Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Closed Sea: Planting the Pacific: Or, Three Centuries on the Stoop

"Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific –– and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise ––
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

Balboa (not Cortes, as everyone always points out) is a big deal to some people, John Keats cared more about a nice translation of Homer, but the poem comes down to us for its wild surmise, in that moment when you crest the hill and see the vast Pacific before you. One can hope, even in 2015, that tomorrow's world will have larger horizons, if we only patiently wait for the beginning of the Pacific Century. 

We've been waiting, let it be said, for a very long time, from 1512 to, well, now? But the usual practice is to blame the insular and the ineffectual. Were China and Japan not closed societies, had the Spanish not tried to "close" the Pacific while neglecting their own exploratory duty to Science. 

Had-- Well, let me stop here and put Sam Bawlf on the stage. In a beyond-embarrassing episode fifteen years ago, the former provincial politician, best known for his role in the epic fiasco of the Fast Ferries, was featured in all the major Canadian west coast papers with a new theory about what Francis Drake did in the summer of 1579. We know from the official history that he made his way to the Pacific coast of Spanish America, found nothing there worth pirating, made his way up the coast a-ways, and then headed westward on a short and trouble-free circumnavigation of the Pacific and home with a big old load of gold. Tradition takes the northing as far as California, because, you know, it's California. Bawlf decided to bring Drake to British Columbia, with plans to establish a secret colony, and somehow got all four of the major Canadian west coast papers to do big stories presenting his wacky ideas as fact.

Why all the caring? Drake gives the anglophone world an anchor on the region.In 1507, Albequerque forced open the western door by taking Malacca. In 1640, the Russians reached the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk.  That's your first Pacific Century, and between that and your preferred end date (Captain Cook? San Francisco? Nootka Sound?) there is at least a century, perhaps two, of . . . nothing. History not happening. The Pacific has marched up to the doorstep, reaches for the doorbell and pauses. For at least a century, and perhaps two. 

It's embarrassing. Aren't we important? Wouldn't this be a nice place for a New Albion? So why the delay? The answer, I think, is pretty simple. Planting requires plantations, something to do. 

Take it back now, a moment, to the Cortes-Balboa confusion. Balboa came to the New World eight years after Columbus departed, leaving his mysteriously disappearing colony behind him; and that he died a sordid death on the execution block a month before Hernando Cortes landed at Veracruz to begin the conquest of Mexico. Balboa falls in the twenty-seven years between Columbus and Cortes in which the Spanish settled the Caribbean and the Isthmus of Panama, hears of the Incas, and even launched their first marine explorations of the Pacific. It's a history that we rush over in our haste to get to Aztecs and Incas. Not, in fact, really a history at all, even if full of names of towns founded and countries ancestered. We would know all about it if the histories of Panama, Colombia and Venezuala were things we cared about, but they are not. The rest of the world cares very little about boring, small countries.

The National Anthem of Middle Earth. Too bad so much of it got sunk, but serves 'em right for hanging out with that Melkor dude.

That doesn't mean that history does not sneak up on us. For the "Pacific's triple star," I am willing to forgive Thomas Bracken for rhyming "New Zealand" with "free land." I'll leave it to a Maori speaker to critique the first verse; let's just meditate on the facts that it is sung; and that in one version, Maui, sailing from Hawaiki, hooked up the island of the long white cloud from the bottom of the sea like a fish with his pole. It's no coincidence that we know these names from Hawaii, as they belong to a common fund of Polynesian myth. Margaret Orbell, a scholar whom I know only from a throw away reference in Belich's Making Peoples, but who was apparently a name to conjure with in Maori studies, characterises Polynesian myth as a source of ideology rather than history. Belich wants to find some middle ground between Orbell and naive literalists, but her insight is worth considering. The early captain of Maori myth is not only  a creator spirit, but the captain of the boat. In Hawaii, the captain becomes a chauffeur (or guide, and here I am tempted to go on to a nerdly riff on the "conductor of the dead" figure) for the much more important first kahuna, Pā‘ao, who brings the teachings of the more advanced thinkers of the central lands to the Hawaiian periphery.

