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Archive for the ‘1400s’ Category

Haiti was a land of the Tainos (Arawaks). But then one day in 1492 a white man named Columbus arrived from over the seas. He noticed they wore gold jewellery. He told them he would cut off the hands of any Taino over 13 who did not give him a certain amount of gold or cotton every three months. The Taino fled inland, but the Spanish followed, running them down with dogs and killing them, looking for the gold mines. They made girls into sex slaves. It got so bad that mothers were killing their own babies.

In two years half the Tainos were dead.  By 1555 they were all gone.

In 1505 Columbus’s son brought the first African slaves to the Americas, bringing them to Haiti. By 1519 there were already slave uprisings.

In 1697 France got Haiti from Spain and called it Saint-Domingue.

By 1789 Haiti produced three-fourths of all the sugar in the world, its black slaves producing more wealth than all of English-speaking North America. A third of slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa.

In the 1790s Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising that in time overthrew the French, making Haiti independent in 1804. The slaves were freed and the land divided among them. The 3,300 remaining French were killed and white was taken out of the flag, leaving red and blue.

For its loss France demanded payment of a crushing debt. France, Britain and America cut it off from overseas trade until it agreed to pay the debt. It took till 1947 to pay it off.

Like the Roman Empire, Haiti had no peaceful means for power to change hands. Often the government would be overthrown every few years.

From 1849 to 1913 America sent warships into Haitian waters 24
times to “protect American lives and property.”

Haiti was under American military rule from 1915 to 1934. Major General Smedley D. Butler said he hunted the Haitians “like pigs” and made Haiti “a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in.” American troops practised “indiscriminate killing of natives” while the American press called Haitians “a horde of naked niggers” in need of “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

America rewrote Haiti’s laws so that Americans could buy up land. They sent 40% of Haiti’s income to American and French banks to pay back debts.

From 1957 t0 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers: Papa Doc and Baby Doc. They ruled by terror through the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. America backed them and opened factories there.

Since the fall of Baby Doc, Haiti has gone back and forth between military rule and democracy, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a country priest, as the star democrat. America sent in troops in 1994 to restore Aristide to power, but it seems likely they were behind his overthrow in 1991 and 2004.

Democracy was last restored in 2006. The government is backed by a UN force but it is still weak. On top of that Haiti was hit by hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 that killed over a thousand and by an earthquake in 2010 that has killed 110,000 at last count.

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shakespeareHere is the Lord’s Prayer in Early Modern English (from the Geneva Bible of 1587):

Our father which art in heauen,
halowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdome come.
Thy will be done
euen in earth, as it is in heauen.
Giue vs this day our dayly bread.
And forgiue vs our dettes,
as we also forgiue our detters.
And leade vs not into tentation,
but deliuer vs from euill:
Amen.

Early Modern English (1474-1660) is English from about the time of Caxton in the late 1400s, when he printed the first book in English, to Milton in the middle 1600s. It is the English of Shakespeare and the Authorized King James Bible, of Hobbes, Bunyan,  Marlowe, Spenser, Bacon and Donne. It was considerably different from the English of Chaucer in the late 1300s, yet it was easily understood up until the late 1800s.

It was when English had become a respectable language, like French. It was taking in huge numbers of Latin words. Shakespeare showed its beauty and power. Even so, it was not the giant world language it is now – only about 5 million people in a corner of Europe spoke it. English was just beginning to spread its wings.

It was the English that was brought to America. The American use of –ize instead of -ise and mad in the sense of angry, for example, go back to this time.

It was during this period that English spelling became more or less fixed. This started with Caxton in the late 1400s, who pretty much wrote words the way they sounded. Most of what makes English hard to spell comes from the Great Vowel Shift that came soon after in the 1500s: that was when the silent e became silent, as did the k in knife, the w in wrong, the t in listen, the l in half and so on. It is when words like food and good or sweat and meat stopped rhyming in spite of how they were spelled.

