INVENTION: Ideas that changed the world

There is one historical factoid that simply blows my neo cortex, that being how wine changed the course of history. It will probably continue to astound me until the day I die. It is perhaps more of a hypothetical than anything else and begs the age-old question of “what if?”

Roman Cage Cup from the 4th century A.D.

Roman Cage Cup from the 4th century A.D. (image: Wikipedia)

Around 100 BC European cultures started to become increasingly fond of their favourite drink, wine, as they perfected its creation and associated it with wealth and prosperity. The beautiful colour of wine, its taste and scent became such an obsession that the Romans­ started to discover better ways to preserve their fermented elixir.

Thus, glass entered our world, and resulted in a chain of invention that is still being advanced today. Glass led to lens grinding and spectacles, meaning that intellectuals and scientists had an extra 15 to 20 years of reading and active life. Microscopes came into play, which led to the discovery of micro-organisms, including the discovery and behaviour of the bacterium.

On a larger scale, telescopes gazed outwards, allowing humankind to further its knowledge of our galaxy and the Earth’s place within it. And because glass is chemically neutral — meaning that it doesn’t react to anything that’s in it — chemicals could be mixed in glass beakers and flasks. This advanced chemistry and modern medicine to new levels.

This is not to mention plasma computer screens, cellphones, light bulbs, windows, windscreens, clocks and watches, glass domes and spaceships. Glass valves have become essential in modern electronics too and can be found in several household items that don’t have a particularly glassy feel.

And all because Europeans enjoyed their wine.

Glass Bottled Wine - How wine changed the course of historyMeanwhile, on the other side of the planet, one of the most inventive people to have ever lived, the Chinese­, were quite content with the teacup. They had no interest in Western wine and used paper and ceramics as glass substitutes. Chinese windows and lanterns were all made from paper­ and the potential of glass was never recognised­ in the East due to their preference for tea.

So the main point of how wine changed the course of history is this: from the 14th century right up to the 19th century­, glass did not exist in the Eastern part of the world. While the Chinese did go on to invent a myriad of other things, it can be argued that not inventing glass held back the course of Chinese history.

Of course a lack of glass did not stop the Chinese from going on to invent a myriad of other things. We have them to thank for paper, printing, gunpowder, the compass, archeology, automatically opening doors, hydraulics, the bristle toothbrush, landmines, fireworks, the fishing reel, kites, the crossbow, playing cards, porcelain, the rudder, tofu, toilet paper, the wheelbarrow, and of course, China.

Yet the thought of what may have been invented if glass has existed in China for those 500 years is staggering. The world as we know it could be a lot different today if things had panned out differently. We might all be speaking Chinese and drinking tea.

** More Quite Interesting Histories **

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VIDEO: Audio-slideshow of what Pietermaritzburg has to offer

AS a build up to 2010, the Witness multimedia team (i.e. the Webmaster and I) sort to produce a series of videos showcasing what Pietermaritzburg has to offer foreign visitors. They also aimed to highlight the Harry Gwala stadium, which was to be a training ground for the Fifa 2010 World Cup.

Needless to say I found it very difficult to motivate myself to produce the following as it was a voluntary, unpaid project. But, I'm glad to say that it's finally done and I hope you enjoy it.

Proudly Pietermaritzburg video

The video has been removed due to copywrite issues. Mango Groove's agents/music corp. were upset that 25 seconds of their (credited) Pennywhistle track was used in the promotional, non-profit video of Pietermaritzburg. They're asking for R36000 in penalties. Let this be a warning to all fellow video-producers

Proudly Pietermaritzburg featuring the tunes of Mafikizolo and Mango Groove. Showcasing Pietermaritzburg history, buildings, famous people and Royal visits, Pmb art & culture, memorial statues, sport and film in Maritzburg.