 Either way, counting back genealogically takes us to roughly the same period: for Belich, deliberately, provocatively, and, yes, mythogenically, to 1066. For the more serious minded, to the 11th or 12th centuries. This is the time when New Zealand is settled by the founder-captain or the Great Fleet or some less apparently mythical ancestors. It is not the "settling" of Hawaii, for there must be people there to be "reformed" by a new, chiefly-priestly ideology.

These are hillfolk marginalised by the emergent aristocracies of the central islands, already marginalised in "Hawaikki," the homeland in the Polynesian core, surely hilllfolk, although not so primitive that they cannot somehow make the leap to these faraway islands of refuge, only to be pursued, at eight centuries removed, by supernaturally-ordained hierarchy in the form of Pā‘ao's teachings of tabu, mana, and all those Polynesian ideological constructs which have entered the English language, suggesting that they are naively powerful sociological insights --and that the English-speaking world has been far more heavily influenced by its encountery with Polynesia than it cares to admit.  In a perfect example of old-timey history, Te Rangi Hiroa discovers their modern-day descendants to be the inhabitants, at least of the early 1920s, to be the poor islanders of marginal, rocky Kaua'i. In another, Kenneth Emory used a lexico-static analysis of Polynesian dialects to establish an exact, intricate "family tree" of settlements and dispersals. bringing Tahitians to Hawaii in 1150, although perhaps encountering Marquesans already present. And by this time this backwards reconstruction of the classic the-only-place-you-can-hear-Shakespearian-English-is-Appalachia has been completely imposed on Polynesia, it can be transferred to New Zealand with the invention of a primitive, moa-hunting pre-Maori, who can't be that primitive, given that they get there five centuries before the Maori. 

So, myth as ideology, myth as history. The first suggests the key difference between Hawaiian and Aotearoan politics: the need for a proto-state in the former, for the buttressing of chiefly authority in the latter. Second, the convergence on the key, turn-of-the-millennium dating. After a fifty year hiatus of unscientific carbon dating, it would seem that this dating is confirmed. Where it was rejected in its earliest reconstruction (by Hawaiian folk story collector Abrahamd Fornander) in favour of a Polynesian prehistory-before-prehistory, we now are on the verge of a new scientific consensus in which the Polynesian voyaging begins in 1066, then comes crashing to an end in the sixteenth century. It's not that the Polynesians are, in 1550 or so, any less navigationally competent. This is the end of the Polynesian plantation of the Pacific.  

It is also an end with different trajectories. As already noted, Hawaii was to become, long, and precociously, a nation state. 

Kamehamaha I; "Kamehamehaportrait" by Gerald Farinas? Oddly, Wikipedia doesn't clearly attribute the painter.
New Zealand, in contrast, was to be marginalised. Tupia long ago diagnosed it as out of the Polynesian oecumene for its lack of pigs, and his insight can be accepted, even if the explanation for this lapse is still begged.  How did their fates came to be so distinct? As long as we accept the Polynesian plantation as primordial, endogenous, and as "primitive" as the spread of hunter-gatherers. Once, on the contrary, it is admitted to be an extraordinarily late spread out of the Micronesian and Melanesian islands, where Fiji is sometimes claimed to have been settled as early as 3500BC, it needs explaining. Inasmuch as Polynesia was quickly absorbed into the East Asian "world system" as a source of sandalwood, I'm going to speculate that the plantation was a search for sandalwood. If so, the back trade that brought sandalwood to the shores of Fujian must have been one of the more remarkable bucket-brigade hand-to-hand trades of human (pre-)history, which, I am thinking, the Spanish trans-Pacific carriage trade displaced --even if the Spanish were unaware of it! (Just because the Spanish apparently didn't know that Hawaii was there, doesn't mean that the lateen-rig canoes of Guam weren't fetching away its sandalwood. 

Or maybe the Spanish were not as unaware of Hawaii as is sometimes suggested. The key explanation for the Spanish neglect of Polynesia was, after all, posed in strategic terms. Responding to the British account of Tahiti, naval officer Jorge Juan y Santacilia rejected the idea of a Spanish post on Tahiti. Pirates could not descend on Peru from Tahiti, so there was no need to bother.

Hawaii, on the other hand, is at the heart of the Pacific wind system.  Kamehamaha's dynasty lasted as long as the age of sail, and I doubt that that is at all a coincidence. 


