This used to be on disease and immunity

Domingo Martinez-Castilla (
Fri, 05 Jul 96 15:15:55 GMT

Well, there we go again,

As I am being called revisionist historian, ethnocentric
anthropologist, Inca, a trumpeter of superiority of somebody over
somebody else, in a very happy succession of two posts by Mr Firl and Mr
Deitiker respectively, and as I am not going to change this thread into
a history one, I want to respond to them with some questions and
affirmations (I have already privately responded to Mr Firl post,
because I could add nothing to the debate: repetition does not improve
the basis of my case). I beg you to bear with some personal insights,
for there have been several personal references and implicit
qualifications about my thinking in the two posts I am referring to.

My points:

1. I kindly request a quote of mine in which the superiority/inferiority
of any ethnic group is claimed or even suggested. My point is exactly
the opposite: no innate superiority in *any* respect can be demonstrated
with the data.

2. Linear history: it is clear that my two correspondents just cannot
get away from this Judeo-Christian conception, which is, I presume,
just OK. Progress (understood as general improvement) for them is
tantamount to the passage of time. This is a philosophical point of
view, widely prevalent and at the basis of Western-Christian thought (in
which I was raised, of course), with which many people do not agree,
some of them very influential and very Judeo-Christian by the way. A
discussion on this belongs to the history groups, to which I would
gladly move them.

3. Inca: if I have referred to them, it has been only to show the
complexity and extension of their very short-lived Andean hegemony. Is
it revisionist, Mssrs., to say that? I always have preferred Andean,
which better reflects the antiquity and overall tradition of the area.

4. Ethnocentrism: one of our 500-year dramas (for us Latin Americans) is
to define our ethnicity. Some of us live very comfortably playing
Andean tunes in the piano. My sisters grew up dancing flamenco and,
later, huaynos in the middle of the Andes. The fact that I refer more
to the Andes is obviously a consequence of my upbringing and knowledge
of the area, in particular its agriculture and, more in particular, its
animal husbandry. I do not think that there is anything wrong nor
unusual with that. If it is, please tell me how can I better understand
the original topic at hand (diseases and immunity) without referring to
the indigneous populations.

5. Domestication: I humbly request any reference indicating which
American animal and crop species were domesticable and had not been
domesticated at the time of contact. In other words, how many
indigenous American species of plants and animals have been domesticated
in the last 500 years? Or even more: all over the world? In the world
there may be some (arguably some trees and forages, like Eucalyptus
globulus and Leucaena leucocephala; some fish like Tilapia and trout,
but I really do not know how domestic they are --note that there is no
direct correspondence between tameness and domesticity), but I do not
know of many.

6. Why? My interest, if I may indulge into additional personal
references, in understanding the basis of agriculture and civilization
is a growing offshot of my work in agricultural development in Latin
America and East Africa. In the Andes, in particular, my quest is to
understand the basis of a very successful agriculture before 1500, in a
region for which Western agricultural expertise cannot yet provide any
lasting contributions. I may be incredibly biased, so I humbly, again,
request references indicating that Andean agriculture was "backwards"
or "behind" at the time of contact. I can give you some (Cieza, Cobo,
Pedro Pizarro --brother of Francisco, Betanzos, Estete, etc., all of
them Spaniards and several with previous European experience outside the
Iberian peninsula). There are some seminal works indicating that the
basic agricultural paradigm in the Andes was very different from that in
temperate Eurasia, which should not be that surprising taking into
account the unique nature of the Andean terrain. The problem is that we
do not yet completely understand it.

6. Why the indigenous Americans fell so easily to European domination?
My point is that disease was very important. If I have said something
about its comparative order of magnitude vis-a-vis culture, technology
and such, I shouldn't, because that is not a something that can be
measured. Notwithstanding, please check common history books and tell
me which ones mention disease as a significant factor. I need to know
if those books (any level, from elementary to post-graduate) really
exist, so I can recommend them.

I hope I have not tired you all too much.



Domingo Martinez-Castilla