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This was originally published on ePluribus Media's Journal on 27 July 2007. I'm republishing it here, now, for various reasons. -- GH

Africa is often referred to as "The Cradle of Humanity" largely thanks to Darwin's theory of evolution, while the Middle East -- notably, the area called "Iraq" -- is one of the primary locations where experts place "The Cradle of Civilization." Both of these locations figured prominently in the development of humankind; both locations may still hold the key to our final destiny as a species, if indeed we are to survive.

There is a price for everything in life, a "cost of living" that is more than a mere fiduciary adjustment to the financial influences on modern civilization.  In very real terms, the true "cost of living" -- regardless of whether one lives in a civilized society -- comes down to blood, sweat and tears.  The cost of life and payment of the requisite blood-price are often far removed in advanced cultures; adapting to a longer commute or a higher rent doesn't usually manifest itself in methods that often result in violence or bloodshed, but these types of adjustments and prices do trickle down and eventually express themselves in those inevitable terms somewhere.

While we cannot necessarily trace the impact of a higher cost for milk or the increase of a gallon of petrol, everything -- every single thing --  exacts a toll upon the environment and upon everything, and everyone, else. That simple fact is easy to scoff at from the relatively safe and securely insulated lives that "modern" living affords us, but it is that very act of insulating us from the price of life and costs of lifestyle that often lead toward a loftiness and arrogance that belie the very nature of our own origins.

Such arrogance is foolish, deadly and often devastating in its impact.

Such arrogance has become the hallmark of modern man, and it may well become the death of us.

Death borders upon our birth, and our cradle stands in the grave.
    -- Joseph Hall (1574-1656), Epistles, Decade III, Epistle 2.

Today, modern humans wage war in the Middle East over control of precious energy resources while in Africa a myriad of other struggles continue and erupt in violent outbreaks of bloodshed.  It is the overlap, however, of the Cradle of Civilization into the Cradle of Humanity where the most stark contrasts are occurring -- a battle of irony and hypocrisy between noble savages1 and civilized people.

Out of Africa

There are many theories about the origin of humankind.  The two most prevalent theories (among the reality-based community, at least) are the recent single-origin hypothesis (Out-of-Africa model, a.k.a. Replacement Hypothesis - RSOH) and the Multiregional Hypothesis (both Wikipedia citations).  In a nutshell, the RSOH hypothesis is this:   

[...] the recent single-origin hypothesis (RSOH, or Out-of-Africa model, or Replacement Hypothesis) is one of two accounts of the origin of anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens. According to the RSOH, anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa between 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, with members of one branch leaving Africa about 80,000 years ago. These emigrants spread to the rest of the world, replacing (and not interbreeding with) other Homo species already there, such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus.[1]The hypothesis is derived from research in several disciplines, chiefly genetics, archeology and linguistics.

This theory is based on data-rich research across a variety of disciplines.

Multiregional Theory proposes the following:

The multi-regional hypothesis consists of several models of human evolution which all posit that the human races evolved from separate archaic humans over millions of years. The Multiregional theory is based largely on archaeological and fossil evidence.


There are several models of multiregionlism that depend largely on whether gene flow between the populations took place. Polygenism is a more extreme form multiregionalism in that it implies separate origins for the human races. Proponents include Carleton Coon who hypothesized that modern humans, Homo sapiens, arose five separate times from Homo erectus in five separate places. Their descendents are the the major races of today.[27] Polygenists such as Arthur de Gobineau believed in the existence of pure races.

The hybrid-origin theory states that significant gene exchange did take place between widely divergent hominid species, or subspecies, that were geographically dispersed throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. According to this theory the resulting hybrid 'Homo sapiens sapiens', was superior to both its ancestors due to what is commonly termed hybrid vigour. They argue that very strong genetic similarities among all humans do not prove recent common ancestry, but rather reflect the interconnectedness of human populations around the world, resulting in relatively constant gene flow (Thorne and Wolpoff 1992).

The scientists favoring the "Out of Africa" theory do so because of the preponderance of evidence across multiple disciplines, essentially seeing Africa as the Cradle of Humanity.