Hawaii-Lima is still not an easy sail, and, since it coasts down California, it is easily intercepted from San Diego. Still, Hawaii is the heart of the Pacific Ocean, and if a fleet there is no real threat to Peru, it is the apex of an obvious Vancouver--San Francisco--Hawaii--Guangzhou trade. 

Speaking of, the University of Hawaii has just brought out an . . . odd book by Rainer F. Buschman, Edward R. Slack, Jr. and James B. Tueller.  Unlike most multi-author volumes by a university press, this one claims to be a monograph, although, at 182 pages lunging in all directions at regular intervals, it reads a great deal more like what the introduction implies it to be, a stitching-together of three conference papers by authors who agree with a basic thesis and have yet to figure out exactly how they are going to join together archival work in Madrid, Manila and Guam(!) The name of Pierre Chaunu comes up again, and I suppose we could go all Umberto Eco and tell a lurid, post-modernly tale about scholarship gone adrift in the too-large confines of the General Archive of the Indies. 

Fortunately, the thesis, although not advancing terribly directly (is it ever thus?) is clear enough. The Spanish age in the Pacific can be envisioned as an age of exploration followed by an age of a "closed sea," followed by a challenge from the north. The authors differ from the classic account by pushing the age of the Spanish in the Pacific into the Nineteenth Century, perhaps naturally for a study rooted in Manila as much as anywhere, but the key point of departure is the end of the "age of exploration." 

The authors choose to agree with the  classic of the literature, William Lyttle Schulze's 1922 (ooh, hot topic!) article, "The Spanish Lake," which proposes to end the Spanish "age of exploration" in the Pacific with Pedro Fernando de Queiros' return to Madrid in 1607. Quieros is the man who recovered what remained of Neiras' second expedition to the Solomons, a service to the crown which earned him a three ship commitment to a 1605--07 expedition which aimed to discover Terra Australis, the hypothetical southern continent. (The argument usually presented is that the unknown southern continent has to be there, or the globe will fall over. I have to wonder, however, whether good sailors well familiar with the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn might not have some sense that the wind that blew around the world ocean in the roaring Forties had no counterpart from the south, that there had to be land between them, as, of course, there is. That "unknown southern land" is in the wrong place. But, for all anyone knew, it might poke north in the midst of the vast Pacific.) 

So it turns out that Alex isn't the first to wonder about the Neiras expedition. Feeling nostalgic for '50s cover art? "Islands of Unwisdom Cover" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Wikipedia. Again, Wiki insists that we credit the uploader, but the cover artist is anonymous. 

For Buschman, Slack and Tueller, this marks the end of Spanish exploration not because the hypothetical continent closes off the Pacific from the south creating a Spanish "mare clausum," but precisely because his claims were doubted. Let's recall that by this time, there was no shortage of continental masses in the Pacific. Australia/New Guinea were known, the Solomons are huge for an archipelago (28,000 sq km excluding the Admiralty group), and Quieros, premature as he might have been, really was nosing around the edge of a continent. It is a very small and sunken continent, but New Caledonia and New Zealand are not, themselves, small places, at least, for islands. 

Zealandia. Actually a micro-continent, like Greater Kerguelen Land.  Aaron Allston died too soon.
The point, then, is the opposite of the claim that the Pacific had been proven to hold no such continent. New Zealand is a continent -just a very, very tiny one by the standards of continents. Still, bear in mind that, populated to the density of Eighteenth Century England, it would have been pushing 10 millions of people --a market which Adam Smith would certainly not have sneezed at!  Abel Janszoon Tasman did not encounter Tasmania, New Zealand and Queensland and conclude that they were small. He saw naked people, concluded that there was no spirit of emulation to inspire locals to make and trade the regional counterpart of the fezzes, fustians, worsteds, calicos, lace, taffeta and brocades  which linked the world together, and went home to the Spice Islands, to build a legacy in Bantam. The discovery of New Zealand, as of Australia and New Caledonia was premature --out of history, as it were. One could afford to wait until the people of Terra Australis came to Bantam with something worth trading. 

So, Ball's in your court, people of the unknown south. There's only so many resources one can afford to invest in the region, and island Southeast Asia, source of pepper and cloves, nutmegs and lacquer and so many other things, was a land where the sharp-eyed agronomist could see plenty of good pepper land being left to jungle. It was obvious to Spain --and the Dutch, Acehinese, Portuguese, Bantamese, Johorans, to everyone else, that supply and demand were out of joint, that state building would advance with pepper vines, that there was enough in island Southeast Asia to rule out adventures beyond. 

