Aggrandising colonialism’s cultural ancestors

Was it not the Scottish Enlightenment (centred on Edinburgh University) which offered intellectual enlightenment to the English? Did that widened understanding of matters significant seep into the psyche of the buccaneers of the East India Company and, later, into the policies of the British rulers of India? Probably not! Were not the latter imbued with the objective of enabling their ‘natives’ to achieve a speedier access to Nirvana through being clutched to the bosom of Christ, while continuing with their own role as shopkeepers?

When scholastic writings by white supremacists did not convince subject peoples that the ‘white race’ was genetically (inherently) superior to all other ‘races,’ the British colonial mind seems to have sought appropriate intellectual and militaristic forebears in continental Europe.

Fortunately, there were the philosophers of Athens, who were not pre-occupied with the semantics of the Church; Macedonian Alexander (the Great), who allegedly introduced everything Greek to all the tribes on the way to the Indian sub-continent, was also available.

Two further developments aided the search for an appropriate cultural ancestor. European scholars of Indian philosophy were cleverly able to date Indic writings to no further back in time than about 1500BC. This allowed Abraham and his people to establish Judeo-Christianity as the religious ancestor of Europeans, with priority over Hinduism.

Then came the acolytes of these scholars, who claimed with great certitude that no ‘black peoples’ had contributed in any substantive manner to human civilisation. These black people were presumably the Egyptians, Sumerians, Persians and Indians, and anyone else with a nicer skin colour than (coppery) white. Strangely, the Mediterranean cultural ancestor and the Levantine religious ancestor could not have possessed that superior white colour!

I now ask these two questions. Who taught Heraclitus that ‘It is all fire up there’ (or words to that effect)? An unknown Indian whose name is not recorded in a text book allegedly reached that conclusion thousands of years before.

Second question: Did not the Bible draw liberally upon Sumerian writings, while the Vedas of the Indic people have been dated, through known planetary configurations, back to about 7,000 BC?

After the modern Western neo-colonials have self-destroyed themselves, or hopefully matured morally, could we recognise that we human beings are all one species? Could we also accept that each one of us will probably have different religio-cultural ancestors in each life on Earth?


My Greek Connections

Soon after I settled in Melbourne, a young immigration official of Yugoslav descent introduced me to the Omonia Cafe in Lonsdale St. I ate there frequently with fellow students – Aussie and Asian. I was addressed in Greek at times, because (presumably) of my light skin colour and long wavy hair. I just love Greek food and the cakes smothered in honey.

There has to be some physical link between the Greeks and my ancestors. I do not know how and when this link might have been established. But I cannot credit Macedonian Alexander (the Great) for any such link, as my ancestors are Ceylon Tamils – who seem to have occupied their lands for a long period in history, until the British arrived.

That there are strong physical similarities in appearance between the Greeks and some South Indians was evident when I was about to hail a chap across the road. I thought that this man was a former classmate, a fellow-Ceylonese Malayan. I suddenly realised that he was (probably) a Mediterranean. In time, I became aware that the Greeks I met (mainly shopkeepers) invariably opened a conversation with me!

Then, when Col. Nasser took control of Egypt in 1952, it led to a number of middle-class Mediterranean people emigrating to Australia. I developed a strong friendship with a number of them; they were mainly Maltese, Greek, and Italian. Young G and I bonded early, and our friendship lasted about 40 years (until his premature death). He was my closest friend in spite of my move to Canberra.

Before my move to Canberra seeking a career, I was virtually an adopted member of G’s family. His Greek father was very much like my deceased father. And his Italian mother treated me as another son. I have happy memories of this special friendship.

My Mediterranean connections continued when I married the daughter of an educated Italian lady. But then, my extended family is very multi-ethnic.


Aftercare for children

Is this what child bearing and caring is about? ‘Aftercare’ is also such an innocuous word. After-what care? After-school, of course. Children in aftercare would presumably spend all day in an institutionalised environment. Why? Because mothers are at work. Strangely, the government seems to want mothers to go to work. Why? Isn’t mothering the most valuable job in society?

How does a child feel about being educated and minded hour after hour outside the home? A 3-week old baby brought to childcare in a basket may not – never – know the difference between growing up in the care of the mother and growing up in an institutionalised setting. Children growing up in the comfort-surround of their mothers will know, both experientially and subconsciously, the difference between a mother’s hug and other equally-caring hugs.

When I was responsible for federal government policy in migrant hostels – there were 13 such hostels then – I noticed that motherly childcare workers, with no university degrees, provided both care and mothering to such a high level that little children from Chile, Poland, and Vietnam were attempting to talk to one another while in the childcare room.
Absolutely fantastic! I used to point out that these children, guided and loved by our childcare workers, represented the future of a multi-ethnic Australia. These children did not, however, spend all day in childcare.

In the recent past, much has been written in the media about the rights of women, and an acceptance of marriage break-up as reflecting the needs and rights of adults. There does not seem to be much emphasis on the psychological needs of children in split families.

