Daily Bread for 3.31.23: Oral Traditions and Modern Traditions

Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be rainy with a high of 67. Sunrise is 6:37 AM and sunset 7:20 PM for 12h 43m 01s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 71.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Finance Committee meets at 4:30 PM

 On this day in 1774, Great Britain orders the port of Boston, Massachusetts closed pursuant to the Boston Port Act.

 Writer Joe Ragazzo recently recommended a link to a story from Elie Dolgin about the accuracy of an oral history. The accuracy of that oral history offers a tale for us, too. Dolgin reports that DNA Confirms Oral History of Swahili People:

A long history of mercantile trade along the eastern shores of Africa left its mark on the DNA of ancient Swahili people.

A new analysis of centuries-old bones and teeth collected from six burial sites across coastal Kenya and Tanzania has found that, around 1,000 years ago, local African women began having children with Persian traders — and that the descendants of these unions gained power and status in the highest levels of pre-colonial Swahili society.

The findings help elucidate the foundations of Swahili civilization, and suggest that long-told origin stories, passed down through generations of Swahili families, may be more truthful than many outsiders have presumed.

“The genetics corroborate the Swahili people’s own history that they tell about themselves, not what others were saying about them,” said Esther Brielle, a geneticist and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard who led the DNA analysis with her adviser, David Reich.

These findings corroborate those of other, ancient oral histories that have proved more accurate than we, today, might have expected.  See also from Stephen Nash, The Underestimated Reliability of Oral Histories (‘Not only written narratives have stood the test of time’). Nash writes:

When I entered graduate school as an archaeologist in the late 1980s, I was told in no uncertain terms to discount the narratives from Native American oral history. Why? Largely because of the children’s game of telephone. (If case you’ve forgotten: Get a bunch of kids in a circle. Tell one a secret. Tell her to tell the person next to her. Repeat until you come all the way around the circle. By the time the secret gets back to you, it’s totally changed, if not unrecognizable.) Though it is a compelling and seductive argument-by-analogy, it’s overly simplistic and belies a fundamental misunderstanding of how oral history actually works in human societies. History is not kept by children playing games. It’s kept by specialists.

If you are the keeper of history in a society that does not have a written language, your job is to preserve the story verbatim. You have to apprentice and train for many years, and you have to go through tests and approval processes before you are deemed qualified to serve as keeper.

(Emphasis added.)

There it is: we sometimes discount other or older traditions because we fail to see the level of skill practitioners of those traditions possessed.

Overestimating some, and underestimating others, it seems, is part of our tradition. 

Sun blasts X1.2-class solar flare – See it in multiple wavelengths:

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