The Xenophile Historian Newsletter, #27

 

The Xenophile Historian Newsletter, #27
( http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/ )

Greetings once again to all my loyal readers!  Charles Kimball is here again, to give you the latest news on my world history website, and more. 

This time the main announcement is that I am trying a new online venture — podcasting.  I was prompted to do this by my discovery last fall, that history-related podcasts were appearing all over the World Wide Web.  There are no longer just a few individuals in the business, like Dan Carlin.  Most of the podcasts I listened to were enjoyable, especially if I learned something, but with those that weren’t so good, my reaction was, “I can do better than that!”  In June one of the podcasters I listened to went on Facebook and asked for comments, and when I told him about the episode where I thought I could have done better, he agreed!

After that, I considered making my own history podcast, But I didn’t want to start by doing a topic that someone else had already covered.  Thus, I considered what areas of history I am strong at, and one of them is Southeast Asian history.  A quick Google search told me that no one is doing a podcast on that yet, so that became my subject.  I read up on how to make a podcast, bought a good microphone, chose a host for the MP3 files, wrote my first script, and off I went.  There were some technical issues when I uploaded the first episode on June 29, and they were resolved on July 1, so I consider July 1 the official launch date for the podcast.  That episode was just an introduction, and the second episode began the actual historical narrative; I uploaded it on July 15.

Thus, the History of Southeast Asia Podcast is fully underway.  My goal is to upload two episodes a month, each around 30 minutes in length.  Let’s see how long I can keep it going; if I make it to the mid-twentieth century, this will become the official podcast about the Vietnam War, among other things.  Next, I want to get some advertisers, and otherwise find ways to make money doing this, because I am still out of work at this time.  Here is the URL that goes directly to my host.  Check it out.

https://www.blubrry.com/hoseasia/

You can also subscribe to it on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/history-of-southeast-asia/id1130762848

And I made a page on Facebook to promote the podcast:

https://www.facebook.com/historyofsoutheastasia/

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Now, what is happening back on the main website?  Another chapter in my South Pacific history series has been completed and uploaded, as you might expect if you have read my previous newsletters.  In composing Chapter 4, the main issue was that since we only have 102 years to cover to get to the present (1914-2016), should it all be done in one chapter?  At first I thought so, but then it occurred to me that the part dealing with World War I & II in the South Pacific can stand by itself, and I am keeping you from seeing it if I wait until the postwar material is done before uploading everything.  Thus, the narrative now has Chapter 4 for the period between 1914 and 1945, and a future Chapter 5 will go from 1945 to the present.  Here is how the chapter is organized:

Chapter 4: The Great Pacific War

1914 to 1945

http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/pacific/pacific4a.html

Part I

World War I: The Prologue
The Pacific Islands in the Interwar Period
The Interwar Years: Australia
The Cactus War and the Emu War
New Zealand: Between Liberal and Labour
"Under A Jarvis Moon"
The Flight of Amelia Earhart

 
http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/pacific/pacific4b.html

Part II

The Pacific War Begins
From Pearl Harbor to the Coral Sea
The Battle of Midway: The Tide Turns
The New Guinea Campaign, Part 1
Guadalcanal
The New Guinea Campaign, Part 2
Climbing the Solomon Islands, and Part 3 of the New Guinea Campaign
The Pacific Drive
The Last Carrier vs. Carrier Battle
The End of the War is in Sight

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As for existing pages on the site, I only have one update to report, but it’s a big one.  In May I went back to the Russian history series.  This time I did a major rewrite Chapter 2, the Medieval Russia chapter.  The motivation is the same that prompted me to compose Chapter 1 in 2013; I felt the need to give equal time for non-Russians living in places that would be considered part of Russia in later eras.  For medieval times, that will include the Mongols, Germans, and Lithuanians.  I ended up adding so much new content, including pictures, that I split Chapter 2.  The new Chapter 2, called “Kievan Russia,” covers the years from 862 to 1300, while the material for the years 1300-1682 became a new Chapter 3, called “Muscovite Russia.”  Of course the chapters that were previously numbered 3-5 were renumbered 4-6.  Chapters 2 and 3 are now organized thusly:

http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/russia/ru02.html

Chapter 2: Kievan Russia

862 to 1300

The Kievan Principality
A Christian Russia
The Decline of Kiev
The Mongol Conquest
The Baltic Crusades Begin
Alexander Nevsky
The Golden Horde

 

http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/russia/ru03.html
 
Chapter 3: Muscovite Russia

1300 to 1682

The Rise of Lithuania
The Rise of Muscovy
The Golden Horde Breaks Up
Ivan the Great
Ivan the Terrible
North to the Orient
The Time of Troubles
The Conquest of Siberia
Russia Under the Early Romanovs

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That’s it already.  Concerning what’s next, just two things come to mind.  First, I will finish the South Pacific history series; doing that by the end of this year is a worthy goal.  Second, I will build on the new History of Southeast Asia podcast; how far can I go with this?  Thank you for reading and listening, and have a great life until we touch base again!  ‘Bye for now.

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If you missed older issues of this newsletter and want to see them, they can be downloaded in a zip file from http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/download/index.html .  And the links below go to topics I mentioned in previous issues, that are still valid.  Please visit them, if you haven’t already:

The Xenohistorian Weblog, this site’s official blog.

https://xenohistorian.wordpress.com

My world history textbook, "A Biblical Interpretation of World History."

http://www.rosedogbookstore.com/biinofwohi.html
or
http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/worldhis/index.html

My business website:

http://charlesskimball.legalshieldassociate.com/

And my page on Tsu.

https://www.tsu.co/Berosus

 

Take Care and God Bless,

Charles Scott Kimball

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Now I Have a Facebook Page

 

While my podcast has gotten a favorable reception so far, it occurred to me that not everyone who might want to listen knows about it, because they aren’t friends of mine of Facebook.  Therefore, today I created my first Facebook page, to promote the podcast.  So if you want to keep up to date on new episodes as I upload them, you can do it by liking the page.

https://www.facebook.com/historyofsoutheastasia/

Episode 1, The First Southeast Asians

 

HoSEApodcast

All right!  The second episode in my podcast series, and the first one in the actual narrative, went up today.  This one covers what we know about Southeast Asia in prehistoric times.  We look at Java Man, Solo Man, Wadjak Man, Meganthropus, Gigantopithecus, Homo floresiensis, the Negritos, and the amazing Ban Chiang village in northeast Thailand.  Go directly to it by following this link:

https://www.blubrry.com/hoseasia/15220742/the-first-southeast-asians/

Thanks in advance for listening!

