Occasional reflections on history

” As Claude Levi Strauss has written — for a culture ‘isolation is the fatal flaw’.A society located in the Highlands of New Guinea and a society on the shores of the Mediterranean will inevitably develop differently because of the inabilty to receive ideas in the one case and the proximity to ideas in the other.An isolated society may adapt marvellously to its environment as in the case of the Australian Aborigine but there is no stimulus for innovation to transform it.

In the following extended quotation, Ruth Benedict graphically explains western civilization’s dependence on foreign ideas:

“Western civilization itself is based on inventions borrowed from every part of the world… the alphabet was invented by semitic people in areas north of the Red Sea and carried by Phoenecians to Greece and Rome. Over centuries it spread throughout Europe and into India. Paper and gunpoweder too are old inventions made in China. The true arch, with its keystone, was a great architectural invention made in Babylonia 30 cnturies before Christ; but ancient Greek architecture is not based on it.The great monuments and temples of Peru and Central America were built without any knowledge of it.Gradually,however, the Babylonian invention was adopted in ancient Etruria and in Rome and became basic in Gothic Cathedrals.Mofified into a ome, it is used in modern public buildings … coffee was brought into cultivation by South American Indians, and Bolivian Indians cultivated 240 varieties… bananas come from Central America … and Polynesian peoples had carrried themselves over immense areas of the Pacific ocean before European navigators made their voyages of discovery.”

Published in: Uncategorized on November 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. I believe that Ethiopia has a strong claim to be the birthplace of coffee. According to Wikipedia, “The history of coffee goes at least as far back as the thirteenth century. It has been believed that Ethiopian ancestors of today’s Oromo people were the first to discover and recognize the energizing effect of the coffee bean plant. The story of Kaldi, the 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd who discovered coffee, did not appear in writing until 1671 AD and is probably apocryphal. From Ethiopia, coffee was said to have spread to Egypt and Yemen. The earliest credible evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the fifteenth century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. By the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. Coffee then spread to Italy, and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and to the Americas…. The word “coffee” entered English in 1598 via Dutch koffie, borrowed from Turkish kahve, in turn borrowed from Arabic qahwa, a truncation of qahhwat al-bun ‘wine of the bean’. A[nother] possible origin of the name is the Kingdom of Kaffa in Ethiopia, where the coffee plant originated; its name there is bunn or bunna.”

    Ethiopian coffee is among the finest in the world, and the smell of coffee being roasted and brewed in thousands of tukuls first thing in the morning almost anywhere in Ethiopia is at least as memorable as the taste of Proust’s madeleine. The traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is very beautiful, too.

  2. I can add a little to this interesting comment. In a description of how we acquired coffee, I picked up in an Adeleide restaurant many years ago it also recorded Ethoipia as the location of the original discovery of coffee. It then adds the following about its spread to Europe:”The first Europeans to be conquered by coffee were the Venetians by reason of their commercial intercourse with Arabian traders….Venice had its first coffeeeouse in 1590 followed by many others of historical fame; one of them being the Cafe Florian patronised by Lord Byron, Rousseau … and is still in existence in St Mark’s Square. In 1650 Edwards, an English merchant in trade with Turkey introduced coffee into England.Coffee was first introduced in the Court of Louis XIV of France in 1666 by the Turkish ambassador of the Sultan Mohammed 1V… The first English Coffee house was opened in Oxford by a Jew named Jacobs and in 1652 a Ragusan, Pasquale Roseo opened the first coffee house in London in St Michaels Alley, Cornhill. . and from then London coffeehouses became the centre of social,political and literary influence… The opening of the first coffeehouse in Vienna was closely connected with the defeat of theTurkish army of Sultan Mahommed IV in 1683 at the siege of Vienna … “

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