Historic links between Africa and China: Part Two…as crop culture suggests age-old linkages


IN China, the watermelon is known as xigua, which literally means ‘western melon’.
Before America was colonised by the Europeans and Europe was known to the rest of the world, the west to China was India and Africa.
Because the watermelon came from Africa, the Chinese continue to call it the western melon.
The watermelon grows prosperously in south China and also in places like Thailand which have a hot climate.
As in Africa, it is a convenient natural snack which supplies energy and quenching to the body during the summer season.
Another key crop which was found both in Africa and China was hemp.
The hemp or cannabis plant was essentially African.
It was taken to India and Nepal from whence it spread to places like Kazakhstan along with the hop plant which is related to it.
The herb would spread into China through traders and the great Silk Road.
In China, cannabis would be used as a medicine for menstrual pain, stomach pain, insomnia, hemorrhages, parasitic infections, nausea and so on.
Cannabis was also used in collaboration with acupuncture and would accelerate the reversal inflammation.
Emperor Shen Nung, a pharmacologist, recommended the African herb along with 50 others for medical use.
A book called Pen Tsao Ching was compiled 2 000 years ago and stated that the herb can treat over 100 ailments including rheumatism, gout and malaria.
Before the coming of foreign powers to Africa, traditional healers also used and prescribed cannabis as a medicine and this shows yet another connection between ancient Africa and China.
The stalk and seeds of the hemp plant were also used effectively in China.
The Chinese used the seeds for food and procured fibre from the stalk.
Cannabis is actually known as ‘dama’ in China, which literally means ‘big fibre’.
This fibre was the perfect raw material for making paper.
China invented paper and the early most durable Chinese paper was made of hemp.
The fibre was also used to make cloth and China continues to cultivate this plant for industrial purposes.
The presence of African crops in distant China suggests there may have been close trade ties between the two continents in ancient times.
There also may have been individuals or groups who travelled by sea to and from Asia and Africa and would carry these crops with them.
Besides crops, these travellers also brought with them minerals. The Shang-yin Dynasty, which predated the Zhou and the Han, had numerous bronze artefacts whose lead isotopes proved they were not from China.
For decades, the bronze artefacts’ origins were labelled mysterious for this reason.
The lead isotopes of the bronze artefacts were eventually found to be identical to South African (kaapvaal) and Zimbabwean bronze.
Scientific observations concluded that the ore was undoubtedly derived from Archean cratons that can only be found in the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Above the Nile and towards Egypt, the bronze is less radiogenic and thus researchers are now certain the bronze was derived in sub-Sahara, particularly Zimbabwe and/or South Africa where the isotope readings are high and identical to those found on the Chinese artefacts.
South-east Asia and south-east Africa are connected via seasonal winds that are known as monsoon winds.
The winds blow towards Asia from April to October and towards Africa from October to April.
Ancient Africans used these winds in sailing and they would aid their journeys by accelerating the speed of the ships when travelling with the wind direction.
Thus, it is not far-fetched to see so many proofs of Chinese objects and crops with African origins.
Chinese coins have likewise been excavated in places like Great Zimbabwe.
In Kenya, there are blacks who have Chinese ancestry and settled in the land over 600 years ago.
They were confirmed to have Chinese DNA though they are now indistinguishable from other Kenyans.
They can be found in a village called Siyu in Lamu.
Chinese ceramics from the Ming Dynasty were also found in their possession and preserved.
Their ancestors have Chinese style tombs and have village names like Shangha which resemble Chinese names like Shanghai.
They are believed to be descendants of shipwreck survivors of a ship navigated by a Chinese sailor called Zhenghe.
Ancient African artefacts are now being collected and conserved in China’s National Museum which is located in Beijing.
There are 1,4 million artefacts in the museum and over 340 000 of them are from sub-Saharan African countries such as Guinea, Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Mali. These artefacts have attracted millions of tourists from in and outside China.
To date, an estimated 8,5 million people have visited the museum to see the ancient African artefacts.
On top of this, there are over four million people following the museum on the internet.
The artefacts resemble ancient Chinese art and are very much treasured in China.
China spends a lot of money in procuring and preserving these artefacts and believes this service helps to promote China’s national philosophy of treasuring heritage.
It also stands as a symbol of the historical and cultural link between the lands of Africa and China.
Even more surprising and convincing than objects and crops is the presence of African traditional philosophy in traditional Chinese culture.
Concepts such as humanness which is known as hunhu/ubuntu to Africans also exist in China as ‘ren’.
In both cases, the terms are coined from the root word of munhu (human) which is called ren in Chinese.
Chinese philosophers like Kongzi or Confucius taught that achieving ren is the highest success a human can attain.
In Africa, hunhu/ubuntu is a vital component of our culture and a prerequisite if one is going to be truly regarded as a human being.
This philosophy is deeply engraved in both Chinese and African culture.
Another surprising feat, often assumed to be typically African, is the human’s ability to be possessed by spirits.
This is known as kusvikirwa or kugarwa in Zimbabwe.
In China, it is known as ‘shoushen’ which literally means receiving a spirit (god).
While Westerners demonise this, the Chinese revere it and like ancient Africans, they continue to praise individuals who have this ability.
The Chinese also have levels of kusvikirwa, with some simply getting possessed by a spirit and others being ordained vessels of the spirit.
The former would be called ‘svikiro’ and the latter ‘gombwe’ in Zimbabwe.
The likes of the Buddha were ‘gombwe’ and this is the highest level of spiritual elevation in the eyes of the Chinese.
The traditional Chinese, like the Africans, also believed in a relationship between their kings and the higher forces that we know as ‘mhondoro’.
The Chinese revere their ancestors and honour them in very similar ways to traditional Africans.
Annually, they return to their villages in spring, before the rain season, and commence sweeping the graves of their ancestors. This is known as ‘saomu’ and resembles ‘kurova guva’ in Zimbabwe.
Africans also hold their bira ceremony after winter and before the rains begin.
They neaten their ancestors’ graves and make drink and animal offerings.
The Chinese make offerings of paper money, fruits, fireworks and they feast.
The Chinese Government has recognised this ceremony as a week-long national holiday and is called Qingmingjie, meaning pure brightness festival.
The name of the festival is in reference to the weather.
If one continues to dig further back into the history and culture of China and other parts of Asia, one will find that Asians and Africans essentially have the same culture.
Remove the linguistic and racial differences and you will find that we have more similarities than differences in terms of culture and tradition.


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