*****

(Transcript, added June 24, 2019)

Greetings, dear listeners. For this episode, we will be looking at the earliest physical evidence of human activity in Southeast Asia. History by definition is a collection of written records about the past, and because all the events in this episode happened long before anyone could read or write, it would be more accurate to call this a lesson in Southeast Asian pre-history. Many cultures have myths, legends – call them oral traditions if you wish – to explain how they got started, and in future episodes we will hear a few stories like this from the region, but what we are looking at now is even older than that. All we have to go on is what paleontologists, anthropologists and archaeologists have found, and instead of myths, you will be hearing guesswork based on that evidence.

If you have not yet listened to Episode 0, the table-setting episode in this podcast series, I recommend you do so now, in order to get a better idea of what this episode is about. If you have already listened, or if you don’t care for introductions, we are ready to begin, so away we go.

Java Man

Whether you believe in evolution, catastrophism, or creationism, you have to admit that humanity has lived in Southeast Asia for an awfully long time. The root question is how long people have been in the region, since no one believes nowadays that the human race got started here. However, a little over a hundred years ago, there was a Southeast Asian candidate for the first human being.

This candidate was Java Man, also known as Pithecanthropus erectus, and he raised his flat beetle-browed head on the banks of Java’s Solo River in 1891. While I was launching this podcast, another podcast was launched, called “A History of Indonesia,” and it began to cover Indonesian history by talking about Java Man. That podcaster, Anthony Frisina, told me it is good to present the same story from more than one point of view, so we will be covering the same material from time to time. Along that line, I will now tell you what wasn’t said about Java Man in the History of Indonesia podcast. As the radio newscaster Paul Harvey used to say, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.

Java Man was discovered just a few years after the theory of evolution gained acceptance in much of the Western world. Charles Darwin believed that before true men existed, there was a creature that was not quite ape, not quite man – a “missing link.” Thus, a bit of competition developed among scientists to see who could find the missing link first. The first Neanderthal skullcap was found in Germany in 1856, and now other European countries wanted their own cave men. This included the Netherlands, but because half of the Netherlands is below sea level, and most of the country is covered with farms and cities, the Dutch homeland was not likely to have fossils of early man. So when a Dutchman, Eugene Dubois, went looking for the missing link, he went to the most important colony under Dutch rule at the time, namely Java. Twenty years later, the same European rivalry would cause somebody to present a fake fossil, the infamous Piltdown Man, as a candidate for the English missing link.

Dubois was the first person who deliberately went looking for human fossils and found them; all previous discoveries having to do with cave men were made by accident. For that reason, Dubois could not get funding from the usual sources, like universities, for his expedition to Java. Instead he joined the Dutch army as a surgeon, meaning the army paid for his travel expenses, and he looked for fossils in his off-duty time until he made his discoveries.

Personally, I don’t think Java Man should ever have been considered as a missing link. This is because Dubois did some very questionable things to stake his claim. First, there were only three bones: one tooth, the top part of a skull, and a thighbone. When it comes to establishing the existence of a new human species, three bones isn’t much to go on. Second, he insisted that all three bones belonged to the same individual, though the thighbone was found one year later and fifty feet away from the others. This ignited a storm of controversy, over whether the bones belonged together and whether they came from people or apes, because Indonesia also has gibbons and orangutans, after all. When many scientists refused to agree with Dubois, he put the bones in a suitcase and buried them under his house, making sure that nobody else would examine them. There they stayed for twenty years. Then in 1923, when nearly everyone had come to accept Java Man as the missing link, Dubois brought the bones out again. Shortly before his death in 1938, he changed his mind and confessed that Pithecanthropus was not a man after all, but merely a giant gibbon.
Apparently his colleagues did not pay much attention, for Java Man, now called Homo erectus, can still be seen in museums and textbooks today.

While Dubois was looking for fossils, he received two skulls that came from other sites on Java, which looked virtually the same as skulls from today’s Australian Aborigines. These skulls are now known as Wadjak Man, and because it was possible that Wadjak Man could be the same age, he kept Wadjak Man secret while promoting Java Man. This was an intellectually dishonest act if ever there was one! Later he proposed that Wadjak Man was the direct ancestor of the Aborigines, but today not everyone is convinced of this. Personally, I would like to see if it is possible to obtain a DNA sample from Wadjak Man, and have it compared with the DNA of Denisova Man, the cave man discovered in Siberia a few years ago. You may have heard that the people of New Guinea are the closest living relatives to Denisova Man, so I am wondering if Wadjak Man could be related; he might even be another example of Denisova Man. Unfortunately, we do not know the exact spot where Wadjak Man was found, so without that context, we cannot determine the age of the skulls.

Eleven more prehistoric skulls were found on the banks of the Solo River in 1931. These specimens are sometimes called Solo Man, and though they look enough like Java Man to be classified as another version of Homo erectus, they also look more like modern man. However, each skull had a hole in the back or in the base, so the brain could be removed and eaten. Apparently Solo Man was the victim of a feast, killed and eaten by somebody who considered monkey brains a delicacy. Did modern man do this?

