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The phantom of colonialism: Unearthing ‘Discovery’

How are we truly independent if we let our children learn history written by invaders with their own narrative?

Golden balls of yellow flowers, a little smaller than a tennis ball, indigenous to the warmer parts of India – the tree grows tall with horizontal branches and large, shining leaves. It is popularly known as the Kadamba tree associated with Shri Krishna. Also known as the Tree of Devas, the tree also has medicinal properties and is used in Ayurveda. Its flowers are offered in Temples to Devi-Devtas. 

Shri Krishna dancing with Radha and his favourite Gopis under this tree is a treasured theme of the Krishna-Radha legend and customarily illustrated in various paintings. This association makes the tree extraordinarily sacred to Hindus.

The name Kadamba has another mention in pages of Indian history. There was an ancient royal dynasty of Karnataka that ruled from Banavasi in the present day Uttara Kannada district during (345 – 525 C.E.) known as the Kadamba Dynasty. The Kadambas emerged as the first indigenous dynasty to use Kannada, the language of the soil, at an administrative level. According to Grama Paddhati, a Kannada work dealing with the history of the Tulu Brahmanas, Bhagwan Shiva and Ma Parvati gave birth to Mayurasharma (founder of the dynasty) under a Kadamba tree in the Sahyadri mountains and hence the name Kadamba. Another legend says Bhagwan Shiva and the Mother Earth gave birth to Mayurasharma. Yet another legend states that Mayurasharma had been born to a sister of Jain Tirthankara Ananda Jinavritindra under a Kadamba tree.

Bharat is the land of stories.

Aryabhatta’s verse from Aryabhatiya

The verse above in Sanskrit was quoted in the 5th century by great mathematician and astronomer Aryabatta 1 (476–550 CE) in his work called Aryabhatiya which is divided into 4 sections namely Gitikapada, Ganitpada, Kalakriyapada & Golapada. Under the title Golapada, he explains the earth is circular like a Kadamba flower and just as the bulb of a Kadamba flower is surrounded by blossoms on all sides. Hence, the Earth is round and surrounded by all creatures whether living on land or in water.

Aryabhatta discovered the number system and invented zero, the value of Pi, geometric/trigonometric aspects of the celestial sphere, calculation of day and rotation of the earth, scientific explanation of eclipses, celestial equator to name a few and all that at a very young age. He credited his work to his Gurus and the works of his predecessors. Such was the humility of a man who discovered works far ahead of his times and laid the foundation for modern-day science, maths and astronomy. His work spread to Arabic and European regions and was translated into their native languages.

This was the time when Rome was falling, Europeans were ravaging, killing and plundering each other like barbarians while the Indian sub-continent was thriving and going through a golden era, making discoveries in the fields of science, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. These works were later spread across the world, translated and then later released by others as their own discoveries with little or no credit to original work or the person.

Discovery

This is how Oxford Dictionary defines ‘discovery’.

Discovery (n): an act or the process of finding somebody/something, or learning about something that was not known about before.

Except, the origin of the word are quite different.

In common indoctrinated knowledge an Italian explorer Christopher Columbus discovered America, Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon discovered Australia and Portuguese Vasco Da Gama discovered India.

Christopher Columbus wanted to discover India but landed in America because he underestimated the size of the earth nearly by 40% and reached Cuba instead. Hence the indigenous people are called Indians. Vasco Da Gama was in Africa for months clueless of passage to India. He discovered India only when an Indian man named Kanak accompanied and guided him to India. Kanak used a traditional navigational instrument called the Kamal or Rapalagai. It’s common knowledge that people in these places existed for thousands of years before the sailors from far-off land set their foot for the first time. Then why should it be called ‘Discovery’ even though the place, people, habitat was living, breathing and thriving before the arrival?

Here is where things get interesting. But first, let us understand a bit about ‘Papal bull’. What is ‘Papal bull’?

It is a formal proclamation issued by the Pope (usually written in antiquated characters and sealed with a leaden bulla). It is a type of decree or an order which is legally binding command or decision entered on the court record (as if issued by a court or judge).

The heathens of the world would be unaware of the real meaning of the term “discovery” as it relates to a religious doctrine enunciated by the church in papal bulls. 

In the bull of 1452, Pope Nicholas directed King Alfonso to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property.” [Davenport: 20-26] Acting on this papal privilege, Portugal continued to traffic in African slaves and expanded its royal dominions by making “discoveries” along the western coast of Africa, claiming those lands as Portuguese territory. Under various theological and legal doctrines formulated during and after the Crusades, non-Christians were considered enemies of the Catholic faith and, as such, less than human.