It is this perception that holds the most significant and sobering perspective for us, particularly now in our history as a species.

Civilization's Rise, and Descent

Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system -- with all these exalted powers -- man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.
    -- Charles Darwin (1809-1882), The Descent of Man, Chapter 21.

Find a river, and you'll nearly always find evidence of human habitation.  It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that many different scholars from various cultures each lay claim to different ancient rivers for their own theory of where the Cradle of Civilization is located:

The evangelical Protestants of the 19th century, considered the inventors of the term Cradle of Humanity, made generalized but undocumented claims that the term originated in Mesopotamia in the 2nd century, and that it was used by early non-christian Arabs, to refer to a geographic area that falls within a 1,000 mile radius of the spot they believed to be the birthplace of mankind. No documentation of such a historical use has been forthcoming. Nevertheless, the term has been used not only in religious, but also in secular contexts, and may therefore refer to different locations, depending on the views of the user.

Cradle of civilization is a title claimed by many regions of the world, but is most often applied by Western and Middle Eastern educated scholars to the ancient city states of Mesopotamia. Scholars educated in other parts of the world look at the question differently. There are five rivers that scholars cite as being possible sites for the 'Cradle of Civilization.' They are: the Tigris-Euphrates in modern day Iraq, the Halil rud in modern day Iran, the Nile in Africa, the Indus in South Asia, and the Huang-He-Yangtze in China.

As "modern" humans in a "civilized" society, we often find ourselves looking back upon our past in order to see from whence we've come.  Sometimes, it is difficult to acknowledge some painful truths about our origins and history -- the violence, brutality and superstition that drove us on and forced us to compensate and evolve into our present-day form.  Other times, particularly during times of war, we are faced with the irrefutable fact that we have not, on the whole, come very far at all.  We are still an emotionally young species, able to dream of the stars and speak of conquering nature while still strongly grounded in cultural, spiritual, economic and philosophical conflicts that bear a striking resemblance to the bloody warfare our ancestors often engaged in.  All the while, our societies tend to elevate ourselves above not only our ancestors, but also those cultures and societies for whom our cultured arrogance holds little but contempt or ridicule.

In that way, however, we betray ourselves as nothing more than a bunch of self-deluded "noble savages" who have simply developed different technical and social structures with which to engage in the same age-old conflicts, pitting us against our fellow man, against nature and against those whom we've come to hold in contempt as trespassers or impediments to our development of "the greater good."

We are no more, and no less, advanced than the very people we oft threaten to "civilize off the face of the earth."2

And therein lies the rub.

On 20 July 2007, a story came to light in the UK paper The Daily Mail entitled Face to face with Stone Age man: The Hadzabe tribe of Tanzania3 by Andrew Malone.1 Within it, the tribe of the Hadzabe made a heart-rending pleas:

You are welcome here. But please tell your people how things are for the Hadzabe. Please do not add things and please do not take things away. Please just tell the world that we are dying.

A simple request. "Please just tell the world that we are dying." No accusations, no calls for warfare. Just a simple request -- more of a reminder, really -- that we should be aware of the passing of an indigenous people from the face of the earth. That's all.

The story, as told by Mr. Malone, started out simply enough.  As I read through the article, however, the particularly stark contrast of the lifestyle of this indigenous tribe and the clash with "civilized" society soon became apparent.

It is the modern story -- of clashes between people from the first world eager to exploit Africa, whatever the cost to ancient customs, and the desperate battle by the world's few remaining indigenous people to survive.

Once numbering more than 10,000, the Hadzabe are the last hunter-gatherers on the African continent, where 'homo habilis' (the forerunner of modern man) first emerged more than two million years ago.

It is only in the past 12,000 years that man has managed to domesticate animals and grow crops. Before that, we all lived like the Hadza.

To the dismay of anthropologists and champions of the Earth's remaining tribal people, two wealthy Arab princes, who have made billions from oil and gas in the United Arab Emirates, are negotiating with the Tanzanian government to buy the Hadzabe's ancient lands to use as their own private hunting grounds.