Estimates of Solo Man’s age range from 27,000 to 500,000 years old, meaning that like Wadjak Man, nobody can know for sure how he is related to other cave men – or to us. As for Java Man’s age, the December 23, 1996 issue of Newsweek Magazine reported that Dr. Carl Swisher of the Berkeley Geochronology Center performed tests on the site where Java Man was found. Instead of the expected date of 300,000-500,000 years, he found that the bones cannot be more than 40,000 years old. Something about Java Man just isn’t right, and that will have to be fixed if he is going to stay on our family tree.

Gigantopithecus and Meganthropus

Early in the twentieth century, some unusually large teeth and jawbones turned up. They are so large that their owner’s size has been estimated at six to nine feet tall, or maybe even ten feet tall. Those found on Java were named Meganthropus, those found in south China became known as Gigantopithecus. Since 1990, Gigantopithecus remains have turned up in Vietnam and India as well.

Here everyone admits that we have too few remains to make any claims about them, and none will seriously suggest that this is our direct ancestor. That is why these giant apes almost never turn up in textbooks, and why you may not have heard of them. Some have suggested that the big teeth come from an elusive wild ape, the Yeti (Abominable Snowman) of the Himalayas, or its American relative, Bigfoot. If that is the case, we finally have the hard evidence we have been demanding from Bigfoot enthusiasts, after decades of them showing us tracks and fuzzy photos.

“Hobbits,” aka Homo Floresiensis

Now let us move from prehistoric giants to prehistoric midgets. The most exciting discovery concerning early man in recent years was made on Flores, a medium-sized island in eastern Indonesia. Here in 2004, Australian and Indonesian researchers found the skeletons of seven unusually small people, no more than three feet tall. With the exception of dwarves and midgets, this makes them more than a foot shorter than any other known human being. Even African Pygmies are four feet tall, so you can call these “Ultra-Pygmies.” The owners of the bones were immediately declared a new species, Homo floresiensis. Naturally they have also been nicknamed “hobbits,” after the little people in J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels. Charred bones and stone tools found on the site suggest they lived by hunting stegodons, a miniature breed of elephant that is now extinct. More remains, some teeth and part of a jaw, were found in 2014 and described just last month; they are considered older than the other specimens.

Nobody is suggesting that Homo floresiensis is any sort of missing link; attempts to date the tools and bones produced an age range from 95,000 to 13,000 years old, meaning he lived during the ice age. Most of the unique features of these little people can be explained through the form of natural selection caused by isolation on a small island. They are probably related to the Negritos, an ethnic group we will be talking about shortly. Once they arrived on Flores, they would have had no competition from other humans. On an island where food is in short supply, and no natural enemies exist, it isn’t worth it to be big. That also explains why the island had stegodons, instead of regular-sized elephants. Consequently, over the generations Homo floresiensis could have shrunken to a more economical size.
Occasionally a very large creature, like the Galapagos tortoise, is found in an island environment, and these can be explained by those situations where being big enough to hold a territory is required to get food. One such animal may have given the little people their main challenge; Flores is one of the four islands that is home to the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard.

Hmmm, real-life hobbits and dragons? Sometimes truth is stranger than fantasy!

Finally, there is the possibility that Homo floresiensis did not die out long ago. The same scientists who found Homo floresiensis looked into local legends which suggest that modern Indonesians used to encounter them. The November/December 2004 issue of Archaeology Magazine said this about the folklore. Quote:

“Villagers in Flores say that up until around 150 years ago, there were small, three-foot-tall hairy ‘people’ who used to steal food from them. Known as the ebu gogos (literally ‘the grandmothers who eat anything’), they were tolerated by islanders until they stole a baby and ate it. Whether the ebu gogo is pure myth or an accurate recollection of Homo floresiensis is at present unprovable. ‘The folklore material raises the real possibility that Homo floresiensis actually survived until sometime in the nineteenth century,’ said excavation member Bert Roberts, a geochronologist at the University of Wollongong who conducted interviews with the villagers earlier this month. ‘Indeed, there has to be a remote possibility that they still survive today in some remote jungle area of the island.’

On Flores, there have been no sightings of such creatures–at least, potentially, since the nineteenth century. However, in the same island chain, on the much larger island of Sumatra to the west, there have in recent years been brief, as yet unpublished sightings by a primatologist and others of a small, hairy four-foot-tall ape-like creature known to local tribesmen as orang pendek–literally ‘little person.’ Some zoologists suspect that a few hundred of them survive in the remote jungles of the Sumatran interior, but none have yet been captured or examined by scientists.” End quote.

The Negritos

During the ice age, Southeast Asia probably wasn’t much cooler than it is now, since it is on the equator. However, the world’s sea level was several hundred feet lower than it is today, due to so much of the ocean’s water being frozen in glaciers. This meant that before the dawn of history, instead of being split into thousands of islands, the Philippines and Indonesia were joined to the Asian mainland by land bridges, forming a huge subcontinent which geologists sometimes call “Sunda-land.” While Sunda-land existed, people could go to almost every part of Southeast Asia without a boat. Then at the end of the ice age, the glaciers melted, the sea rose, the land bridges were submerged, and Southeast Asia’s geography took on its present-day appearance.

New Guinea and Australia remained separated from Asia by water; remember what I said about Wallace’s Line in the introduction episode. Still, the water barrier did not block human migration completely. At one point, there were only sixty miles of water between the island of Timor and Australia; the ancestors of the Australian Aborigines were able to cross this stretch with simple, dugout canoes.

Speaking of the Aborigines, the oldest living inhabitants of Southeast Asia belong to the Australoid race, the same race as the Aborigines. These people are short, hairy, and black-skinned; Spanish missionaries called them Negritos in the 16th century. Today Negritos are mainly found in remote areas of the Philippines, where they have thirty tribes. They also include the Andaman Islanders, a tribe in Thailand called the Mani, and a tribe in Malaysia called the Semang. One is tempted to believe the Negritos and Aborigines are related to Black Africans, the Dravidians of south India, and the Melanesians of New Guinea – because all these groups are dark-skinned — but the actual connection between them has not been found. At the beginning of history, before other ethnic groups arrived, the Negritos roamed the entire region, hunting, gathering and practicing slash-and-burn agriculture as far north as the Yangtze River.