The most noticeable difference between our English and theirs are all those thous and -eths. But even in the early 1600s they were already falling out of use. They are more common, for instance, in the King James Bible, which preserves an older English from the middle 1500s, than they are in Shakespeare. By the 1600s -eth was probably said as -es regardless of how it was spelled.

Some notes:

  • My became mine before a vowel: “mine apple”.
  • Is could still sometimes take the place of has in the perfect tense: “He is come”.
  • Its was just coming into use in the 1600s: before then his and whereof were used instead: “the weight whereof was an 130 shekels.”
  • Ye was used instead you when it was the subject of a sentence: “But be ye doers of the word.”
  • Thou was the familiar form of “ye”, but it was falling out of use.
  • Instead of using do to make a question you could just put the main verb first: “Have ye three apples?”

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I have written quite a bit about white people lately. Here is the overview:

White people (1502- ) are those light-skinned people who come from Europe, the Middle East and parts nearby. Over the past 500 years they have settled in Australia, South Africa, North and South America.

Some say that Muslim and Latin American whites are not white, but if you are going to divide the world into five or so races, there is no physical reason to set them apart – only ones of history and religion.

Even so, in English when people say “white” they mainly mean the whites in North America and Britain. I do too.

Who counts as “white” in America has changed: the Irish and the Jews were not considered to be “white” at first. The same is true now for Latinos. About 40% of Americans who are part African pass for white.

On the world stage, whites are on top, but only since about 1800.

Northern Europe had been a backward corner of the world through most of history. As late as the 1400s Timbuktu, a black city in Africa, and Tenochtitlan, a brown city in Mexico, each had far more people than London, a white city in Europe.

Egypt and China, not Europe, have been the most advanced parts of the world through most of history. China still was as late as 1700 and likely will be again by 2030. Just look at who is studying engineering now.

Many whites think they are on top because they are just better than everyone else. Either because of their race, their way of life or their laws and customs.

Not quite.

Whites got on top because they had guns and ocean-going ships and industry first. Japan has shown these things are not “white”, so whites got them first only through an accident of history.

Whites, except for their power, are the same as everyone else. God did not make them special. God is not smiling on them. Hardly.

Starting in the 1600s in America they came with their guns and pushed the red man off his land and then with their wonderful ships (they were a wonder), they brought black men over the seas in chains to work that land. It is not what Jesus would have done, but it is what they did.

Deep down they knew it was wrong. So to live with themselves they had to believe a lie: whites are better than everyone else. A lie most of them still believe to this day.

Racism is not just some bad habit they fell into. It is built into their sense of who they are.

White American racism was open and naked down to the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. They have since changed. But it seems their words have changed far more than their hearts. They still think they are better than blacks, but their excuses are now a bit more subtle and carefully worded – not so much to hide their racism from the world but from themselves.

– Abagond, 2008. 

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Standard English


Standard English (1450- ), also known as proper English or good English, is the English you learn at school and see in books, the kind you hear on the evening news, like on CNN or the BBC. It is the kind you see in The New York Times and The Economist.

Few people speak it natively, so it is probably not what you speak at home or with your friends. If you ever had the experience at school of something “sounding right” but being told it was bad English, then Standard English is not your native language. Even in England only one person in six speaks it natively.

Each country has a slightly different form of Standard English. But the differences are so slight that most people cannot tell which country a given piece of writing came from.

Once you learn the Standard English of your own country, it is easy to understand that of any other country. For example, most Americans in Jamaica cannot understand the English they hear in the streets, but they have no trouble understanding the evening news there.

There are dozens of kinds of English. Standard English is just one of them. It is not better than any other form of English except for two things:

  1. It is understood all over the world wherever English is spoken.
  2. It will not make you sound like you lack education or intelligence, which almost any other form of English will when used in the wrong circles.

Standard English started in the middle 1400s in London. That was when:

  • The government made all its clerks write in the same kind of English no matter what part of England they came from.
  • Caxton began to print books in English.

Caxton wanted to sell as many books as possible, so he used the English of the well-to-do of London. It was the same sort of English the government was using. Standard English was born.

Here is Caxton as an old man in London in 1490:

And certainly our language now used varies far from that which was used and spoken when I was born.

