Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spice Wars, Opium Wars, Slave Traders: the Past is Still Present

A recent story on the BBC about Afo, the mother clove tree in Indonesia that survived Dutch 'extirpation', rounded out a number of stories about the early days of European exploration and trade development and exploitation that I have found compelling and thought provoking.  Barry Unsworth, who died 5 June 2012, wrote Sacred Hunger, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1992.  Sacred Hunger is a journey through the Atlantic Slave Trade, from the building of a slave ship to picking up and delivering the 'cargo' to the destruction of the slave ship.  The characters are not stereotypes, the tension and drama is palpable on every page.  This exploration of greed, selfishness, moral and philosophical blindness in the name of 'sacred hunger'...the profit motive...is a cautionary tale for our times.

Four other books on the general theme of Europeans displacing Arabs in controlling the spice and slave trades, are The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, Kalimantaan by C.S Godshalk (a terrible piece of fiction, but fascinating story of a real-life person/situation), and Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.

All of the authors mentioned above spent quality and quantity time and energy researching these topics:  the reader has no excuse for ignorance!

No comments: