Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Arab Traders

This is an interesting article: but this claim bothered me: “The opium poppy was not native to Southeast Asia but was introduced by Arab traders in the seventh century AD. “ I wrote something similar over a decade ago:

It’s claimed “Arab traders” introduced opium to the “Golden Triangle” area of SE Asia, much as they went to the Spice Islands and China. The poverty of thought behind accepting this as possible amazes.
Before Islam, in late Roman times, did Arabs have ports? No. Warehouses? Not so much. Wood for ships? No. Currency, schooling, record-keeping methods, even much of an economy? No.
Problem is, Europeans couldn’t tell Arabs from Jews, Kurds, Syrians, Bedouins, Persians or Urdu speakers. Now one finds mention of Arabic cultural “gifts” to Europeans – Arabic numerals, medical and optical knowledge, the astrolabe… pursuing actual origins perhaps not far enough.
Actually the cultural advances came from India, the Levant and Persia. “Arabs” were sometimes intermediaries, but ignorant Europeans thought Saladin was an Arab. He was a Kurd.
The Abbasids, claimed to be a “dynasty of Arab caliphs descended from Abbas, uncle of the Prophet Mohammed” by my New American Desk Encyclopedia, were Anatolians and Persians (see Harun al Rashid). “Arab traders” were Jews from Arabia, Bedouins, Sudanese and others from the area. Before the Normans, other Vikings entered Constantinople and north Africa (becoming Berbers). Arabs were few, scattered and primitive enough to be totally ignored by the Mongols. In Anatolia (Turkey) poppies are indigenous, but not in Arabia! Persians traded with SE Asia and the Spice Islands, not Arabs. Turks came from near China, so of course they knew to trade there. But just because they became Islamic hardly makes them Arabs.
Such silliness. We pride ourselves on having some understanding of physics, but don’t even know 2000 years of history, surely a much easier accomplishment. But intellectual rigor has always been much less important than socially accepted attitude.
There are English-speaking folk all over the world, but we don't call most of them English!

Before Islam, much of what has come to be seen as the “Arabic world” was Sassanid or Byzantine. Like their predecessors the Parthians, the Sassanid Empire carried out active foreign relations with Tang Dynasty China. Arabs did not. In the early Sasanian era, Persian, Greek and Parthian were used by the kings, but before a century was out, Greek was no longer in use, perhaps due to anti-Hellenic Zoroastrians, and fierce rivalry with the Roman/Byzantines. Parthian soon disappeared as an administrate language too, but remained in use in the eastern area. Aramaic was widely used, but Middle Persian was the dominate native language. In the southwest, Khuzestan, several languages were spoken; Persian in the north and east, Aramaic throughout, and some local languages like Neo-Elamite. Sogdian, Bactrian, Khwarazmian, Sistani and other non-Iranian languages were also spoken within the empire, as was some Arabic, by a few nomads.

Charles Mehl, head of the royal project to build the Hall of Opium by the Golden Triangle river confluence, explains: “Early references to opium in medicinal texts in India are from around the 4th to 7th Century AD, and in medicinal texts in China around the 7th to 9th Century AD. The terms used for opium in some of the earlier texts were not always clear or consistent and there is considerable debate whether they do in fact refer to opium, or perhaps some other medicinal plants.”and “Too often statements like "introduced by Arabs in the 7th century" become accepted simply because they are repeated often. Just like the oft-repeated statement that the earliest references to opium were by Sumerians, who called it Hul Gil or "joy plant". This all is based on one person's conjecture from the 1920s, and has not been supported by anyone since - including contemporary experts of ancient Sumerian and Assyrian.”
If, as my little 'encyclopedia' says, Iraqis are Arabs (and Egyptians and Mamelukes, Lebanese Christians, etc also), then Arabs DID have ports, etc, even very early. But to me that's like what we've done with "Negroes" - lumping Masai and Pygmies. just the other day I noticed joking reference to Navajo taking scalps... well all those damn slopes look alike to me! Persians aren't Turks and vice-versa, but both had access to opium and east Asia, and could easily have transported some as early as the 7th century. Or maybe it was Sinbad the Sailor. Toot-toot!

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