All I changed was the spelling, nothing else. It still makes sense 500 years later. So, as much as English had changed since the 1420s when Caxton was a boy, Standard English has changed little in the hundreds of years since then.

The main changes since the 1400s:

  • The word “its” was added in the early 1600s, taking the place of all those whereofs.
  • The loss of “thou“, “didst” and so on.
  • The spelling became fixed in the middle 1600s.
  • A huge number of Latin and Greek words were added in the late 1600s and again in the late 1900s.
  • The grammar was partly modelled on Latin in the 1700s.

Standard English spread through the middle-class in the 1700s and then, with the rise of public education in the 1800s, to society as a whole.

– Abagond, 2008.

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simonetta06.jpg

Simonetta Vespucci (1453-1476), “la bella Simonetta”, was the most beautiful woman in Florence, Italy in her day. She was so beautiful that men were still painting her more than 20 years after her death. She is the woman you keep seeing over and over again in Botticelli’s paintings, like the “Birth of Venus”.

Botticelli painted her as the Virgin Mary, Venus and Athena. Piero di Cosimo painted her as Cleopatra and Procris. Poliziano and Lorenzo the Magnificent wrote about her in verse – as did Gabriele d’Annunzio in our own age. Many other poets and painters honoured her as well with their works. You can see her today on some of the money in Europe.

She had brown eyes, white skin and long, flowing dark yellow hair. She had what in those days was considered to be a perfect figure.

In Botticelli’s paintings she looks a bit sad, but also like she is in a dream.

Lorenzo the Magnificent read her look differently: that she was not just beautiful on the outside but had a beautiful soul too: she was serious, never had an unjust feeling, was not proud or stuck on herself and had an excellent mind. She walked and danced with grace, a sign of the inner balance of her soul.

She was the perfect Renaissance woman.

She was born in either Genoa or Portovenere, the place where they say Venus arrived in Italy. At 15 she married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named. Her husband brought her to Florence, the city ruled by the Medicis. Because her father-in-law was an important man there, the Medicis soon came to know her.

Two Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, fell in love with her. Lorenzo was too busy with affairs of state, but Giuliano pursued her.

At the La Giostra games in 1475 Giuliano rode into battle under a flag with her picture on it and the French words “La Sans Pareille” – the woman without parallel. Botticelli had made the flag. At the games she was named the “Queen of Beauty”.

Some say that Giuliano won her heart that day and they became lovers. Others say that she refused him.

A year later, at the age of 23, she became very sick and was coughing up blood: she had tuberculosis.

There is a strange story that Giuliano tried to keep her alive as a vampire: better that than to see her die. In that story she becomes a vampire and hides in the tower overlooking the main square. When she is cornered she jumps to her death.

In any case she died that spring. At her funeral thousands followed her body to its grave.

It seems that Botticelli had fallen in love with her too: after he first saw her, she was the only woman he ever painted, even after her death. He never married and was laid to rest at her feet.

botticelli-venus-768.jpgsimonetta07.jpgsimonetta08.jpgsimonetta11.jpgsimonetta03.jpgsimonetta10.jpgsimonetta12.jpgsimonetta13.jpg

– Abagond, 2007.

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The Portuguese empire (1415-1999) was the first and the last of the empires of western Europe. It sold black pepper from the Spice Islands and black men from Africa. It helped to spread the Catholic faith, especially to Africa and Asia, and made Portuguese a language spoken by more people than French. The empire gave birth to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and other countries.

At one time or other Portugal ruled parts or all of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Indonesia, East Timor, Bahrain, Barbados, Nagasaki in Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, Morocco, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Goa in India and Macao in China, among others.

From 1000 to 1300 the Portuguese Christians took over what is now Portugal from the Moors. But in a sense they never stopped: in the 1400s they kept on going, down the coast of Africa. By 1498 they had reached India, by 1571, Japan. They had ports and outposts all along the coasts of Africa and Asia, from Lisbon to Nagasaki. The empire was at its height – not in land, but in power, trade and wealth.