I note that Francis Fukuyama had written in depth about the societal deterioration in the USA associated with marriage collapse of considerable magnitude.

Who is responsible for the future of society, when the family is not valued for its contribution to stability in the community, and the psychological needs of children, especially the very young ones, are seemingly ignored?

The history of nations can be confusing

My country of birth was Malaya, which included Singapore. Today, Malaysia excludes Singapore but includes Sabah, a slice of Borneo. Malaysia is now a Muslim Malay nation, regardless of the substantial development contributions by the elders of the multi-ethnic Asian communities living there.

My father was born in Jaffna, an independent Hindu Tamil territory, in colonial Ceylon. Now, Buddhist Sinhalese control the whole island (thanks to the colonial British), which was re-named Sri Lanka.

India was a conglomeration of independent principalities ruled by the Muslim Mughals from Central Asia for centuries. The Mughal rulers were the descendants of Genghis Khan of Mongolia. Genghis was the ruler of the largest contiguous empire ever. Since Alexander and Constantine are known as ‘the Great,’ Genghis could fairly be described as ‘the Greatest.’

The British then united almost all of the principalities into the nation known as India. Then, in an act (which one of my elders described as an act of bastardry), Pakistan, a Muslim nation in 2 widely separated segments, was created. An unnecessary division of a co-existing people led to inhumane consequences. The religio-political tension between these nations may delight the ex-colonials. Then, Bangladesh was hived off. Who benefited from the division of the sub-continent into 3 nations, since Muslims live as equals, and individuals have risen to power, in modern India?

Need or greed would have led to various tribes entering the lands of other tribes in Asia. Over time, boundaries became flexible, and some tribes apparently merged. No boundary seemed to be durable. What is known about these tribes? That depends upon whether their names are in Persian, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Indian, Greek, or some other languages. In the apparent absence of indigenous records, one is limited to the claims of the colonisers or invaders.

have read that most of the tribes named in history are known by only their languages; and that ethnography is mute. Bias, even in academic circles, is not unknown, hitherto influenced essentially by Eurocentrism (the residue of colonialism). For example, an economic historian recently claimed that the major civilisational developments of mankind arose in Eurasia!

Contradictorily, and amusingly, there is apparently a school of historical thought which claims that no ‘black’ people could have contributed to the origins of civilisation. There go the ancient Indians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians (especially the Sumerians), Persians, and other peoples outside Europe. History based on where coins have been found is obviously challengeable. Ubiquitous traders respect no politico-cultural boundaries. They spread philosophy, social customs, coinage and goods.

Those who claim Athens as the font of new knowledge for Europe are challenged by the claim that Athens was established by Egypt; and that, at one time, 50% of Athenians were Egyptians, with many Athenians (such as Pythagoras) studying for years in Egypt.

We cannot all be leading nations, even in history. If, in each life, we are born into different cultures, hopefully – in time – our souls may intuitively guide us to the realisation that difference is insignificant in impact when we are all connected to one another in time and space.

Not all insults are racially motivated

Who are those claiming to be hurt and humiliated by words uttered by others? Should I have felt insulted by being asked repeatedly whether I would join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation?’ Instead, I saw the speakers as well-meaning but not educated. When, recently, a former Church worker claimed that the one and only God of the universe is a Christian god, all the other gods being ‘pantheistic,’ I challenged his arrogance. I suggested that Christianity is a late entrant in humanity’s search for the First Cause of all that is. Were these people racists?

At a political level, when Lee Kuan Yew, the former leader of Singapore, offered a more efficient definition of democracy, he was attacked by the West. Was he insulted? Instead, his Ambassador to the UN published ‘Can Asians really think?’ That closed down further challenges; were they racist?

Significantly, Singapore is ahead of Australia at so many levels of governance – from education to economic development, based on long-term plans; not, as in Australia, waiting for foreigners to invest (if they chose). A silly accusation recently was that, although students in Singapore are ahead of their Australian counterparts in maths, they could not possibly understand the underlying concepts. Racism or dented white superiority?

More ridiculously, the terms ‘race’ or ‘racial’ are applied, almost as a mantra, to a wide variety of allegedly hurtful utterances. Thus, Australia’s ‘racial’ legislation denying free speech is defended as offering protection against any criticism of Israel’s policies! The Catholic Church is also said to need similar protection (something I do not understand). The Australian Aborigines, the only First Nation Peoples not recognised in the Constitution, do need protection from insults; but how are they to access any protection which might be available?

Then, there are the seemingly newly-arrived immigrants who, unlike their predecessors over half a century, claim to be humiliated, hurt, or offended by foolish words by silly people. Offensive words? That depends on whether one is easily offended. Some people are. Why?

Were such people never spoken to disdainfully ‘back home’? Could there be any intangible benefit in claiming to be psychologically damaged by unfriendly or ugly words in Australia?

