The Walking Paradox
by Eduardo Galeano
I attend a history class.
Newspapers teach me
by what they say
and by what they don’t say.
History is a walking paradox. Contradiction moves its legs. Perhaps for that reason its silences say more than its words and its words reveal the truth frequently through lying.
Soon a book of mine will be published, titled Espejos [Mirrors]. It’s just like a universal history — pardon my audacity. “I can resist everything except the temptation,” Oscar Wilde said, and I confess that I have succumbed to the temptation to recount some episodes of human adventure in the world, from the point of view of those who have not appeared in the picture.
In other words, it’s about little known facts.
Here I sum up some of them, just a few.
– – –
When they were expelled from Paradise, Adam and Eve moved to Africa, not to Paris.
Some time later, after their children had already embarked upon the ways of the world, writing was invented. In Iraq, not in Texas.
Algebra, too, was invented in Iraq. It was founded by Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi, one thousand two hundred years ago, and the words algorithm and guarismo [numeral] derive from his name.
Names usually do not correspond to what they name. In the British Museum, for example, the sculptures of the Parthenon are called “Elgin marbles,” but they are marbles of Phidias. Elgin was the name of the Englishman who sold them to the museum.
The three novelties that made the European Renaissance possible, the compass, gunpowder, and the printing press, had been invented by the Chinese, who also invented just about everything that Europe reinvented.
The Ancient Indians had known before everybody that the Earth was round and the Mayans had created the most exact calendar of all times.
– – –
In 1493, the Vatican gave America to Spain and granted Africa to Portugal, “so that barbarous nations be reduced to the Catholic faith.” At that time, America had fifteen times more inhabitants than Spain, and Black Africa one hundred times more than Portugal.
Just as the Pope had commanded, barbarous nations were reduced. Very much.
– – –
Water made Tenochtitlán, the center of the Aztec Empire. Hernán Cortés demolished the city, stone by stone, and with its rubble he filled the canals where two hundred thousand canoes sailed. This was the first water war in America. Now Tenochtitlán is called Mexico City. Where water once ran, now run cars.
– – –
The highest monument of Argentina has been erected in tribute to General Roca, who in the nineteenth century exterminated the Indians of Patagonia.
The longest avenue of Uruguay takes the name of General Rivera, who in the nineteenth century exterminated the last Charrúa Indians.
– – –
John Locke, the philosopher of freedom, was a shareholder of the Royal African Company, which bought and sold slaves.
When the eighteenth century was born, the first of the Bourbons, Felipe V, abdicated his throne signing a contract with his cousin, the King of France, that the French Guinea Company would sell Blacks in America. Each monarch took 25 percent of the profits.
Names of some slave ships: Voltaire, Rousseau, Jesus, Hope, Equality, Friendship.
Two of the Founding Fathers of the United States vanished in the fog of official history. Nobody remembers Robert Carter or Gouverneur Morris. Amnesia was the reward of their deeds. Carter was the only independence leader who emancipated his slaves. Morris, drafter of the Constitution, objected to the clause that established that a slave was equal to three fifths of a person. …………
The Birth of a Nation, the first Hollywood blockbuster, was released in 1915, at the White House. President Woodrow Wilson gave it a standing ovation. The film quotes Wilson’s words singing a racist hymn to the Ku Klux Klan.
– – –
From 1234, and for the following seven centuries, the Catholic Church prohibited women from singing in temples. Their voices were impure, on account of Eve and the original sin.
In 1783, the King of Spain decreed that manual labor was not dishonorable, “vile offices” which thitherto entailed the loss of nobility.
Until 1986, in the schools of England, it was legal to punish children with belts, sticks, and clubs.
– – –
In the name of freedom, equality, and fraternity, the French Revolution proclaimed in 1793 the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then, the revolutionary militant Olympe de Gouges proposed the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen. Her head was cut off by the guillotine.
Half a century later, another revolutionary government, during the First Commune of Paris, proclaimed universal suffrage. At the same time, it denied women the right to vote, unanimously except one dissent: 899 nays, one yea.
– – –
The Christian Empress Theodora never claimed to be revolutionary, nothing of the sort. But one thousand five hundred years ago, the Byzantine Empire became, thanks to her, the first place in the world where abortion and divorce were the rights of women.
