Sachendra Nigam and Sethu Raju
The sound of one of the most frequently uttered chants that reverberates in all Hindu temples is – Om Shantih, Om Shantih, Om Shantih” (Aum Peace, Aum Peace, Aum Peace). This ritual of prayer for peace is very characteristically repeated thrice – chanting aloud first, addressing to the powerful forces, such as Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanoes, Meteorites, and other natural phenomena that are beyond human control, second time addressing the same softer to the people and all life immediately around and out in the world, and finally addressing almost silently to oneself, to aatma or soul. This pattern of praying is significant, indicating the importance that the Hinduism, the religion and the way of life of the Hindus, gives to maintaining peace in the world. Unfortunately, this sincere and persistent universal praying for peace, however, has not ousted the human conflicts in the world. They still occur in many forms at all levels of the humanity. It seems, therefore, that, besides genuine praying for peace, the Hindus need also to identify and understand the causes that have generated conflicts among the humans of the world.
To trace the causes of human conflicts, perhaps one has to understand the probable origin and evolution of the human race itself. A relatively recent publication entitled “Mapping Human History – Genes, Race and Our Common Origins” by Steve Olson, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 2003, gives a succinct account of the chronology of the human race with its origin, development and diversity on the planet earth. It says that the modern humans appeared first in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania) 150,000 years ago. Subsequently, they spread out of Africa in different directions. By 100,000 years ago, some humans had migrated northward along the Nile Valley (Sudan and Egypt) and across the Sinai Peninsula into the Middle East. More than 60,000 years ago, some early humans made their way along the coastlines of India and southeastern Asia into Australia. About 40,000 years ago, a few other human groups moved out of northeastern Africa into Europe, and others through southeastern Asia into eastern Asia. Finally, about 15,000 years ago, some went along the wide plains of Siberia to Alaska (now separated by Bering Strait) and radiated southward throughout the length and width of the North and South America. These migration patterns of humans suggest that every one of the about 6 billion humans of the planet today is a descendent of a small group of humans, our ancestors, that originated and lived in East Africa 150,000 years ago.
While spreading out of Africa, our ancestors had to face the vagaries of the environment or nature (land geography and climate) over which they did not have much control. The genius of these humans, however, was such that, instead of accepting what the nature had offered, they attempted to manipulate it for their own benefit with determination and ingenuity. Such an attempt was, in fact, a very important trait that distinguished the humans from rest of the animal kingdom and eventually led them into the path of technological innovation and development.
The period from 50,000 years ago to 11,000 years ago (9000 BC), which is designated as the Late Stone Age (Upper Paleolithic), could be regarded as the first technological period of some degree of sophistication. This was the time when the tools and weapons, made out of stone and bone, were found in the areas of early human settlements; the use of metals was unknown during this period. Eight thousand years ago (6,000 BC), however, metals were found associated with the human settlements, copper being the first, indicating early technological development (The Atlas of World Archeology, edited by Paul G. Bahn, Checkmark Books, New York, 2000).
The last ice age ended 11,500 years ago and allowed in the northern hemisphere milder climates that helped humans to migrate further northward and also to develop agricultural practices. The people domesticated wild plants with the result crop plants such as wheat, barley, lentils, etc. were developed, and similarly some domesticated animals such as goat, sheep, cattle and pigs were also developed. The early domestication of plants and animals took place in the Near East (Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Turkey) where the people, at the time, had replaced their nomadic traits by stationary life, establishing small human settlements or communities. The availability of food resources further opened the way for activities replacing their earlier practice of nomadic hunting, gathering and scavenging. Finally, the human societies were established on the planet earth with the eventual disjunct development of three ancient civilizations, the Chinese, the Egyptian and the Indian, in the orient and the great Mayan civilization in the occident Americas that put them on the road leading to where the human race at present stands on this planet.