Related video: Proudly South African (a must see)

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CAPE TOWN: How slavery has influenced Cape cuisine, Cape architecture, language and Cape Town traditions

by Niki Moore

Slavery and the Western CapeIt would be irresponsible to ignore our most significant events in decades, even in a travel column. So this week’s effort is about the universal franchise – or rather, the lack of it.

One group of South Africans never had a vote, never had any freedom at all, and yet their contribution to our society has been priceless. These are the slaves of the 17th century Cape Colony.

The Western Cape has its unique character because of slavery. There are still reminders of slavery around Cape Town: the Slave Lodge in Adderley Street (now a museum), the Slave Stone where slaves were displayed prior to being sold, the Slave Tree where they waited their turn to go on the block. But their influence goes much deeper than physical relics.

Slavery: A brief history lesson

The very first consignment of slaves arrived at the Cape on the ship Amersfoort on March 28, 1658. They had been captured by the Dutch from a Portuguese slaver that was on its way to Brazil, filled with captives from Angola. This was the first of only three shiploads of slaves from Africa. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) controlled the Cape and had extensive holdings in the East Indies. It therefore made sense for slaves to come from Indonesia and Malaya. And they did – thousands of them. Within 50 years of the establishment of a victualling station at the Cape, slaves outnumbered free men.

VOC ship - Slavery and the Western CapeFor 176 years (until slavery was abolished) the economy of the Cape depended on slaves. They worked in homes, on the farms, in shops and factories, on building sites. Officially, almost 7 000 slaves were brought to the new colony on VOC-sponsored slave ships, but many more arrived with Dutch East India officials returning home from Batavia. Because the Netherlands outlawed slavery, the officials sold their slaves in the Cape before embarking on the last leg of their return voyage home.

Slavery: The life of a Cape slave

A slave’s lot was not a happy one. If they survived the journey (an ‘acceptable’ casualty rate for slaves was 15%), they died of overwork and malnutrion, torture and mistreatment. Many committed suicide. The hardy ones existed entirely at the whim of their masters – punished harshly, executed, married off or sold willy-nilly.

It is hard to think that anything good can come out of such sustained human misery, but amazingly, the Cape has some reminders of slavery that are testaments to the resilience of the human spirit.

Slavery and Cape cuisine

koeksisterSlaves were cooks and kitchen staff, and they had a huge influence on Cape menus. Our national dishes such as bredie, koeksisters, bobotie, sosaties and tameletjie (toffee) all have Malay influence. C. Louis Leipoldt – a writer and keen cook – was the first Afrikaner to recognise and formalise Cape cuisine, a mixture of East and West.

Slavery and Cape architecture

Initially slaves only did menial work, but as slave populations stabilised they were trained in skilled occupations. Slaves were taught to build houses in the Dutch style, but they introduced many little Eastern flourishes in the ornate stone pediments and ornamental gardens. The Castle, Groot Constantia, Vergelegen and Simonsig were all built by slaves.

Slavery and Cape slang

It is believed that Afrikaans developed as a ‘kitchen-language’ – a simplified form of Dutch that slaves learned in order to communicate with their Dutch-speaking masters. Proof of this, perhaps, is the fact that the first Afrikaans was written in Arabic script. The language is also enriched by many Arabic words such as piesang (banana), bredie (stew), baklei (fight), soebat (to plead).

Slavery and slave names

There are a surprising number of people who (whether they are aware of it or not) are descended from slaves. A dead give-away is the name. Slaves were always given names by their owners. Unimaginative people would choose an easy name such as the month in which the slave was bought (Februarie, September). Names of Roman heroes such as Cupido or Hannibal, biblical names such as Moses and Solomon, or whimsical names describing some attribute such as Fortuijn (if the slave was expensive), Witbooi (if they were light-skinned), or from their region of origin such as Basson, Claassen, or Snyman, were also popular choices.

Slaves were Muslim and introduced their religion into the daily life of the Cape. The Cape Peninsula is ringed by 20 kramats, or holy sepulchres, that have fulfilled a 250-year-old prophecy that a ‘circle of Islam’ will be formed around Cape Town.

