Long shadows of colonialism

First: an brief, animated guided tour of health and wealth statistics over the past 200 years, from Hans Rosling (this is far more interesting then it sounds at first blush).  If you haven’t seen this video already, you may still know Rosling from his TED.com talks, also excellent and worth looking up.

Rosling didn’t stop to focus on it, but Preeta & I were intrigued by the references to colonialism and its influence on both the colonizers and the colonized — at the beginning of his talk, only England and the Netherlands were noticeably richer & healthier than the rest — and he doesn’t discuss why, but these were the two main countries with fairly successful & established colonial empires at that time. On the part of the colonized countries, he points out, across the board they made leaps in wealth and health when they gained their independence (and their resources were no longer leeched out into foreign coffers). Obviously the history isn’t so simply summarized, but these statistics fill in another small part of my understanding.

On the topic of gaining a deeper grasp of the history of colonialism — yesterday I heard part of a program on France Culture radio that discussed some recent research into traditions of cannibalism among African tribes. There is a very significant overlap between histories of cannibalism and locations where white slave traders raided — some of this link is because reports of cannibalism were generally considered a moral justification for Christian slave traders to subjugate the people of a given region; this is not news.

But the more interesting (and unexpected) connection shows causation in the other direction; apparently there’s more evidence surfacing that many (even most?) tribal traditions of cannibalism *began* when slave traders began raiding, because (the theory goes) the tribes logically concluded that the attackers were abducting people to eat them — so presumably that must be the source of their power, and the only way to successfully fight back was for tribal warriors to use the same tactic.

I’m looking around for discussions in English but haven’t found them yet (I believe the researchers were French) — if you see in-depth coverage of this topic (in English or French), can you send me a link?

These things are fascinating to learn, though I’m left with a hollow feeling. Evil is never undone; it shapes everything after it, irreparably.

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