By the way, you may have heard of a Filipino tribe called the Tasaday, if you are old enough to remember the headlines they made in the 1970s. Since we are talking about stone age tribes in this episode, we might as well get the Tasaday out of the way now. They are NOT Negritos, but speak a language related to other modern Philippine languages. In 1971, anthropologists announced that in a jungle on Mindanao, the big southern island of the Philippines, they had discovered the most primitive people on earth. These people, the Tasaday, wore only leaves, and did not grow crops or even go hunting; they lived by gathering local plants and eating whatever they could catch, like frogs. The National Geographic Society accepted this story wholeheartedly, and the Tasaday were the main story in the August 1972 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Supposedly the Tasaday thought they were the only people on earth before their discovery, and they were absolutely peaceful; they did not even have words for enemy or conflict. Celebrities like Charles Lindbergh and Gina Lollabrigida came to the Philippines to meet the Tasaday, until the government, currently ruled by Ferdinand Marcos, declared the Tasaday jungle a national park, and refused to allow any more visitors – to protect these indigenous people, of course.

After the Marcos dictatorship was toppled in 1986, the first reporters to see the Tasaday in a decade found them wearing jeans and T-shirts and tending farms. Their lifestyle remained simple, but it was not primitive. It turned out a local official had promised them money, and protection from anti-government rebels, if they would take off their clothes, abandon their farms, and sit in caves when foreigners came to visit. In other words, the whole idea that the Tasaday were a stone age tribe was a hoax, one that had the outside world fooled for fifteen years. Afterwards it turned out that the Tasaday were a separate tribe all right, but they broke off from the rest of the Filipino population less than 200 years ago, so while they were isolated enough to miss modern events like World War II, they weren’t totally isolated from humanity, as we had been led to believe.

On the other side of Southeast Asia from the Philippines, the story of the Negritos in the Andaman Islands has not been a happy one. After their ancestors crossed the Bay of Bengal to settle here, the Andaman Islanders lived in isolation until they came into regular contact with outsiders, in the eighteenth century A.D. At that point, there were an estimated 7,000 of them, divided into five tribes. Diseases and alcohol decimated their population; so did physical abuse at the hands of their rulers – first the British, then the Japanese, and finally the Indians. Two of the tribes are now extinct; among the other tribes, the number remaining is between 450 and 700.

One tribe, the one on North Sentinel Island, is probably the most isolated tribe in the world. This is not because they live on a small island in the Indian Ocean, nor is it a false isolation like we saw with the Tasaday; they are isolated because of their really bad attitude. Maybe they know that when indigenous people meet civilization, very bad things happen to them. The Sentinelese are hostile to anyone who visits their island, more so than other indigenous peoples who are hard to get along with, like New Guinea headhunters. And this is nothing new; seven hundred years ago, Marco Polo reported that the Andaman Islanders were [quote] “a most violent and cruel generation who seem to eat everybody they catch.” End quote. The rest of the world decided to stay away from North Sentinel Island and its implacable inhabitants; today’s Indian government has declared the island and the waters surrounding it off-limits, to make sure the Sentinelese do not suffer the same fate as the other Andamanese tribes.

When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck, waves washed all the way over North Sentinel Island, but somehow the Sentinelese survived. When a helicopter flew by a few days later, it snapped pictures of the natives aiming bows at it. This told the crew not only that the Sentinelese were still there, but also that they did not want any help. Then in 2006, two fishermen strayed too close to the island’s shore; the natives attacked and killed them, and buried their bodies in shallow graves. A coastguard helicopter was sent to recover the bodies, and the natives shot arrows at the great metal bird. Realizing that they would face a hail of arrows and poison darts if they persisted, the helicopter crew left without landing. In other words, this could have become a repeat of the “Blackhawk Down” incident, where rebels in Somalia overwhelmed the crew of an American helicopter. Thus, for the foreseeable future, it looks like the best way to keep the Sentinelese alive is to leave them alone.

But I digress. So while the Negritos had Southeast Asia to themselves, where were the people we associate with Southeast Asia now? Where were the Vietnamese, Thais, Burmese, Hmong, Malays, and others at this early date? They were in the middle of China. When the people we think of as Chinese built their civilization, they did not live in all of present-day China, but only on the middle-to-upper stretch of the Yellow River valley, the modern provinces of Shaanxi and Henan. Even so, as far back as 2000 B.C., when the Chinese claim their first government, the Xia dynasty, was in place, they also claim that these groups were their neighbors. The Vietnamese, for example, lived at the mouth of the Yangtze River; they called themselves Viet, while the Chinese name for them was Yue. It wasn’t until the end of the next dynasty, the Shang dynasty, that the Chinese state expanded far enough south to reach the Yangtze. Then after 1000 B.C., when the Chinese began settling the lands south of the Yangtze, those other groups were faced with staying put and becoming Chinese, or withdrawing southward, out of the Chinese state’s reach. Most of today’s Southeast Asians are descended from the tribes that chose to go south.

The Earliest Achievements

Archaeology in much of mainland Southeast Asia has been a challenge, due to the wars of the twentieth century. As we will see in a future episode, Laos is littered with unexploded bombs, dropped from American planes, and Cambodia has millions of landmines. Still, excavations were conducted at Ong Ba Cave, Lopburi and Non Nok Tha in Thailand, and at Dongson and Hoabinh in northern Vietnam. These revealed a major surprise; Southeast Asians had agriculture and pottery around the same time as the oldest communities in the Middle East. In fact, evidence now suggests that rice was grown here a long time before it was grown anywhere else. It is hard to imagine the Chinese without rice, but that was indeed the case at the beginning of their long history. Because the climate of the North China Plain is too cold for growing rice, the Chinese originally grew other grains, mainly millet and wheat. It was not until they moved into the warmer lands south of the Yellow River that rice became the staple of their diet.