Thus, in the last 100,000 years, in retrospect, small groups of humans migrated from Africa, multiplied and also settled in many parts of the world, developing early human civilizations. These early small human groups with their individual adaptive genetic potential were exposed to the highly regulatory influence of the environment. These combined genetic and environmental effects brought many changes to the peoples in their physical appearance and behavior to become the human groups or races that were identifiably distinct and remained different from each other in their new settlements; they were also together different from their African forebears. Such differentiated human groups or races were formed by 10,000 BC, evolved in isolation and each, in time, developed its own physiognomy, culture and tradition (The New Penguin History of the World, by John Morris Roberts, Publisher Penguin, London 2004), thus indicating the early human civilizations were, in fact, physiognomically and culturally highly diverse.
In the last 2000 years, many human societies or races gradually enlarged and prospered in relative isolation and calm, and some even formed kingdoms. Human conflicts did, of course, exist among them during this period, and they were mainly due to the greedy actions of the highly ambitious and competitive feudal kings who often waged wars against their neighbors. Such conflicts changed the borders of some kingdoms but the lifestyles of the peoples remained about the same. The latter, however, changed considerably after the World War II in 1945. The political borders of most kingdoms (countries) remained fairly well defined and stable, but the people, on the other hand, tended to move across to settle in countries where they were not born. Such movements of the people between countries, although relatively small in number, increased significantly and numerically as many minority groups. They, no doubt, resulted in the introduction of obviously different – physical, cultural, social and religious identities, which in excess have caused many concerns, bringing about sociological differences, discontent and prejudices, producing frequent conflicts between human groups or races in their newly adopted countries.
Different human races or groups that were discovered and described during the period between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries by the Europeans, for purposes of recognition, do still exist in the world. Despite their many differences, all races, as we know now, are genetically linked, and have remained reproductively compatible as one humanity. Therefore, it may be interpreted that the commonness of the origin of humanity, as described recently, is, in reality, hidden beneath the skin and the differences are still visible above it. It is obvious then that the humanity, in general, is recognized more by its individual or group differences (geographically, racially, etc.) rather than by its common origin, which occurred long ago when the humans appeared on the planet earth. Most people sincerely believe now that all humans belong to one species, Homo sapiens (a Latin term to specify that the humans on this planet belong to one species), with a common biological origin, but in practice the individuals or groups of individuals are identified by their religious, sociological or other differences. They are classified into many religious groups, such as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews etc. or by their racial and/or geographical background as Indians, Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, whites, blacks, browns, visible minorities etc. Presently, even many more subgroups are being created from the already existing human groups. In fact, the people of the world, just to remain recognizably different, have even gone to the extent of identifying themselves individually by their different baptized and personalized names. Interestingly, by nature, most people of different races or groups are also proud of their respectively inherited and acquired identities, whatever they may be, and also have determined to retain and perpetuate them. Such trends among humans have brought considerable inter- and intra-group (or racial) challenges and differences, thus causing difficulties in maintaining peace among the peoples of the world, especially in their newly adopted countries. These differences have directly or indirectly produced a wide variety of human conflicts that seemed to have weaved themselves, as a norm, into the social fabric of humanity in the world and will remain as such for a long time. How real is it to find that all causes of human conflicts are present at the surface, while deeper beneath the skin exists the “oneness or genetic commonness” of humanity? Having been aware of these facts, the Hindus still sincerely pray in pursuit of peace in temples and elsewhere, passionately hoping to successfully eliminate human conflicts in the world.
Steve Olson, the author of the book, mentioned earlier, emphatically concludes, despite the occurrence of racial differences among humans, that all humanity has had a common genetic origin, and that all the existing human races are basically (biologically) linked. He also believes that the word ‘race’ referring to different human groups, is burdened with many misconceptions and, therefore, needs to be redefined, possibly conforming to the biological reality of its common origin. Would such an attempt to successfully redefine the ‘race’ be possible and also be able to mitigate or oust human conflicts in the world? Time alone will tell, and the humanity will be the witness.