Episode Three : Into
Episide Three |
So far, Jared Diamond has
demonstrated how geography favoured one group of people – Europeans
– endowing them with agents of conquest ahead of their rivals around
the world. Guns, germs and steel allowed Europeans to colonize vast
tracts of the globe – but what happened when this all-conquering
package arrived in Africa, the birthplace of
Can Jared Diamond's theories explain how a
continent so rich in natural resources, could have ended up the
poorest continent on earth?
and Steel triumph again...?
Jared's journey begins on
a steam train in Cape Town, designed to carry civilization to the
heart of the so-called 'dark continent'. In the Cape, Jared
discovers a landscape and way of life that feels very European –
farms growing cattle, wheat, grapes and barley; settler communities
dating back over three hundred years.
He realizes that the
first European settlers in southern Africa were dealt a very lucky
hand by geography – they landed in one of the few temperate zones of
the southern hemisphere – a climate to which their crops an animals
were ideally suited. These foundations of their historical success
worked for them even 6,000 miles from home and they were able to
sweep aside the indigenous hunting communities with ease – assisted
by the impact of European germs.
But these settlers were not
ones to stand still. A mass migration known as the Great Trek took
thousands of Dutch settlers north and east – into unknown territory
– and, as they found to their cost, into Zulu land.
had built a sophisticated African state based on military conquest –
and now they resisted European invasion. But eventually, overcoming
the limitations of their weapons and inheriting new, automatic
weapons form industrialized Europe, the settlers triumphed over
their rival African tribes - at the cost of thousands of
Jared observes that the story of Guns, Germs and
Steel seems to be unfolding all over again.
having swept aside native opposition beyond the cape, Jared asks,
could the settlers build a new life of their
As the settlers
traveled further north, life suddenly became a lot harder. The
foundations of their success, their crops and animals, refused to
grow. They were forced to barter for food from their neighbours. And
they started to fall ill with a mysterious and terrifying fever. It
was a complete reversal of the usual pattern of European
European settler suffers from malaria in colonial
So what had changed?
realizes that, unlike elsewhere in the world - where Europeans had
landed in a temperate zone and traveled from east to west,
maintaining similar climates - here in Africa, Europeans landed in
the south and migrated north, moving through latitude zones and
experiencing radically different climates.
In fact, as they
crossed the Limpopo River, they had entered the
Temperate crops such as wheat simply can't survive
in a tropical climate. Nor can European animals – plagued by the
diseases which thrive in the Tropics.
But all around
them, Europeans could see successful, agricultural Africans growing
their own crops, farming their own animals. How could they do
Jared sets out to learn more about the secrets
of tropical Africa.
Stopping off in a school, Jared discovers that
the enormous diversity of modern tropical Africa is reflected in the
hundreds of languages still spoken across the continent – many of
which are mastered by kids at a very young age.
inherent similarity of these languages indicates a common ancestral
root – a single language spoken by a group of ancient tropical
farmers from the Niger-Congo region, who have come to be known as
About 5,000 years ago, these Bantu farmers began to
spread beyond their native north-west region, moving into new lands,
picking up crops and animals as they went. Eventually, Bantu culture
spread across most of tropical Africa, reaching as far as the Zulu
territories of the south.
Physical evidence for this vast
tropical diaspora is scant, but archaeologists have found clues at a
site on the banks of the Limpopo known as Mapungubwe – the place of
the jackal. Here there is evidence for a complex, agricultural state
supporting thousands of people throughout southern Africa – farming
sorghum and cattle, forging iron, exporting gold and tin and
importing exotic materials and precious stones from as far away as
India and China.
The discovery of Mapungubwe overturned
centuries of prejudice about African history and proved the
continent played host to a sophisticated tropical civilization
centuries before the arrival of Europeans.
wonders, how did the Africans achieve all this in a climate
tailor-made for the spread of disease?
Elsewhere in the world,
European germs laid the foundations for European conquest
-decimating native populations who had no previous exposure to
diseases like smallpox. But in tropical Africa, the indigenous
peoples seemed to survive both imported European germs, and the
tropical fevers which were decimating European
Jared discovers that smallpox in fact may have
evolved in tropical Africa – and had certainly been present in the
continent for thousands of years. So African cattle-farmers had
evolved antibodies and immunities similar to their European rivals;
they had even invented methods of smallpox vaccination, conferring
immunity for life.
And their lifestyles were designed to
avoid infection from mosquitoes, carriers of the deadly malaria
parasite. Over centuries of exposure, tropical Africans evolved
degrees of physical immunity to the worst effects of this tropical
disease. But they also learned to live in high or dry locations,
away from the natural habitat of the mosquito, and to limit the
level of disease transmission by keeping their communities
African civilization had evolved strategies
which helped them survive – even thrive – in the
So, Jared asks, where did this civilization
Geography endowed Africa with one last
temptation for European colonizers – natural resources, like copper,
diamonds and gold. So, unable to build their own societies in the
tropics, European governments turned to cheap African labour instead
to maximize the profit from these resources.
Over the course
of two generations, brutal regimes throughout central Africa ripped
tropical civilization to shreds. They tore men women and children
from their homes, and forced them to live and work together in the
pursuit of industrial raw materials.
Jared discovers that the
very tracks of steel on which he has been riding throughout his
journey, were built on the back of this colonial
And the legacy these regimes left behind? A
continent plagued by disease. When colonial governments destroyed a
way of life built up over thousands of years, they left tropical
Africans naked to the forces of their environment.
diseases like malaria are resurgent throughout tropical Africa –
malaria is still the number one killer of African children under
Brought to a children's hospital in Zambia,
Jared discovers for himself the tragic consequences of this
So, Jared concludes, what has his
epic journey through world history taught him, after
That modern global inequalities have been
shaped by geography's influence over our history.
geography – and advantages such as guns, germs and steel – are the
great forces that have shaped the history of our world and continue
to shape the experience of countries like Zambia.
does that mean that Jared is a determinist? That he believes the
peoples of the world are destined to follow their geographic
destiny, for either good or bad?
Well, no – and for
countries like Zambia, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Other tropical nations have managed to lift the burden of diseases
like malaria. Government-funded research, new drugs, even a vaccine,
today offer hope to the people of Zambia.
that we can only achieve a better future if we have a more
comprehensive understanding of our past. Only by recognizing the
role which geography, and our environment, have played in our
history, can we begin to overcome today's
Because while geography and history may
give us our start in life, they should never dictate our
Where to next?
Read the full
transcript of Episode Three.
behind the scenes with the production team