Chickens and their eggs also came from Southeast Asia, and were introduced to the rest of the world relatively late, when you consider how important they are to our diet today. If you had mentioned poultry to an ancient Egyptian, he probably would have thought you were talking about Egyptian geese, which are really ducks. In the Nile valley it was baboons, not roosters, that announced each sunrise. No hen or rooster is mentioned in the Old Testament, except for an egg in the Book of Job, Chapter 6, verse 6, while just about every animal native to the Holy Land is mentioned; Homer does not mention chickens either. The first chickens were red jungle fowl, living wild in south China and Burma. After they were domesticated, they were spread to India before 1500 B.C., and got to China no later than 1000 B.C. Traders brought them from India to the Middle East, sometime between 1000 and 600 B.C. We know they reached Greece by 400 B.C., because of the famous last words of Socrates, after he drank the hemlock. Quote: “Crito, I owe a cock to Asklepios–be sure to see that it is paid.” End quote. Asklepios was the Greek god of healing, so he was probably talking about some kind of temple offering. In the New Testament, a rooster appears at a critical moment to remind Peter that he has denied his Master.

The most important prehistoric settlement found in Southeast Asia so far is Ban Chiang, a village on the Khorat Plateau, in northeast Thailand. It was stumbled upon, literally, by accident. One day in 1966, a visiting Harvard anthropology student named Steve Young tripped on a tree root, fell face first into the dirt, and noticed pottery in it, which he immediately recognized as an important discovery involving Thailand’s unknown past. What subsequent excavations found caused the United Nations to declare Ban Chiang a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, and a museum was built near the diggings to display the bones and artifacts.

Ban Chiang was settled continuously, from 2100 B.C. to 200 A.D. 126 skeletons were found intact, buried with attractive red pottery and metal tools it was thought they would need in the afterlife. One of the skeletons was nicknamed “Nimrod” because he showed all the marks of a mighty hunter; he was unusually tall, and buried with deer antlers, hunting weapons, and a necklace of tiger claws. Most amazing of all, even the oldest graves contained bronze bracelets, bells and spearheads.
The main excavations on the site, in 1974 and 1975, were led by two archaeologists, Dr. Chester Gorman from the United States, and Pisit Charoenwongsa from Thailand. They reported that the bronzework was made between 4220 and 3400 B.C. If those dates were true, it would have meant that Ban Chiang was the oldest bronze age community anywhere! However, they had used thermoluminescence dating, then a new technique, to determine the age of the site, and Dr. Joyce White, the American archaeologist in charge of later excavations, found out that the tests conducted were inaccurate. When carbon-14 tests were conducted, these gave a date of 2000 B.C. for the parts of the site containing the oldest bronze; we now believe that date is more likely to be correct. Still, the achievement is impressive; it means people in Thailand were making bronze 500 years before the Chinese learned how to do it.

We should also note that from the start, these prehistoric metallurgists were doing better work than their counterparts elsewhere. It did not take them long to figure out that the strongest bronze alloy is made by mixing one part of tin with nine parts of copper. They were probably helped by a geographical advantage: Southeast Asia is the world’s richest source of tin. Tin is uncommon in the West; in the Middle East, tin is so rare that we did not know where those metallurgists got it until an ancient tin mine was discovered in Turkey in 1994. Before the people of Mesopotamia discovered tin, they made bronze by mixing copper and arsenic, with brittle and sometimes hazardous results. Remember that in ancient times, there wasn’t an organization like the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, what Americans call OSHA, to warn workers about hazards like this!

As you might expect, the archaeological excavations in Southeast Asia have caused considerable controversy. Traditionally it was believed that the Middle East is the only cradle of civilization, and distant centers of civilization like India, China and Central America somehow learned all technology above the stone age level from their elder brothers in Egypt and Iraq. The discoveries at Ban Chiang brought this theory into question. Did the Middle East invent everything first? Or did the Far East get started on its own, without help from the West? Part of the controversy stems from the fact that in Iraq we can trace the development of metalworking from its earliest stages. First we have the stone age. Then when people started making things out of copper, we have what we call the chalcolithic age, where people used copper and stone tools together, because copper by itself is not a strong metal. After that came the bronze age, and finally the iron age. However, there doesn’t appear to have been any chalcolithic stage in Thailand; the bronze works we have tell us they went straight from the stone age to a fully developed bronze age. Some pro-Thai advocates have even argued that if there was any transfer of metals and ideas, it was from east to west, not the other way around.

And that’s not all. The oldest iron artifacts found in Thailand are spearheads, knives and bracelets, dated to about 300 B.C. By then, Southeast Asian farmers had also switched from dry cultivation to the wet-cultivation of rice in flooded fields that is still practiced today; that greatly increased the total food supply. The water buffalo, or carabao, was domesticated to pull plows, and the discovery of spindles and bits of thread suggest that they already knew how to make cloth from silk. The silk production may have been learned from the Chinese.

Ban Chiang’s achievements were limited to agriculture and metallurgy; they had no cities, no writing, no temples and no kings. Warfare seems to have been unknown as well; nobody was buried with any shield or weapon of war, no skeleton found to date shows signs of a violent death, and no settlement shows evidence of having been destroyed by fire or force of arms. They lived simply, turning out their pottery and bronzes, and vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared. But by that time they had left their mark on their neighbors. We used to think that China learned how to make bronze from some civilization in the West, because they also went from the stone age to the bronze age without a chalcolithic period in-between. However, the discoveries in Thailand have made Southeast Asia a better candidate for the place where China learned this technology, for the Chinese word for copper, tong, is the same word used in the oldest Southeast Asian languages. In other words, the Chinese could have taught silk to the Southeast Asians, and the Southeast Asians taught the Chinese bronzemaking in return.

There are hundreds of circular mounds–some as much as twenty feet high–that still await investigation in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They are spaced an average of 18 miles apart, and most of them are probably villages. Now that peace has come to most of the region, it may be possible to excavate them to see if they can answer the questions raised by the artifacts found so far. Perhaps these hide the cities and temples and kings that we said are missing.