When Columbus sailed west across the Sea of Darkness in 1492 – with the express understanding that he was authorized to “take possession” of any lands he “discovered” that were “not under the dominion of any Christian rulers” – he and the Spanish sovereigns of Aragon and Castile were following an already well-established tradition of “discovery” and conquest. [Thacher:96]. Pope Alexander stated his desire that the “discovered” people be “subjugated and brought to the faith itself.” [Davenport:61] By this means, said the pope, the “Christian Empire” would be propagated. [Thacher:127]

The underlying religious principle was the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery” that the first Christian to sight any piece of land became its ‘discoverer’ hence owner. It is in this sense of land ownership that Vasco da Gama ‘discovered’ India or Columbus ‘discovered’ America.

When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani island, he performed a ceremony to “take possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of Western Christendom. The bull Romanus Pontifex explicitly directed all Christians to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans…and other enemies of Christ [i.e., all non-Christians]…to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate…[their] possessions, and goods, and to convert them to…their use and profit…

This papal incitement to mass murder was justified by quoting parts of the Bible. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” [Psalm 2:8-9 N.I.V.] “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackled of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his saints. Praise the Lord.” [Psalm 149:6-9 N.I.V.].

In his book titled ‘A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies’, Bartolome De Las Casas talks about how the Spanish did not spare even women and children. He says that they split open the wombs of pregnant women and threw young children from cliffs into the sea saying “boil there you offspring of the devil”. Close to 10 million people were brutally murdered in the initial genocide in America. 

In 1823, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was quietly adopted into U.S. law by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case, Johnson v. McIntosh (8 Wheat., 543). Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian European nations had assumed “ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that – upon “discovery” – the Indians had lost “their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands.

In other words, Indians nations were subject to the ultimate authority of the first nation of Christendom to claim possession of a given region of Indian lands. [Johnson:574; Wheaton:270-1] According to Marshall, the United States – upon winning its independence in 1776 – became a successor nation to the right of “discovery” and acquired the power of “dominion” from Great Britain.

The Doctrine of Discovery is the International Law of Colonialism as stated by Professor Robert J. Miller explains in 10 points how this doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments. 

There have been multiple holocausts of natives around the world in name of religious beliefs in the African continent, Native America and the most recent finding of a mass graves of children which is the result of genocide of native people in Canada. Indigenous legal scholar Tamara Starblanket quoted in an article, “The laws and policies that force our children’s removal are about our lands and how to gain domination over the lands, minerals, waters, and airspace. The government attempted forcible denationalization, … by massive and widespread forcible indoctrination. … The effect is that our children do not understand their responsibilities, languages, cultures, spirituality, laws and direct connection to our lands and their duty to protect our lands for future generations.”

Hitler found his inspiration of Nazi genocide from butcherings of Native Americans. He quotes as follows.

There is only one task: Germanization through the introduction of Germans [to the area] and to treat the original inhabitants like Indians. … I intend to stay this course with ice-cold determination. I feel myself to be the executor of the will of History. What people think of me at present is all of no consequence. Never have I heard a German who has bread to eat express concern that the ground where the grain was grown had to be conquered by the sword. We eat Canadian wheat and never think of the Indians.”

The once upon a time colonies are still the slaves to the legacy the superior and imperial colonisers have left for generations to come which will still suffer in colonialism despite the independence.

It is about time we come out of the shackles of colonialism and dig our roots, engage with our true history to ‘Discover the truth.

The bitter truth of ‘Discovery’ is an ugly face of all human vices, but what’s more shameful is we subjugating ourselves to this law even today that dehumanizes all non-christians, strips them of their basic rights to their land thereby still colonizing, a sad reality that most people are unaware of, justification/appropriation of genocides, no punishments, no closure. 

As an Indian, I shudder to think and am unapologetically delighted that Europeans who mostly use to taking moral high-ground were primitive enough not know basic elementary mathematics hence Columbus could not find Indian subcontinent. Sadly American Native were not so blessed.

The persecuted celebrating and glorifying the perpetrators, visiting their graves, monuments, places of worship and celebrating their arrival day and choosing to teach the same false narrative to thier children is not a sign of true independence.

How are we free if even a single school is still teaching that Columbus, Vasco and Cook ‘discovered’! 

I’ll leave you with this 1969 interview of Miriam Makeba where she speaks about invaders and who writes history.

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