– – –
General Ulysses Grant, victorious in the war of the industrial North against the slave South, next became President of the United States.
In 1875, in response to British pressures, he answered back:
— Within 200 years, when America has gotten out of protection all that it can offer, it too will adopt free trade.
So, in 2075, the most protectionist nation in the world will adopt free trade.
– – –
Lootie, “Little Booty,” was the first Pekinese dog to arrive in Europe.
The dog traveled to London in 1860. The English named it “Lootie” because it was part of the booty snatched from China, at the end of the two long opium wars.
Victoria, the narco-trafficking queen, imposed opium by cannons. China was turned into a nation of drug addicts, in the name of freedom, free trade.
In the name of freedom, free trade, Paraguay was annihilated in 1870. After a war of five years, this country, the only country in the Americas that did not owe a cent to anybody, incurred its first foreign debt. At its smoking ruins arrived, from London, the first loan. It was destined to pay an enormous indemnification to Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. The murdered country paid the murdering countries for the work of murdering it.
– – –
Haiti also paid an enormous indemnification. Ever since 1804, when it won its independence, the new nation, devastated, had to pay a fortune to France, for a century and a half, to expiate the sin of its freedom.
– – –
Great corporations enjoy human rights in the United States. In 1886, the Supreme Court extended human rights to private corporations, and thus stands it to this day.
A few years later, in defense of human rights of its corporations, the United States invaded ten countries, in diverse parts of the world.
Then, Mark Twain, a leader of the Anti-Imperialist League, proposed a new flag, with skulls instead of stars, and another writer, Ambrose Bierce, confirmed:
— War is God’s way of teaching us geography.
– – –
Concentration camps were born in Africa. The English initiated the experiment, and the Germans developed it. Later, Hermann Göring applied in Germany the model that his papa had tried in 1904 in Namibia. The teachers of Joseph Mengele had studied, in the concentration camp of Namibia, the anatomy of the inferior races. The guinea pigs were all Blacks.
– – –
In 1936, the International Olympic Committee did not tolerate insolences. In the 1936 Olympics, organized by Hitler, the soccer team of Peru defeated, 4 to 2, the team of Austria, the native country of the Führer. The Olympic Committee annulled the match.
– – –
Hitler did not lack friends. The Rockefeller Foundation financed Nazi medicine’s racial and racist research. Coca-Cola invented Fanta, in the middle of the war, for the German market. IBM made the identification and classification of Jews possible — the first large-scale exploit of the punch card system.
– – –
In 1953, workers’ protest exploded in Communist Germany.
Workers took to the streets and the Soviet tanks took care to shut down their mouths. Then, Bertolt Brecht proposed: Would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?
– – –
Marketing operations. The public opinion is their target. Wars, like cars, are sold by lies.
In 1964, the United States invaded Vietnam, because Vietnam had attacked two US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. After the war had already disemboweled a multitude of Vietnamese, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara acknowledged that there had been no Tonkin attack.
Forty years later, history repeated itself n Iraq.
– – –
Thousands of years before the North American invasion brought civilization to Iraq, in that barbarous land was born the first poem of love in universal history. In the Sumerian language, inscribed in clay, the poem narrated the encounter of a goddess and a shepherd. Inanna, the goddess, loved that night as if she were mortal. Dumuzi, the shepherd, was immortal while the night lasted.
– – –
Walking paradoxes, stirring paradoxes:
El Aleijadinho [The Cripple], the ugliest man in Brazil, created the most beautiful sculptures of the colonial American era.
The book of travels of Marco Polo, adventure of freedom, was written in a prison of Genoa.
Don Quixote de la Mancha, another adventure of freedom, was born in a prison of Seville.
It was descendants of slaves, Blacks, who created jazz, the freest music there is.
One of the best jazz guitarists, the gypsy Django Reinhardt, had only two fingers on his left hand.
Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer, is the author of Open Veins of Latin America, Days and Nights of Love and War, and Memories of Fire among other publications. This essay was first published in Página/12 on 30 December 2007. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi
Grimod de la Reynière, the great master of French cuisine, did not have hands. With hooks he wrote, cooked, and ate.
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