized that learning history is not mainly about the dates of kings and battles when I began to see the point. The point is what we can learn from the past, because all of us are linked to each other as links in a chain. What has happened in the past is affecting us now, and our present is affecting our future and the future of our fellow human beings. If we look at our world with our history glasses on, we suddenly begin to see things differently. We begin to understand that we have a responsibility for our actions and our thoughts. This is a great responsibility and perhaps a bit overwhelming, but we need to take it seriously.
The English author John Donne, who lived in the seventeenth century, said in a sermon:
”No man is an island.”
He meant that no one is self-sufficient; everyone relies on others. We rely on each other, and everyone relies on us. Beginning to think like that can make anyone of us a bit light-headed, but when that thought is rooted in one’s mind it begins to grow. Everything that grows requires more space and the larger our thoughts are becoming, the more time we spend with them. We nurture them like precious plants and allow nothing to harm or shade them. That is if we are aware of the seriousness of our thoughts, if we respect ourselves that much to not allow anyone to interfere and lead our thoughts astray.
Once upon a time, an adventurous little boy was born. The year was 1451, the place was Genoa in Italy, and the little boy got the name Cristopher Columbus. Christopher was fascinated by the sea, when he was of age he entered a ship and with time he became an experienced sailor. As an adult Cristopher Columbus moved to Portugal to gain support for a journey he was planning to find new trade routes to the Far East. Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain, agreed to finance him. In 1492 Columbus set sail from Palos in Spain with three ships. After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean for 10 weeks, land was sighted. He landed on a small island in the Bahamas, which he named San Salvador. He claimed the island for the King and Queen of Spain, although it was already populated.
Columbus called all the people he met in the islands ‘Indians’, because he was sure that he had reached the Indies. This initial encounter opened up the ‘New World’ to European colonisation, which would come to have a devastating impact on indigenous populations. The explorer Christopher Columbus is known for his 1492 ‘discovery’ of the New World of the Americas on board his ship Santa Maria.
In actual fact, Columbus did not discover North America. He was the first European to sight the Bahamas archipelago and then the island later named Hispaniola, now split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his following voyages he went farther south, to Central and South America. He never got close to what is now called the United States.
Columbus wanted to find a new route to India, China, Japan and the Spice Islands. If he could reach these lands, he would be able to bring back rich cargoes of silks and spices. Columbus knew that the world was round and realised that by sailing west – instead of east around the coast of Africa, as other explorers at the time were doing – he would still reach his destination. Cristopher Columbus wanted to sail back to Portugal to tell about his great findings and to claim his reward in riches. He left 39 of his crewmembers on the island of Hispaniola to start a new settlement. At his arrival in Portugal, Columbus was given new titles; Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Governor of the Indies.
Columbus made three more journeys, but had to return to Hispaniola where he found that the so called Indian inhabitants had started a bloody revolt against the Europeans. A new governor was sent to take over, Columbus was arrested and stripped of his titles. He never made it to what we nowadays think of America, North-America, but that part of the history is perhaps not as exciting to speak about. What Columbus did was to inspire others to travel the seas to explore new countries. What these explorers never thought of was that the countries they came to were not new, they had been there all the time and were familiar for their inhabitants. In these times, you fought for your power and for your land. It was the common way of life so the new explorers didn’t consider it strange to sail somewhere far away and claim that land as theirs.
The explorers were full of curiosity but also determination to claim the land as theirs, in the name of their king or queen. They had brought weapons to defend themselves against the savages. I’m sure that the explorers were very nervous about the unknown places they came to, so the level of conversation with the inhabitants was not high. The strongest ones took the power, so the boughs and arrows of the Indians could not compete with the rifles of the explorers. The barbaric treatment of the indigenous people was nothing the explorers spoke about in their letters home. Everything was instead told as adventure stories inspiring new generations to come along. New ships were built, new sailors sailed and this became a trade.
The common world maps we see today are not accurate. They are still based on the first maps made in 1569. These were made for navigating the seas, and the proportions were not accurate. The problem is to transfer a round world on a flat surface, a map. The measurements didn’t add up, so some countries were made looking larger than they in the reality were. This didn’t begin to be questioned until the 1970s.
This original map, the Mercator projection, is making Africa looking much smaller than it really is. Canada, the US and Europe are greatly enlarged. Greenland, which looks about the same size as the whole of Africa is actually no bigger than the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That European and American countries are enlarged is no accident. This system provided more space for Western cartographers to mark towns, cities, roads etc in their part of the world. There was of course much to map in Africa too, but that didn’t matter to the cartographers up north. The larger a country looks, on a map, the more powerful and intimidating it appears. Isn’t it about time that Africa claims it’s space in the world? Put yourself on the map, but not as a place known for war, starvation and corruption. Instead claim your space as a continent full of resources, both human and natural ones. Let these resources allow your people to thrive and allow Mother Africa to take her rightful space in the world.