Civilized hunting.  Not quite the same style of "civilized" hunting that our illustrious Vice President and others engage in, but a more "back to nature" kind of thing.

To them, it's just another commercial deal -- and a chance to kill wild animals. But to the Stone Age tribesmen, it would spell the end.

In return for the dubious pleasure of shooting lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant, Crown Prince Hamdan bin Zayed (the UAE's deputy prime minister) and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (deputy supreme commander of the air force) want the Hadza evicted from the area to prevent them competing for game.

As bait, they are offering to pay the impoverished East African country a reported £30million, and have offered to build private homes, hospitals and schools for the displaced tribe.

The Tanzanian government supports the plan and, for years, has considered the Hadzabe an embarrassment -- 'a backward people who should be living decently in proper houses'.

"A backward people" -- so, that's the civilized thing to do, eh?

Of course, this isn't the first time that the government has tried to "tame" these people.

the Tanzanian government has repeatedly tried to 'tame' the Hadza, building houses and trying to teach them to grow crops. One attempt to resettle them ended when a dozen perished when they were forced into modern homes.

"They just rotted inside and died," said Charles Ngereza, a tribal expert.

After another bid to clear them off the land, ten Hadza died in police custody.

Ah, yes.  Civilization. Membership has its benefits.  Nothing brutal about living in houses, right?

The plight of the Hadzabe is not unique in the annals of culture clash, however. Roxy Caraway, an ePluribus Media colleague, brought to my attention something she'd found in a book -- a very disturbing reference about how the dehumanized view of our fellow man helped lead to the virtual extinction of a people called the San.2 Nowadays, people often refer to the collective group of African bushmen as "The San," but the original San were nearly hunted to extinction; survivors were taken in by other Bantu-speaking tribes, and have since died off.4

Until 1927, the year in which the last official permit was issued for hunting bushmen, it was legal for whites in South Africa to murder the San -- whose body parts were kept and boastfully displayed as trophies by the killers.  This was around the time that the Abbe Breuil, the "Pope of Prehistory", who dominated European cave-art studies for most of the twentieth century, made the first of his many visits to southern Africa.


Against the background of this climate of automatic racism and state-sanctioned genocide, it is little wonder that the southern San culture was to all extents and purposes extinct by the middle of the twentieth century, represented only by a tiny diminishing remnant of elders scattered as refugees amongst Xhosa, Zulu, Pondomise, Sotho and other Bantu-speaking African tribes who had been prepared to give them sanctuary.  As this last generation died out, the San language and the oral mythology that had been transmitted faithfully for thousands of years died out too, a slow falling of silence leaving behind the majestic panorama of rock art, seemingly mute.[Supernatural, pg. 230-231]

Is it civilized to hunt down fellow humans, and mount them (or various parts of them) like trophies?  In "modern" societies, humanity has learned to harness the atom, to build massive structures, to fly, to predict -- and to a degree, influence -- the weather, and to destroy. There are obvious contradictions within our self-perception as to how truly advanced as a species we have become. We claim to have attained lofty aspirations yet we are embarrassed to look upon our brethren as anything more than sentient animals. We claim to pursue, and indeed to propagate, ideals of truth and justice while we steal the land from the beneath the feet of those who we deem "uncivilized." Sometimes, our efforts to steal openly are thwarted7 by our own laws.  Sometimes, not so much.8  Indeed, the hypocrisy and double-standards that we must apply in order to move blindly through this self-imposed delusion of grandeur enables us to continue to expand our colonization of the earth, spreading the empire of "civilization" before us as if it were a sacred duty.9

It's not.

If we are to aspire to greatness as a species -- or even as a subset of a species, elevating our culture to the next level of awareness and wisdom -- we must first learn that we still have, within us, the core elements of that very noble savage that we seek to eliminate.  The lessons that we stand to learn from the direct hypocrisy and contrast couldn't be more valuable.

