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Re: history of place names
>I have always found the study of place-names to be exciting because they
>tell us something about the 'history' of the area. For example, in my 30
>years in Africa, the first thing I would do is to find out the meaning of a
>place name e.g.
How about Mogadishu?
And I'm surprised nobody on this list has mentioned Cheng Ho, who visited
Mogadishu as admiral of a fleet of dozens of ships and tens of thousands
of men. He was a near-contemporary of Prince Henry Sinclair, sailing
on voyages from 1405 to 1433 that caused Bengal, Cochin, Calicut, Java,
Hormuz, and parts of East Africa to pay tribute to China. On one voyage
he commanded 317 ships, the smallest of which had five masts and was 180
feet long and 68 feet wide, and 27,000 men. His were the largest navies
in history up to his time, and they were backed by the most powerful
empire on earth. If he had sailed a bit farther, around the Cape of
Good Hope, he could easily have reached Europe or America, and history
might have been quite different.
Why didn't he? And why have few people heard of him?
He didn't go further because the emperor who was in power in 1433 chose
to halt all further voyages. The emperor went further; he forbid
all Chinese to travel abroad; this was called the Great Withdrawal.
Being the emperor of the Middle Kingdom, his word was obeyed and there
was no alternative. Why did the Ming Emperor decide to stop the voyages?
There seems to be some debate on this point, but it appears to have to do
with the nature of the tribute imposed, which consisted more of having
various countries send emissaries and China giving them more than they
brought to the center of civilization. The idea was to assert to all
the world that the Middle Kingdom was the only center of civilization,
and needed nothing from anywhere else. Even for a country as vast and
resourceful as China was then, that became expensive after some time.
Whatever the reason, China was a single unified state, and Cheng Ho
had no successor and was forgotten.
Cheng Ho's voyages were in some ways like those of Prince Henry,
or at least in some of the same ways unlike those of the conquistadores.
Neither Ho nor Henry went to conquer, nor even necessarily to convert.
Both were apparently well-received where they went, and usually
Both could have changed the world if their successes had been maintained.
And both are largely forgotten.
John S. Quarterman <email@example.com>
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