We early immigrants were genuine ‘adventurers’ who crossed land and sea to start a new life, and to better ourselves. We ignored (or retaliated occasionally) denigrating words. We were not wimps to feel ‘humiliated’ by words from the ignorant.

Words may hurt only if one lets them. Why allow that?

Did colonialism make Aborigines nomadic?

Was the Australian Aborigine made nomadic? A most illuminative book by Bruce Pascoe ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ suggests to me that British invaders of Australia, in their respective roles as explorers and settlers, forced the indigenes into a nomadic life. When the British drove away the Aboriginal people from their land by shooting or poisoning them (so it has been written), destroying their life chances, as well as their culture and lifestyle, where could the indigene go? How could they survive?

The imagined terra nullius of Australia and North America led to the despoliation of the First Nation peoples of these lands. They could not have been settled, could they? They had to be nomadic, owning no land!

The back cover of Pascoe’s book says: “Pascoe puts forward a compelling argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag.”

Pascoe is quoted on the back cover thus: “If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely that we will admire and love our land all the more.”

A reviewer (Lisa Hill) wrote “In 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he is not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily debunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complete civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority.

As a matter of interest, during a brief but bitter historiography war in Australia in recent times, a strident effort was made to play down oral history. Why? Without being tested through the adversarial processes of an Australian court, oral statements about the past could have no credibility. So, there go the Old Testament and any other artefacts of culture.

Pascoe’s work was preceded by the renowned Dr. Coombs. The following is an extract from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ Chapter 3 ‘To have a dream.’

“ A few years after the initial ‘discovery’ by Captain Cook, it was apparently known that the indigenes not only occupied the land and used it with economic purpose, but also (according to the highly respected Dr.Coombs) “… lived in clan or tribal groups, that each group had a homeland with known boundaries, and that they took their name from their district, and rarely moved outside it.” It was also known that they had, and applied, firm rules about trespass, kinship ties, marriage, child rearing and other matters, the hallmarks of an organised society; that they had a “habit of obedience” to their rulers and leaders, a hallmark of a political society; and that they had an ordered ceremonial life, reflecting the sharing of a spiritual vision, a hallmark of a civilisation. Apparently, they also had their own zodiac, which guided their activities. Their artistic records are also well known and respected.”

Sadly, government after government talked about ‘Bridging the gap,’ with no discernible improvement in the plight of their First Nation people (except for a handful of urban Aborigines, who seemed to have made good progress through personal effort). Quo vadis?

Cross-cultural issues (1)

When people who had grown up or been acculturated in diverse environments come together, there may arise cultural tension, because of the manner in which human societies have developed over their histories. A strong distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seems to be the basal layer of human relationships. What triggers these tensions?

Normally, one is born into a collective, and is sustained in that collective until maturity. Then one becomes one of the legs upholding that collective. In most of Asia, even modernised Asia, this collective is the extended family, in its various forms and traditions. In the Ultra-West, the modern nations of the West created in recent centuries by European migrants, the collective is the nuclear family. The boundary of the Asian extended family will include three generations. The boundary of the nuclear family of the Ultra-West is most unlikely to include even the grandparents.

The cultural underpinnings and traditions of the communalism of the East are quite clearly identified, and enforceable in a subtle manner. Those of the individualism of the West are somewhat amorphous, yet effectively coherent, and apparently binding without coercion (except in the matter of religious conformity).

The reality in both situations is that there is a sense of belonging to a ‘tribe,’ especially when the ‘elders’ of this tribe, the priests and politicians, work hard at keeping separate their collective from other collectives. This separation implies the exercise of power or the display of superiority, reflecting competition for resources, or minds and souls. Fanciful? Or a realistic perception?

Competition between groups (or tribes) of Primitive Man or hunter/gatherer or nomad would have been over resources. Shamans and other self-appointed priests and their subsequently developed institutions, and god kings, would have sought power (and probably wealth). Add tribal leaders, the politicians, and there could result that basal relationship between ‘them’ and ‘us.’

With the ending of colonial rule in India, Ceylon, and Malaya, young people from these countries entered Australia in the early post-war period with, as I observed, no prejudice against white people as a whole. I was certainly taught not to be anti-British, while remaining anti-colonial. We had grown up within extended families in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural territories where mutual co-existence and tolerance were evident; and we were educated.

We were also adequately acculturated to be superbly confident about our historical and cultural heritage. We did not expect the treatment we received in those early days when we landed in Australia.

Why did so many of the host-people display oral prejudice and discriminate against us, apparently because of our skin colour? We were well-dressed, and spoke courteously, and in educated English?

Was that the trigger? After demolishing the cultures of the First Peoples of Australia, demoralising them, and pushing them into a dim background, and in spite of not having been a colonial ‘power’, was the Anglo-Aussie affronted by the presence of educated and confident middle-class coloured young people paying their way?