Having lost Paradise, Humanness is all we have
I am blessed with the friendship of Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya. He came to India in 2005, as part of the follow-up of President Kalam’s visit to Tanzania in 2004. An Anesthesiologist, Dr Mpoki brought with him a team of doctors, nurses and paramedics. They spent two years in India learning further in their respective fields. They left behind very warm memories and a great impression. A decade later, I met Dr Mpoki and his colleagues in Dar es Salaam at the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute, a modern well-equipped hospital in Tanzania built by China and run by India-trained personnel.
Dr Mpoki drove me to Bagamoyo, a trading port for ivory and the slave trade, with traders coming from the African interiors, from places as far as Zambia, Congo, Lake Tanganyika and Mount Usambara on their way to Zanzibar. Later, Dr Mpoki took over as the High Commissioner of Tanzania in Canada and moved to Ottawa. He posts his comments regularly in this blog and helps raise the narrative to a higher level with his soulful insights. Commenting upon my article about fame the last month, Dr Mpoki mentioned about Dr Edson Chikumba who spent his life impacting the lives of many people around him.
When Dr. Chikumba left for his heavenly abode, Dr Mpoki said, “Dr Chikumba’s ancestral roots in the Kingdom of Monomotapa (modern day Zimbabwe), and the mourning transcended the political jurisdictions of the Republic.” The mention of the Kingdom of Monomotapa caused a hair-raising experience. It triggered my memory of meeting Padre Filipe Couto, Catholic priest and Former Chancellor of Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UED) in Maputo, Mozambique. One evening, on June 13, 2016, I sat with him in a roadside café and listened from him the story of the people of Monomotapa.
Born in January 1939, Padre Filipe Couto completed two PhDs, in Sociology and Anthropology. He told me that the Monomotapa empire covered vast territories of what are now modern-day Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa. In fact, Monomotapa was a Portuguese transliteration of the African royal title “Mwenemutapa” derived from a combination of two words – “Mwene” meaning King or Lord, and “Mutapa” meaning land. The empire had a well-organized religion revolving around ritual consultation of spirits and royal ancestors and had a powerful priesthood. There were vast gold mines there, but they were not exploited, and people lived in harmony by doing agriculture and animal husbandry and flourished in their paradise.
Padre Filipe Couto told me that the problems started in 1561, when a Portuguese Jesuit missionary managed to make his way into the Mwenemutapa’s court and converted him to Christianity. This did not go well with the Muslim merchants in the capital, and they persuaded the king to kill the Jesuit only a few days after the former’s baptism. This was all the excuse the Portuguese needed to penetrate the interior and take control of the gold mines and ivory routes. The Portuguese started giving guns to the different factions, which brought the downfall of the Mutapan state. Not stopping at the plunder, the Portuguese forced their way of life on the African people. They called the Africans uncivilized and self-assumed a “right” to rule over them. Following this template, other Europeans also rushed in and scrambled the continent.
The same story was rolled out in India by the British. Spices were the primary way of preserving meat in Europe in those times. The British landed on the Indian subcontinent at the port of Surat in 1608 for trade. They quickly spread along the coastlines and reached the East coast, first in the Coromandel, the southeastern coast region of the Indian subcontinent, and later up to Bengal.
The British constructed the St George Fort in Madras in 1639 and Fort William in Calcutta in 1699. They got involved in factional conflicts, wars of succession, and rivalries among the regional Indian powers and recruited a large number of mercenaries and gave them guns. Over the years, prosperous India was not only plundered by the British but they turned it into an economic wasteland to benefit their local industry and global trade.
Sitting that evening with Padre Filipe Couto, I realized the universality of brute power destroying peaceful and prosperous cultures and traditions. American anthropologist, Jared Mason Diamond (b. 1937) in 1997 published, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” in 1997. He boldly declared, based on sound research, that European civilizations were not created out of superior intelligence, but out of a combination of guns, germs, and steel that enabled their imperialism. As much as 95 per cent of the people in the Americas died by smallpox and measles brought by the Europeans to their land. In Australia and South Africa, the aboriginals were decimated by smallpox, measles, influenza and other infectious diseases.
The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disaster that it has already brought must not be seen as a one-off event. Three trends are being repeated here – (1) China has reached a critical mass of prosperity where it must now become an empire (2) The Chinese have already established their presence in the African continent through infrastructure projects and (3) China has taken control of international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It is not COVID-19, it is the guns, germs, and steel that have all been rolled into one and mounted in the template of imperialism.
Let us hear what three great people of the modern times had said. Abraham Lincoln used to quote an anonymous poet who called Truth, the “daughter of Time.” Galileo Galilei said, “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” Albert Einstein declared, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The only thing left of any worth in the world is humanness. If that is lost, everything will be lost.
अयं निजः परो वेति गणना लघु चेतसाम् |
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् |
The great vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” of ancient Indians does not match with The Ming dynasty model of Xi Jinping, the Chinese President for life, demanding that other nations become tribute states, kowtowing to Beijing. The world may not be paradise anymore, but humanity cannot be forsaken. India can’t allow the Chinese to once again turn it into an economic wasteland to benefit their local industry. Humanity is indeed facing an existential threat of dystopia by a predatory superpower on the prowl.
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