Sunday, March 03, 2013
South Carolina 10: Trade
When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under "South Carolina" in the index at the right.
This entry looks at the spread of rice through trade to Madagascar where legend places Maham’s rice. Some of the history is preparing for more future discussions of Africa and Spain. The photographs are of another mystery plant.
What’s green: Few rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca, grape hyacinth, garlic, gypsum phacelia leaves; alfilerillo leaves greening.
What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches; Madonna lily leaves.
What’s grey or blue: Winterfat leaves; western stickseed leaves reviving.
What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.
What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunia.
Animal sightings: Small brown birds.
Africa apparently was a world of small communities who traded among themselves before Arab conquerors fanned out after the Sunni Umayyads deposed the established Moslem powers in 661. The Damascus caliphate spread to Egypt in 670 and across northern Africa to Spain in 711, then down to Mauritania in 734.
The Umayyads were deposed by the Shia Abbasids in 750, who moved the Moslem capital to Baghdad, and eventually established a trade network that spread from the Umayyad retreat in Spain across northern Africa and the middle east through northern India to the Tarim basin of western China.
Bernard Lewis has found the earliest reference to rice comes from the conquest of the Basra area on the Persian frontier by Moslem tribesmen in the 600's. They tested the unknown grain as food after a horse that had eaten some didn’t die.
It probably became more common as a luxury among the elite after the Abbasids developed Basra as an intellectual center. At some time it was introduced to Egypt, then Spain. The Ishmali Fatimids, who deposed the Abbasids in Egypt in 909, spread north to Sicily, taking rice with them.
Arab traders began moving down the east African coast to Manda island off Kenya in the 800's. Soon after items carved from chlorite schist quarried on the northwest coast of Madagascar appeared in east Africa. The success of a Yemeni clan at Mogadishu in the middle 1100's, brought traders from Shiraz to Kilwa, an island off Tanzania in the late 1100's.
In the early 1300's, the Mahdali, an Ishmali clan from southern Aden, took over Kilwa and then the east African gold trade. Arab traders weren’t as interested in developing new markets as they were in redirecting the existing trade in gold. Urban centers emerged as a consequence, abetted by the availability of surplus food to support urban populations and supply travelers.
Madagascar was drawn into the web of trade. Iharana, where Chinese export China was found in graves from the late 1300's, developed in the northeast as another source for three-legged bowls made from metamorphic rock. The growing port of Aden, with its community of Indian merchants from Gujarat, imported rice from Kilwa, which Richard Gray believes could only have come from Madagascar.
Desert caravans, guided by the Sanhaja, linked the peoples of the Mediterranean with the savannah of the Mande, each of whom seems to have remained isolated from one another. The revitalizing Sunni Almoravids from Mauritania attacked Ghana’s main city, Awdaghost, in 1055, before they took Córdova in 1102, setting off the reconquest.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the southern Mande, the Malinke, moved along the Niger to establish the towns of Mali along the bend of the river. Timbukto became a center of learning for the Songhai empire to the northeast in the 1300's.
The exposure to Islam and the requisite trips to Mecca through Egypt, at least among the elite, provided the opportunity for people from the Sahel and savannah to travel to areas with different irrigation systems and different varieties of rice.
Carney, Judith. Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, 2001.
Garlake, Peter. The Kingdoms of Africa, 1978.
Gray, Richard. "Southern Africa and Madagascar" in The Cambridge History of Africa: From c.1600 to c.1790, volume 4, 1975, edited by Richard Gray.
Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, 1995.
1. Unidentified flower opens early, and closed by mid-morning. This picture taken on a cloudy day at 10:40am, 18 August 2013.
2. I call it madcap, because all I usually see are the flower’s remains. This picture taken at 9:15am, 23 August 2009.
3. It may be a biennial or a perennial that exploits winter moisture. Young leaves, 4 September 2011.
4. Young plant, 1 December 2011.
5. The stems have swollen joints, 11 September 2011.
6. The stems often turn reddish in summer. Blooming plant in the process of dropping its petals, taken at 6:30am, 5 July 2008.
7. Stems get to be three to four feet high in the summer. Characteristic growth, perhaps the same plant as #6, 5 July 2008.