Pepper vine, by Margie Jenke

For Spain, this meant, above all, Madrid. Luzon (109,00 sq km) was by itself more than enough, properly developed. Between the official Acalpulco galleon and unlicensed private traders, the New World viceregalities were sending nothing like enough developmental capacity there. Slaves, criminals, bureacrats and missionaries were loaded heavily onto the easier, west-bound passage, while the eastbound passage, far more difficult, was still heavily enough laden with people as well as precious cargoes to support the first Chinatown in the Western hemisphere, San Juan in Mexico City (a fact apparently unknown to the historians of the city's modern Chinatown). In the Philippines, Mexican influence, both official and not (someone has apparently studied Nahuatl loanwords in Tagalog, although our author's footnotes are to a secondary reference) is the standard modern historiographic trope of the Philippines as an extension of Latin America.* However, in one of the lunges in odd directions to which I have referred, Buschmann, Slack and Teller bring us the story of the Regiment Real Principe de Tondo, the Manila militia regiment recruited from the city's Chinese men after the return of the city to Spain at the settlement of the Seven Years War. The "Sangley," mostly single Chinese men who married Philippine women, disappeared into the native population of Madrid one child and one baptism after another down the centuries, but with all the emigration pressure behind them, retained their cultural vitality, notwithstanding the Chinese uprising of 1639 which destroyed Manila's first Chinatown. Governor de Anda, who raised an army in Bacalor Province to contest control of Luzon with the conquering forces of the British in 1762, found he could rely on Chinese Mestizo support, as well as local Indios and Muslims from Mindanao and Jolo, and the "immigrant Mestizo Chinese Antonio Tuason**" raised a force of 1500 men, which became the regiment, which thereafter had a long history in the wars with the Moors and even the English during the Revolution. Or perhaps "history" is the wrong word, as the outlines of legend and epic poke through the thin and dry covering of documentary evidence. (What is one to make of the kidnapping of Tuason's niece, held for ransom for eight years "in Mindanao?" Or Don Antonio's  (as he became in 1781) reraising of the regiment in 1779.

Don Antonio's story is unusual in that he is visible in the documents straddling the world of the Fujianese emigration and of arriviste colonial Spanish aristocracy. The more usual approach is suggested by a dive into the archives of Mexico City to turn up Dominique Villalobos, a Philippine muleteer resident in Tzapotlan at some point in the Seventeenth Century; Antonio Perez, a Chinese gunpowder maker from Macao; and a Japanese samurai named Don Diego de la Barranca, serving as a soldier in the garrisonof Vera Cruz. In any archival document uninterested in race (and they existed, even in caste-conscious Mexico), these men would disapppear into the already more-than-adequately cosmopolitan population of New Spain. Especially when the Manila tax authorities threw up their hands at entire groups and extended the label of "Vagrant Indian" to everyone from South Asians to Chinese. 

This disappearance is the more common story. From Molucca to expanding Aceh to the new sultanates of Java, island Southeast Asia would never have been able to expand without Chinese immigrants, who alone possessed the necessary urban skills to create trading towns like Benten (Bantam) and Batavia. Which brings me to one final act of closure which needs to be considered here.

That is, the closing of China is the one final subject because in some ways the closing of Japan seems more interesting, but "seems" is all I have right now. Somwhere, I have read a picturesque account of fleeing Japanese straggling through Manila in 1584 on their way north to possible ideological quarantine.  Ayutthaya. the precursor state to Thailand, had just thrown off Burmese hegemony, and, in its wake, the royal family embraced Theravadan Buddhism in place of Mahayana. Since Buddhism is, to the extent that it is not a religion, an ideology of royal power, this transformation ought to have been profoundly threatening in Japan, and even China. But I'm not going to build a case out of a fragment of a memory, and Thai historians seem remarkably uninterested in the impact of the change. A quick review of Wikipedia (I r historian!) establishes that there's a reason for this, and that the time for a dispassionate, historical account of religious change in Thailand is not yet.