Unfortunately, when the natives living near Ban Chiang found out that the potsherds in their ground were worth something to foreigners, they dug up and smuggled thousands of pieces out of the country before scholars had a chance to study them. Furthermore, when the villagers ran out of authentic pots to sell, they started making convincing-looking forgeries. Headlines were made in 2008, when the Thai government declared that thousands of artifacts had been illegally smuggled from Ban Chiang, and many of them were bought by museums in California. Whatever lies in those other mounds may again revolutionize our knowledge of ancient history, if the archaeologists can beat the looters to them.

Well! I said in my introductory episode that I planned to make each episode around 30 minutes in length, and now I have gone over 30 minutes in the very first episode after that! Fortunately, going overtime is not a big problem in podcasting, the way it is in radio or TV; a podcast doesn’t take away time from another show when it runs too long. Join me next time, when we will look at the migrations that brought today’s Southeast Asians into the region, and the part India played in giving them a fully developed civilization. Thank you for listening, and I will see you again in a couple of weeks!

Episode 0 Is Up Now

 

When I last made a blog posting, I mentioned that I would like to launch a podcast on the history of Southeast Asia.  Since then I have chosen some appropriate music and artwork to go with it, made sure Audacity is up and running on my computer, bought a good microphone, and chose Blubrry for my host.  Then I found I needed a script to sound as good as the other podcasters, and though the first episode was initially uploaded on Wednesday, I ran into technical problems, which took until today to straighten out.  Now the podcast is fit to be introduced to the world.  To check it out, follow this link:

https://www.blubrry.com/hoseasia/

Over the course of this month, I plan to set up the links and RSS feed, and looking for advertisers.  If the real world doesn’t get in the way too much, I’ll upload another episode in about two weeks.  Everything and everybody has to start somewhere, and hopefully you’ll like what’s up so far.  For this episode, I introduce myself and describe Southeast Asia’s geography.  Next time the actual narrative will begin, with a review of what we now know about the region during prehistoric times.

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(Update, June 19, 2019: I have heard the suggestion that the transcript of a podcast be posted near a link to the podcast itself. This makes the information on a podcast accessible to deaf people, and allows search engines to index it. So here is the script for the episode; this will be added to the other episodes as time permits, if it works out here.)

Greetings, dear listeners.  If you have listened to other history podcasts, you may have noticed that some of them now begin with a short introductory episode, where the podcaster says a few words about himself and tells you what to expect, if you continue to listen to the series.  I like that format, because it reminds me of how college courses usually start; the professor hands out a syllabus and tells you what the course is about, and what you’ll be doing in it.  Therefore you’re listening to an introductory episode now, so who am I?

To start with, I currently live in Kentucky, the land of horses, coal, bourbon, Hillbillies, Daniel Boone and Colonel Sanders.  And yes, if you ever come to visit, I can tell you where the first KFC restaurant is; it’s still open.  For those listeners who are not American, Kentucky is in the middle of the eastern United States, and in the Appalachian mountains.  However, I have spent most of my life in other places, especially Orlando, Florida, so I don’t have a Kentucky accent.  I was an adjunct professor at a community college in the past, but now I am a technical writer by trade and currently between jobs, so my work should not become an obstacle to recording these episodes.

So what is my background in history?  Well, at times I have said that history is my life, because I have been studying it for at least 46 years.  I am not sure what started this interest.  Sometimes I think it happened in third grade, because my third grade teacher could not get enough of the Romans; she taught the class some Latin words and shared with us stories from classical history and mythology.

Although I did major in history in college, I am mostly a self-taught historian.  I did teach a couple history classes, most recently in 2005, but I could never make a fulltime career of it.  In 1988 I began writing world history as a hobby.  Once I started I found I could not stop, and made it my ultimate goal to tell the story of the rise & fall of just about everybody.  Then in 1997 I gained access to the Internet, and once I taught myself HTML, I began uploaded my history papers to the website I built.  Also in 1997, I began to write a world history textbook, entitled “A Biblical Interpretation of World History,” and published it in 2008.

Regarding history podcasts, the first one I listened to was “12 Byzantine Emperors” by Lars Brownworth; you probably know he was one of the first history podcasters, period.  Soon after that, I discovered Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History.”  If you’re not familiar with Dan Carlin, you need to pause here and go listen to him now!  Need I say more?  Next came Rob Monaco’s “A Podcast History of the World,” which shouldn’t be a surprise, because he’s trying to do with podcasting what I did with my history papers.

Then in 2015 I discovered that history podcasts are sprouting up all over the World Wide Web, like mushrooms on a lawn after it rains.  I can only mention some of the podcasts I discovered that inspired me.  There is Mike Duncan’s “History of Rome,” which leaves no stone unturned on that civilization.  I have also found captivating storytelling with “History on Fire,” “Our Fake History,” and “Trojan War:  The Podcast.”  And to top it all off, there is the irreverent approach to history taken by The Lesser Bonapartes.  Most of these newer podcasts are good, but from time to time I listen to an episode I do not like as much.  My first response to the inferior episodes is “I can do better than that,” so here I am giving podcasting a try.

Now why did I choose to start with Southeast Asia?  First, you have to admit that most of the good topics are already taken.  There are fine podcasts on civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Russians.  There are also good podcasts on popular topics like pirates and exploration.  And there are podcast series on many of the wars military historians like to read about.  Maybe in the future I will do a podcast on a topic another podcaster as covered, but at this stage I’d rather not be seen as copying someone else.  Finally in June of 2016 I learned that nobody has done a podcast on Southeast Asia yet.

Southeast Asia is a part of the world I have always been curious about.  Maybe Americans could ignore this region for most of the nearly two and a half centuries since the birth of the United States, but during my childhood, the Second Indochina War, usually called the Vietnam War by Americans, made headlines almost every day.  Thus, to understand what was going on, we had to know where Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were, and it helped to know something about the surrounding nations, too.  After I grew up, I married a pen pal from the region, the southern Philippines to be exact, so I have had a personal interest in Southeast Asia ever since.