What have we achieved in mowing down mountain ranges, harnessing the energy of mighty rivers, or moving whole populations about like chess pieces, if we ourselves remain the same restless, miserable, frustrated creatures we were before? To call such activity progress is utter delusion. We may succeed in altering the face of the earth until it is unrecognizable even to the Creator, but if we are unaffected wherein lies the meaning
    -- Henry Miller (1891-1980), The World of Sex, pp. 118-119 (1940, repr. 1970)

Footnotes and References:

1Charles Dickens, "The Noble Savage"

2"Civilised Off the Face of the Earth": Museum Display and the Silencing of the /Xam, Pippa Skotnes, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town

3 Face to face with Stone Age man: The Hadzabe tribe of Tanzania

4From Supernatural by  Graham Hancock - First American printing November 2006 by The Disinformation Company, Ltd .

5Botswana's San peoples win land battle in court: in one of Africa's most high-profile land disputes, Botswana's Bushmen have won the right to live on their ancestral land--but with many strings attached. Tom Nevin reports.(Trends)(San Bushmen). Tom Nevin. African Business 330 (April 2007): p78(2). (1419 words) From InfoTrac OneFile.

6The Bushmen saga--nothing more than a divisive factor?(Botswana). Barry Baxter. African Business 322 (July 2006): p41(3). (2218 words) From InfoTrac OneFile.

7Nayder, Lillian, Dickens and Empire: Discourses of Class, Race and Colonialism in the Works of Charles Dickens (review), Victorian Studies - Volume 48, Number 2, Winter 2006, pp. 331-333

Originally posted to GreyHawk on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 06:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This story isn't unique solely to Africa. (8+ / 0-)

    Think about the way that "civilized" societies have - and often continue to - treat indigenous people.

    Look at how our own society continues to fan the flames of racism & xenophobia.

    And above all, pay attention to how our own nation continually disses, disenfranchises, ignores and under-values our own indigenous populations.

    ...our definition of "civilization" and "civilized society" is a tad skewed, and almost constantly mis-applied. Consistently.

    When we call ourselves "liberal" and, perhaps more importantly, when we refer to our ideologies as "progressive" - what are really saying? Are we also striving for a more uniform, realistic & encompassing definition of what it is to be truly "civilized" and how that term applies to other societies which may be equally - or more - advanced in their understand of their own humanity?

  •  And yes - I'm going to NN12. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    HawkWife & I will be there, likely traveling about with Delta Doc.

    If you're going - and particularly if you've been to one or more Netroots Nation before - how about sharing some wisdom about what to bring, proper attire ("comfy shoes" etc.), what to expect...?

  •  Excellent diary. Ancient history of man's origins (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, GreyHawk

    was a favorite of mine when I was attending Jr. High and High School.  I was fortunate to have had inspiring and very intelligent teachers on the subject who broached the very same questions and thoughts outside of their standard historical geographical perspectives.  It wasn't until I traveled the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin did I begin to see the connections and truly really begin to understand the concepts and theories of just where, and what was the cradle of civilization that I had been taught so many years ago, in addition to the varied cultures that had come and gone due to a variety of incidents both man made and other.  Those educational experiences in my life have certainly affected my views and perspectives on indigenous cultures and their histories throughout time.  

    Excellent diary as your final quote by Henry Miller best sums up the important question that we must all think about, and be honest with ourselves as a species when we come to answer it:

    "wherein lies the meaning...?"

    There is much more to write pertaining to your thoughts and diary, but I will begin rambling on if I don't end it here...

    Have fun at NN and enjoy Providence RI – Have a terrific New England seafood dinner for me while there, and travel safe.

    “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

    by LamontCranston on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:10:44 AM PDT

  •  Graham Hancock writes poppycock. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angry marmot, Ojibwa, GreyHawk

    I would not trust a single thing he wrote.

    •  But there does appear to be some relevance... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sharon Wraight

      Ancestral land conflict with Botswana

      It may appear that Hancock is being heavy-handed in his description in order to slander the government and evoke sympathy for the San, but his description - and the one in Wikipedia that I cite above concerning Botswana - bear some eerily similarities to other efforts to move, remove, remake or destroy indigenous populations elsewhere.