While we're at it. . .
The "closing" of China is, of course, the infamous Ming hai jin laws, which closed the coasts to overseas trade in 1381, or 1550, because apparently the settled facts of the case as I understood them is that a ban on foreign trade came with a requirement that Chinese subjects move at least twenty miles inland. This seems absurd given the topography of Fujian Province, but it is as well to rememeber that Fujian is a remote "land beyond the mountains," more remote even than Guangdong in some ways, for lack of good water routes there. Beijing might not have cared very much about the actual facts on the ground out there among the barbaric Min Chinese speakers and even more semi-barbaric, mountain-dwelling Hakka. It also turns out to be enveloped in a fog of uncertainty. 

What we know is that the Ming attempted to restrict trade to Japan to Ningbo in northern Zhejiang Province; trade with the Philippines to Fuzhou in Fujian Province; and trade with Southeast Asia to Guangzhou. The Ming, we are told, feared not only piracy and illegal trade, but also the political influence of dissenting overseas communities. The Yongle Emperor is said to have characterised his "tribute missions" to the south seas (etc) as a search for his nephew, the deposed Jianwen Emperor, said to have survived the burning of his palace and to have fled into exile in island Southeast Asia. It's an odd story, and also familiar, in a romantic way. This is fantasy, even if it turned real when Sun Yat Sen returned. The attention of the court was inland, to Mongols, Oirats, Timur, and the real danger, which was of a shortage of army horses. Paid for with tea and silk, one might forgive the court for looking askance at trades that threatened to siphon out silk and tea into the wastes of the sea, or even to replace their cultivation with provender for growing coastal cities. Throw in the endless debate in the capital over silver mining, silver imports, paper money issues, and one gets the familiar sense that the Ming didn't really know what they were doing, were bound for failure. 

Or is that hindsight? After all, in 1644, the Ming did fail. It's just that the Qing did not do that much better, at least, to begin with. The south was fractious. The story of Koxinga is well known, here and elsewwhere, but is probably a footnote to the larger Revolt of the Three Feudatories, and its suppression, due, we are told in modern Chinese historiography, above all by the Martial Han Green Standard Army in accordance with a policy of "using Han to suppress Han." 

The important thing here is the nationalist construal. Even Ningbo, the trade centre with Japan, is close to the Ming "southern capital--" Nanjiang. (And, at first, the major port of landing for silver imports from Japan.) Fujian is a barbaric land beyond the mountains, and Peter Purdue, in trying to reformulate the conversation, compares Guangzhou with far Kashgar. Culturally, the "Han" construct will have none of this. For all that the people of the Pearl delta speak a language that is probably far more distant from "Mandarin" than some are yet prepared to admit, and do so as a prestige language, they are to be regarded as Han --ethnically Chinese. 

We are invited here to see the Chinese empires as, at least this far south, a hegemonic and homogenous polity/cultural sphere. They are drinkers of tea, wearers of silk, quasi-vegetarian, quasi-pacifistic, valuing education, and "Confucian"in religion. They share a common devotion to ancient texts and the written language, and everyone is studying to pass the civil service examinations, because you'd have to christen your son "Victor von Doom" to put him in the right frame of mind to enter the army. 

I will suggest, on the contrary, that this is the bland and submissive image presented to faraway Beijing. Turn towards the corrupting sea, and these "pirates in cap and gown" are very different people. Oh, Confucian enough in their devotion to family, I am sure; if, that is, the pirates of Mani and the Caribbean are "Confucian." 

The peoples who live on the southern coasts of the Qing Empire are getting ready to plant the Pacific. Their first steps, carefully outside of history, will be into island Southeast Asia. There remains, yet, to our story, a reason to plant the coast of North America: whales won't do; seals get you to Australia (forget Botany Bay!); it'll be salmon that move the people, and gold that, finally, makes history necessary in the Pacific basin. 

For my purposes, though, I probably need to learn something about Japan. Anyone out there good on Japanese religious history?

*Try this one on your Philippine friends, if you haven't randomly offended anyone today. I am, by the way, self-consciously avoiding using the standard "Filippine/Fillippina." I'd call it 'exoticising' if I didn't routinely use it at work. "Uncomfortable-making," let's say.
**Our authors later let us know that Antonio Tuason was born Son Tua in Fujian Province sometime in the 1720s or 1730s, and died on 25 February 1794, leaving an estimated 135,00 pesos in ready cash alone. 

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