Slavery and Cape slave traditions

Some current traditions in Cape Town date back to the days of slavery. On the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday women cut up orange leaves in the mosques. This slave tradition, known as ‘rampie-sny’, is unique to Cape Muslims.

The most enduring relic today is the Kaapse Klopse, or Tweede Nuwe Jaar. The slaves got this one day a year off, perhaps because their masters were too busy recovering from hangovers to need their services. Annually, on January 2, the descendants of slaves take to the city streets with bands and dance. The bright street parades and music are a joyous celebration of life over adversity. It's a custom as unique to Cape Town as the noon gun and the flower-sellers on Adderley Street.

Now wasn't that Quite Interesting ?

  • Used with kind permission of Niki Moore - a freelance feature writer and reporter currently living in St Lucia. You can read her original article "Throwing off the shackles" here.

** More Quite Interesting Histories **

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HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN: What you perhaps didn't know about the spooky festival

Animated Ghosts! whoooo oooo whooooIt’s Halloween soon, which should have young kids throughout America and Europe wetting themselves with excitement while putting the final touches to their little Frankenstein outfits. But why does Halloween excite South Africans so much? We have absolutely nothing to do with the holiday. Any excuse to celebrate I guess...

If you are one of ‘those people’ (no offense) you might find it interesting to know what you’re actually celebrating.

History of Halloween: Pagan Festival of the Dead

Halloween is celebrated on the night of October 31. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses" and carving jack-o-lanterns – usually out of pumpkins.

Most of the customs connected with Halloween are remnants of ancient religious beliefs and rituals. These were first practiced by the ancient Druids and then transcended amongst the Roman Christians who conquered them.

The American version of Halloween Day celebration owes its origin to the ancient (pre-Christian) Druidic fire festival called "Samhain" – an ancient Celtic festival. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the 19th-Century.

Halloween and Samhain

zombie - History of Halloween

That zombie needs to see a dentist

The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter.

It was believed that on October 31 the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped. The deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

A feast of the dead was often held, which was intended to give rest and peace to the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of the dead, offered up prayers for them and made oblations.

Masks and consumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them. Such festivities frequently involve bonfires, which attracted insects to the area which subsequently attracted bats. Thus the addition of bats entered into the history of Halloween.

History of Halloween: Trick or Treat?

Trick or treat - History of Halloween

We want candy!

Trick-or-treating is an activity for children during Halloween in which they proceed from house to house in costumes asking for treats by enthusiastically screaming "trick or treat!?" The "trick" part of trick or treat is a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat is given.

It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters. Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947.

Part of the history of Halloween is Halloween costumes. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling" when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).

Behind the name Halloween

Halloween, or the Hallow E'en as they call it in Ireland , means All Hallows Eve, or the night before the 'All Hallows'. It is also called 'All Hallowmas', or 'All Saints', or 'All Souls' Day, observed on November 1. In old English the word 'Hallow' means 'sanctify'.

cackle cackle cackle!The History of Halloween and the Mass Media

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children's magazines Jack and Jill and Children's Activities. It was also popularised by Halloween episodes on network radio programs. The Baby Snooks Show in 1946, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948 all helped to popularise Halloween further.

The custom of Halloween had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat. Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show. UNICEF was the first to conduct a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.

Happy Halloween! :)

Related post: Amazing Halloween Pumpkin Carvings!

Sources: www.halloweenhistory.org and
www.theholidayspot.com/halloween/history.htm

** More Quite Interesting Histories **

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VIDEO: The history and origin of poi

Aunty yo, a South African poi instructor, describes the history and origin of this colorful technique as her students demonstrate the art of poi at the White Mountain Folk Festival held in the central Drakensburg, Kwa-zulu Natal.

Poi People
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwtdtC7j_Bs]

For more info visit: www.auntyyo.com

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