One more reason why I chose Southeast Asia is because I have come to see myself as the “historian of the obscure.”  When it comes to history, sometimes my purpose seems to be to keep track of odd facts and fill in the gaps other historians leave behind them.  Southeast Asia is certainly a good place for obscure stories, as you will find out as we go along.  The history texts which cover India and China often skip over the lands in-between, only mentioning highlights such as the Khmer civilization or the Vietnam War, so if I do justice to the history of all the countries in this region, you will hear a lot of names of people and places you have never heard before.  Hopefully my “ugly American” pronunciation won’t mangle those names too badly; after all, my wife gets on my case when I don’t pronounce a Filipino name the same way that she does!

Initially my goal for this podcast will be to produce one episode every two weeks, that is no longer than 30 minutes.  I don’t plan on doing marathon 4-hour episodes, like Dan Carlin is known for; thirty minutes per episode has worked well for some other podcasters.  When I discussed Southeast Asian history in online forums, I learned that Americans are far more interested in the Vietnam War than with any other topics pertaining to the region, so yes, if this series makes it to the mid-twentieth century, I will be covering that conflict here.  And if there isn’t an official podcast history of the Vietnam War by then, this podcast will become the official Vietnam War podcast.

Finally, I want to ask the listeners to bear with me as I take my first steps in podcasting.  I will probably pause longer than I should, and hem and haw a bit until I become more than a beginner at this.  The science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that the first million words any person writes are garbage, because it takes that long to develop a writing style and otherwise become a good author.  Likewise, I have heard that experienced podcasters cringe when they re-listen to what they recorded when they got started, so I believe the same maxim may apply to podcasting.  Hopefully it won’t take a million words for me to get good at this.  And before anyone gets offended, I’ll let you know that I am probably older than most of the podcasters out there, so I will be politically incorrect at times.  You can expect me to say Moslem instead of Muslim, BC instead of BCE, and AD instead of CE.  Those terms were used by nearly everybody when I was in school, and they weren’t intended to bother anybody, so I don’t see sufficient cause to abandon them now.  But enough about me, now let us get acquainted with the places that will be center stage for the rest of this series!

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Where is Southeast Asia?  This is the part of the world east of India, south of China, and northwest of Australia.  Today eleven nations stand here.  In alphabetical order they are Brunei, Burma (also called Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

 

Before anyone gets confused, I’ll let you know that some countries in the region have more than one name.  Before 1939, Thailand was called Siam; if you have seen “The King and I,” you know about that one.  In 1989 the military government ruling Burma ordered the outside world to call every place in the country by its Burmese language name, so Burma became Myanmar, Rangoon became Yangon, and I challenge anyone to spell the Irrawaddy River’s new name!  Not everyone accepted those name changes; the country’s most visible leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, still calls it Burma, so we can use Burma and Myanmar interchangeably.  And when Vietnam was under Chinese or French rule, it was called Annam; you still might see Annam in old books and on maps drawn before 1954, but keep in mind that the Vietnamese never liked that name, which in Chinese means “Pacified South.”

 

Geographers also add some outlying areas to the eleven nations and call them part of Southeast Asia, too.  These include the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, which are located in the Bay of Bengal; northeast India; Christmas Island; southern China; Taiwan; and western New Guinea.  To keep things simple, we are not going to talk about them much in this series.  When Great Britain took over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the 19th century, the British declared both island chains part of British India, and when they granted independence to India in 1947, the islands became part of India as well.  Likewise, everything east of the Ganges River delta used to be considered part of Southeast Asia, because the most important tribe living here, the Ahom or Assamese, is related to the Thais.  However, the British took over this area in 1826, so it is now part of India, divided into seven states:  Arunchal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.  Christmas Island, located southwest of Java, was first under British rule, and is under Australian rule now.  Because nobody lived there before the British arrived, and the only thing that ever happens there is the annual migration of red crabs, this is probably the only time I will mention Christmas Island in this series.

 

South China and Taiwan are Chinese territory these days, but as we shall see in the next episode, the Chinese did not control this area at the beginning of history; they moved in after China’s unification under the Qin dynasty, in 221 B.C.  Ecologists define this zone as part of Southeast Asia because of its tropical climate, and will draw the northern border at the Tropic of Cancer, or sometimes even at the Yangtze River.

 

For similar reasons, the eastern third of Indonesia is considered to be a different ecological zone from Southeast Asia.  Ecologists prefer to associate these islands with Australia.  You can thank a 19th century naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, for this division.  Wallace is one of the scientists that history almost forgot, and he should be remembered, because while he was discovering and classifying the animals of the Indonesian islands, he came up with the idea that all those species were formed by natural selection.  The reason why you don’t hear Wallace’s name associated with this theory is because Charles Darwin published a book on it first, though he didn’t think of it first, and thus Darwin got the credit for inventing the theory of evolution.  In 2012, 99 years after Wallace’s death, the National University of Singapore launched a website that presented all of his works from one place.   Check it out; it called Wallace Online, and the URL is http://wallace-online.org.

 

Alfred Russel Wallace’s contribution to geography was him noticing that if you draw a line which runs between the large islands of Borneo and Sulawesi, and between the smaller islands of Bali and Lombok, the mammals on the east and west sides of the line are completely different; we call this the Wallace Line.  Mammals on the east side are mostly egg-laying monotremes, like the platypus and the echidna of Australia, and marsupials, who carry their babies in pockets; either way, their young need special protection because they are poorly developed when born.  However, placental mammals dominate the islands west of the line; overall they are more efficient and more diverse, filling ecological niches the marsupials have left untouched, from elephants to primates.