Treaty of Tordesillas: The groundwork for this was laid in 1494, two years after Columbus discovered the Americas. The pope divided the world outside Europe in half between Portugal and Spain. In effect Portugal got Brazil and all of Africa and Asia except the Philippines.

The agreement held long enough among European powers to shape both empires. Portuguese power in its half of the world was not challenged till the 1600s by the Dutch. In 1500 the Portuguese had the best ships in the world, but by 1600 it was the Dutch.

The Dutch fought the Portuguese everywhere, even in Brazil. Portugal managed to hold onto Brazil, but lost Ceylon and the Spice Islands (Sri Lanka and Indonesia). Worse than mere land, they lost control of trade from the East. The glory days of the empire were over.

In the 1700s Brazil became the jewel of the empire. Brazil had sugar, gold, diamonds, cacao and tobacco. Black slaves worked the land. With the growth of Brazil inland, the empire reached its height in terms of land.

Extensão máxima do Império Português no século XVII.

The early 1800s brought the wars of Napoleon. The king fled to Brazil. Rio, not Lisbon, was the seat of the empire for a while. But after the wars Portugal was no longer strong enough to hold onto Brazil. It became independent in 1825.

This was a huge shock. To make up for its loss, Portugal turned its attention to its possessions in Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique.

In the late 1900s the empire came to an end.

In 1974 Salazar fell from power in Portugal and nearly all of the remaining countries of the empire were freed: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe and East Timor. Some of these sank into wars of succession, particularly Angola and Mozambique. Indonesia took over East Timor, killing a third of its people.

But even then Portugal still had Macao near Hong Kong. That was given back to China in 1999, the last bit of the empire to go.

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Kilwa


Kilwa (900s to 1700s), also called Quiloa or Kilwa Kisiwani, was the richest city in eastern Africa from 1000 to 1500. Today no one lives there. It is just some broken down buildings in a nearly forgotten corner of Africa.

Kilwa stood on an island on the coast of what is now south-eastern Tanzania. Then it was in the land of the Zanj. Only the old buildings remain. Even the book that once told its story, the Kilwa Chronicle, is lost (though parts of it appear elsewhere). But the society of Kilwa has lived on, becoming the pattern for Swahili-speaking Africa.

Kilwa was the first city in eastern Africa to have a domed building, the city’s great mosque. It also had its largest stone building, the palace of Husuni Kubwa with a hundred rooms.

Kilwa grew rich by trading the gold, iron and men of Africa for the riches of the east: the cloth and jewels of India, the porcelain of China and the spices of the Indies.

It was a beautiful city built of stone and coral. Ibn Battuta, the Marco Polo of the Arab world, arrived there in 1331. He was amazed by its beauty.

The people were black Muslims who spoke Swahili. But by the time the Portuguese arrived in 1500 half the people were Christians from India and Abyssinia.

The city was founded by Ali bin al Hasan. He came in the 900s on a ship from Shiraz (south-western Persia).

Kilwa was as far south as Arab traders would go. Like Timbuktu, Kilwa got rich by controlling the trade between the Arabs and its part of Africa.

Its glory days came to an end in 1500 when the Portuguese arrived. It was Cabral who first came, on the same voyage in which he discovered Brazil. Two years later Vasco da Gama arrived and asked for tribute. In 1505 Francisco de Almeida came and destroyed the city, taking it outright. He built Gereza, a fort that later became a prison.

Some years later the Portuguese lost Kilwa to the Arabs. Later it was ruled by Zanzibar. But the city never recovered: the Portuguese had taken control of trade with the east.

In the 1700s Kilwa did see something of its old wealth return by selling slaves to Brazil. But then in the early 1800s the British brought an end to even that. Kilwa died. There was no reason to go there any more.

You can still see the remains of the mosque, the Kubwa palace, the old Portuguese fort and some other buildings. They are falling apart with the wind and the rain and the years.

It is not a tourist attraction, though the curious do show up from time to time.

In 1981 UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site, one of the several hundred places in the world worth preserving – not that UNESCO has any money to save what is left of Kilwa.

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