Monday, February 16, 2015

Dominican Republic

Remember the Haiti earthquake and how much the world cared at the time?
The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and nowhere on Earth will you find such stark contrasts as here. Where Haiti is an impoverished, hurricane-and-earthquake devastated, Third World disaster, DR is the number one tourist destination outside of their own geographical borders for Americans, a trade that augments the affluence derived from sugar and coffee, which was the reason why Europeans settled here with their African slaves in the first place. Sadly, as in most affluent countries, the rich do not care terribly much about the poor, unless they can hire them as nannies, valets or swimming pool cleaners; even less about refugees, once it is no longer being forced on your attention by those annoying news programmes in even more affluent foreign countries. 10% of the population owns 90% of the land and lives on 40% of the country’s GDP, while almost a million Haitian refugees inhabit squalid camps, though this number is fluid, because the government likes to indulge in occasional mass deportations (click here to help the refugees).

The Taino, who were the indigenous inhabitants of Hispaniola (and also Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) before Columbus arrived to claim it for Europe, divided the island into five chiefdoms and territories, with a highly structured political hierarchy similar to that which Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, helped his son-in-law establish as the Hebrew tribal pattern: hereditary chiefs, hereditary subchiefs, and below these castes of nobles, commoners, and slaves. Each settlement within each territory consisted of about three thousand people, living in houses made of logs and poles with thatched roofs. They spoke the Arawak language, dressed in little more than loincloths if they were men, or aprons made of cotton and palm fibres if they were women (South Beach Florida and St Tropez France today are little different!); both wore ear and nose rings as well as necklaces (ditto), often of gold (ditto), and painted their flesh to celebrate the cycle of festivities (now called "tatooing", but ditto), most of which were in honour of the zemis or spirits, who they represented in carvings much like the zemis of Christianity. They were experts in pottery-making, basket-weaving, used implements fashioned out of both stone and wood, and played a ball-game on a rectangular court that preceded tennis by several centuries.

Why am I telling you all this? Because Europe, and Europeans in the Americas especially, continue to represent the Americas as either empty, or at least empty of recognisably intelligent human life, before that seminal moment in which Christ, through his representative on Earth Christopher Columbus, "discovered" the Americas, and brought to them the possibility of MacDonalds hamburgers, Hollywood movies, the Bill of Rights that forgot to become a Charter of Responsibilities as well, slavery, and Guantanamo Bay. Whatever pre-existed Columbus was pagan, heathen, primitive and ignorant; noble savagery at the very most and best. The history of the Americas begins in 1492, and any date before that is equivalent to the time before Noah sailed his ark, the Santa Jehovah, on the doveless waters of the Flood.

The Taino, as I was saying, employed agricultural techniques that would not be acceptable in the Americas today, for they involved no additional chemicals, no preservatives, no genetic modification, and allowed both animals and vegetables to grow at their natural pace, before harvesting them on the basis of ripeness, and not the shape and size that matches the idealised photographs in their commercials. Known as shifting agriculture, it too followed the Mosaic model, the Jubilee model, tilling an area of ground until it had reached capacity, and then letting it lie fallow for a year in order to recuperate; or in the case of trees, burning the forest or scrub after harvesting, then heaping the ashes and soil into mounds that could both be replanted but also self-composting. This resulted in extremely high yields without the need to supplement the soil with fertilisers or damage the surrounding ecosystem with pesticides. Alongside fish and shellfish, which are abundant in the oceans and practically invite trapping, their staple foods were cassava and yam, corn (maize), beans, squash, tobacco, peanuts (groundnuts), and peppers. Birds, lizards, and small animals were hunted for food. The Taino also liked to keep dogs as pets, and employed parrots to decoy wild birds into the range of hunters.  In short, a highly sophisticated civilisation, even if they didn't yet have TV or air-conditioning.

The Taino people were conquered and enslaved by the Spanish within a year of Columbus' arrival. Within sixty years the entire people had disappeared from history, killed by starvation, disease, the rigours of slave-labour, or burning at the stake for refusal to submit to Catholic conversion; though a small group of people living in South Florida has recently claimed to be of Taino origin, a fact they cannot prove, because there is no original DNA with which to compare theirs, and of course the ignorant heathens who were their ancestors had not advanced to the point of leaving
anything behind in writing.

Marks For: Very few after 1492

Marks Against: Very many after 1492

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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