      So, while Hancock may require a large grain of salt at the very least, to broad-brush everything as useless or tainted is perhaps to go too far in the other direction.

      The issue itself appears to be real enough.

  •  This is an interesting diary... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, Sharon Wraight, Mortifyd, GreyHawk

    and sets my mind wandering in many different directions. Modernity is a very problematic construct. Lots to think about...

    Oh, and I do need to echo Sharon Wraight's comment above re Graham Hancock. Imo, his strain of wacky anthropology/archaeology ranks just ever so slightly above that of Cremo's "Forbidden Archaeology" crowd or the talking-heads on History Channel's "Ancient Aliens."

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 08:34:30 AM PDT

  •  I remember the Hadza from an Anthropology class (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mortifyd, GreyHawk

    We studied the Hadza in the 1970s.

    Sad to read what is happening to them.

    Republicans take care of big money, for big money takes care of them ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 09:52:13 AM PDT

  •  Unironic use of the term "noble savage" is a bit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mortifyd, Sharon Wraight, GreyHawk

    strange.  Romanticizing neolithic hunter-gatherers for the purpose of slagging contemporary civilization will not win you many friends in the scientific community.  Referencing Hancock will convince most of us that you are unserious at best.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 10:18:58 AM PDT

    •  heard an interesting explanation of "noble" part (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Supposedly it was meant in the sense of "aristocratic", because when the Europeans first contacted hunter-gatherer peoples, they were awed and baffled at how every member enjoyed rights that were legally restricted to the aristocracy back in Europe.  All the people claimed to own land while all the men carried weapons and engaged in both hunting and warfare.  Additionally, they did not have agriculture or corvee forced labor (the things that most defined the life of a medieval peasant), little manual labor of any kind, and a much greater degree of reciprocity in relations between the tribe's own elites and the masses.

      By European standards, this made everyone "noble".

      •  I call bullshit (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sharon Wraight, GreyHawk

        It means what it means - they are "noble" because they are "purer" savages - untouched by the "benefits" of civilization as white people think of it.

        It's an excuse white people with no personal cultural history of their own use to appropriate motifs and practises for themselves.

        And we sail and we sail and we never see land, just the rum in the bottle and a pipe in my hand...

        by Mortifyd on Mon Jun 04, 2012 at 02:21:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think you're definition is the more correct in (0+ / 0-)

          terms of where the term first originated - it was originally used, I believe, to flaunt "civilized" society's needs and justify the theft from, abuse of and destruction of the indigenous populations wherever "civilized" society encountered them.

          And it was that definition that I'd hoped to upturn, deface & twist into a mirror looking squarely back at the arrogance of those who would call themselves "civilized" in order to justify their savagery against their fellow man.

          •  ugly truth is better than twisted "reclaiming" (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the word needs to be understood in the horror and arrogance of its original context.  It's not even about savagery to your fellow man as much as the difficulty of seeing past cultural dogma.

            Americans as a general rule - and particularly those that we are trying in theory to reach out to - twist and fold things as a way of making life fit their context.  If anything we need to avoid that technique because it's not something they see - and as a result don't learn from.

            And we sail and we sail and we never see land, just the rum in the bottle and a pipe in my hand...

            by Mortifyd on Wed Jun 06, 2012 at 01:39:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  The phrase "noble savage" may have originally (0+ / 0-)

        had such meaning & intent, but that was before Charles Dickens got a hold of it. The entire wiki entry (which, since it's Wikipedia, requires a grain of salt and a willingness to check sources) has an interesting history, but this bit regarding Dickens' use is what I siezed upon and - perhaps inarticulartly - attempted to use to skewer the faux perceptions of "civilized society" that oft accompany the empty "justifications" for racism, genocide and other horrors.

    •  "Unironic" - strange, but I thought my usage was, (0+ / 0-)

      in the most part, both ironic & sardonic in the sense of ridiculing those who portray themselves as ones who are capable of defining civilization while betraying themselves as the most savage of all.

      Apparently, I failed in my efforts.

      As for Hancock - if seeing the name turned you off instantly, sorry. But the excerpt does, I believe, apply.

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