I find travelling liberating. When I first started to visit other countries I did so with a minimal knowledge of history. The more I travelled, I realized I wasn’t getting a good sense of where I was. It was wonderful to climb up to the Acropolis and view Athens from the ancient ruins, but I did so initially without really knowing much about where I was.
As the years went by, I became more interested in world history. For the past decade, this has become one of my obsessions and I read as much as I can about our shared past on this planet. One of the striking things I found was that war and violence has played such a huge role in the development in we human beings.
As a First Nation person, I have been part of an experience that has resulted in being conquered by the European. All of the European cultures were very well developed by the time they reached our shores. Often I think that my ancestors must have been amazed at the arrival of the tall ships as well as the warriors and missionaries who spread out across the land. I think it would be more or less the same as if we, inhabitants of earth, were being visited by some advanced race of aliens from outer space.
I have been very fortunate to have travelled much of the world over the past 15 years. It has been a real thrill to be able to look at ancient ruins like the Roman Forum where Caesar ruled and was assassinated, the Moorish castle of the Alhambra where Isabella greeted Columbus on his arrival from the New World, the Acropolis hill where civilization as we know it today was born, the mysterious prehistoric stone monuments of Stonehenge in southern England and the old medina market centre of Fez in Morocco.
Once I researched and studied some of the historic importance and relevance of these monuments it made me more respectful of the time, the places and the people I was honouring. It didn’t take me long in reading about the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Germanic tribes, the Arabic nomads and the Egyptians before I realized that there was a dominant theme. This theme had to do with a very small aristocratic, wealthy and powerful group that controlled and in many cases enslaved the greater population. To maintain this power and flow of wealth, all of these people through history have turned to war, violence and conflict.
I was shocked to discover that almost all of the developments through history have centred around people’s quest for expansion, control, power and wealth. I discovered pockets of special moments when some of these cultures paused to reflect and wonderful things happened. Some of these periods included classical Greece that was the seed of our western culture, the Roman expansion that spread this knowledge throughout Europe over hundreds of years, the Moorish/ Islamic period of Spain that saw the first universities in Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance of Italy that rediscovered ancient knowledge that had been neglected for centuries.
It occurred to me as I read about such historic leaders as Alexander the Great, Hannibal of Carthage, Pyrrhus of Epirus, the great Roman leaders Sulla, Julius Caesar and Augustus and in our modern era with characters like Napoleon, Patton, Eisenhower and Churchill that war and violence has dominated our development as a species. In looking back on this I find it enlightening yet sad that we live in a world today that continues the same narrative. The names and places have changed but the story has remained the same. These days our western culture is after the oil and resources in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and throughout Africa. Those who control the wealth of the world are still few while most of the population, except for about 10% regarded as the middle class, are impoverished.
As a Native person of Canada, I consider myself very fortunate and unique in that I have walked in the footsteps of so many giants in history at some of the most spectacular historic places in the world. It is my humble prayer for humanity as we move forward that somehow miraculously we will grasp the concept of justice, equality, fairness and respect for each other and our environment. At this point, it doesn’t look very good.