 

The islands east of the Wallace Line include the world’s second largest island, New Guinea.  Today half of New Guinea is under Indonesian rule; you can thank the Dutch for this, because during colonial times, they claimed both Indonesia and western New Guinea as parts of their overseas empire.  So keep in mind that most of the Indonesians living on New Guinea, the ethnic group we will call Austronesians in the next episode, arrived in the late 20th century.  The indigenous population of New Guinea is Melanesian, an ethnic group that also lives on the islands of the southwest Pacific.  The only thing Melanesians have in common with Indonesians is that they are both people!  We will probably mention New Guinea again when we get to the twentieth century in our narrative, but don’t expect to hear much from New Guinea until then.

 

The landscape of Southeast Asia is complex.  Most of the terrain is rugged hills and mountains covered by jungle, with swamps or an occasional savanna in the lowlands.  To the south, shallow seas and far-flung archipelagoes make for relatively easy travel by water.

 

The climate, however, is very predictable:  hot and wet most of the time, and controlled by a cycle of winds known as the monsoon system.  When most Americans hear the word “monsoon,” they think of torrential downpours, but that is only half the picture.  Sure, those rains occur during the second half of each year, as hot, moisture-filled air blows in from the Indian Ocean.  The same kind of winds also bring rain to India, and even to Oman in the Middle East.  However, during the first half of each year, the winds blow from the north to the south, coming from Siberia; these winds are cooler and drier, so Southeast Asia experiences a dry season at this time.

 

On the one hand, this weather pattern has made Southeast Asia rich.  Droughts are rare, and the lakes and rivers can support large-scale farming, especially with rice.  In fact, we now believe that rice was grown in this region first, before people anywhere else discovered it.  And the Indian Ocean’s winds and currents change with the seasons.  Once people discovered how those winds and currents worked, it became easier to sail across the Indian Ocean than it was to cross any other ocean.  On the other hand, all that rain means floods are commonplace, and the jungle breeds nasty diseases and nasty animals, from crocodiles to pythons to tigers.  In addition, hurricane-type storms hit the region every year; we call them typhoons if they come from the Pacific, and cyclones if they come from the Indian Ocean.  Finally, Indonesia and the Philippines are on the geologic faults that go around the rim of the Pacific, the so-called “Ring of Fire,” so volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common there.  Burma is on another geologic fault, meaning it gets a lot of earthquakes, too.

 

Today, Southeast Asia is home to an awesome number of people = 618 million, according to census data and estimates for the year 2015.  Since world population currently stands around 7 and a half billion people, this means that roughly one twelfth of the human race lives in Southeast Asia.  About half of those people live in two countries; 250 live in Indonesia, and 101 million live in the Philippines.  By itself, the island of Java holds 145 million, almost one fourth of all Southeast Asians; that works out to a population density of around 3,000 per square mile, making Java one of the most crowded places on earth!  These numbers become even more impressive when you realize that most of them came from a population explosion in the 20th century.  We estimate that 31 million people lived in the region in 1815, the year of the battle of Waterloo, so in 200 years, Southeast Asia’s population grew almost twentyfold.

The peoples of Southeast Asia are as diverse as the geography itself.  The largest ethnic groups, like the Vietnamese and Thais, have always preferred to live in river valleys and other low-lying areas, which are the best places for growing rice.  This meant that the highlands were usually available for anybody who wanted them, and they have been settled by various ethnic minorities.

What do you think of when you hear the word “wilderness?”  You probably think of a swamp if you are American, or a desert if you are from the Middle East.  A Southeast Asian’s idea of wilderness is mountains.  In fact, the word “boondocks,” which means a remote place in English, is a Philippine word; it comes from “bundok,” which is Tagalog for “mountain.”  Often lowlanders will believe the highlands are the home of spirits, for the same reason.

The result of the rugged terrain is that about 85% of the population is concentrated on 15% of the land, with the minority groups thinly spread over the rest.  Even mini-states like Brunei and Singapore have ethnic minorities living within their borders.  The new little nation of East Timor, for example, has tribes that speak sixteen local languages, in addition to Portuguese.  There is no ethnically united society in this part of the world.

Influence from outside has contributed to Southeast Asia’s ethnic diversity. Every major city has a Chinese community, started by job-seeking immigrants who have been arriving since the 16th century.  In addition, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei have Indian communities, also made up of immigrants who came here for jobs.  Every major religion has followers here: Hinduism (Bali), Therevada Buddhism (most of the mainland), Mahayana Buddhism (Vietnam), Islam (Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the southern Philippines), Confucianism (Vietnam), and Christianity (mostly in the Philippines and Vietnam).

Southeast Asia even has a Jewish tribe.  This group lives along the India/Burma border.  Missionaries converted them in the early 19th century, but 150 years later they looked at their ancient, pre-Christian traditions, and decided they were really one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, the tribe of Manasseh to be exact.  Consequently they converted to Judaism and gave themselves a Hebrew name, Bnei Menashe.  In the 1990s they started making aliyah to Israel, and the Israel government and rabbis accepted their story about how their ancestors ended up so far away from the Holy Land, so they are now all free to immigrate.  At this time, there are 9,000 Bnei Menashe, of which 3,000 are in Israel.  Because Manasseh is a son of Joseph, and not a descendant of Judah, I have half seriously pointed out that the Bnei Menashe are technically Joes, not Jews.

My time is almost up for this intro, so I will finish by noting that the period of Western colonialism, which a hundred years ago ruled every Southeast Asian country except Thailand, still leaves its mark on the region; the countries still have economic and political ties to their former white rulers.  For example, the Filipinos know more about the United States than they do about neighboring Malaysia, and Vietnam has nearly as much in common with France as it does with Laos.

 

Next time, we will look at the first people that we know of in Southeast Asia, the earliest signs of civilization in the region, especially in Thailand and Vietnam, and review the amazing human migrations that brought in today’s Southeast Asians.  I expect to be out of town for part of July, and I will also be setting up the pages and RSS feed that go with a new podcast, and looking for advertisers, so I hope it won’t cause too much pain if it takes me more than two weeks to record Episode 1.  Thank you for listening, tell your friends about the History of Southeast Asia Podcast, and comeback to hear how the real story began!