Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Hebrews (revisionist history)

 My post The Children of Israel, January 2012, suggested a more plausible origin of the tribe than the Books of Moses did. The famous escape from “the land of Egypt” was more likely a pell-mell desertion of the coast and hinterland of northern Phoenicia than a single dash from the Egypt of modern maps.

Phoenicia was overrun turn and turn about by the armies of Egypt, Hattia (the Hittites) and Assyria for several generations. Moses was either one man or several, who welded the divers groups of refugees into the Taliban of their time – a synthetic tribe united by a fanatical loyalty to its synthetic god.

He, the Moses – the word meant Prince, in Egyptian – invented a new god for the new tribe out of the diversity of their existing gods. (The Christians did the same, in their turn – Christ from Horus, etc.) All tribal gods have to be ruthless, if their tribes are to survive. The periodic slaughters of religious backsliders among The Children were meticulously recorded, as a warning to others who might be tempted. Blind loyalty to the new god was given pride of place in the basic creed. Thou shalt have no other gods before me: believe that, or die.

The first four of The Children’s Ten Commandments set that fearful loyalty in stone. The last six reinforced the tribe’s internal loyalty. None of the Ten were ever intended to apply to outsiders. Tribal priests always endorse murder and mayhem against foreign tribes. Their job-security requires it.

The fictional Israel was chronicled as the human father of the dozen or so groups that comprised the Children and whose Biblical names reflect their respective gods. The names’ origins are lost to us now; after all, they are all transliterations into English from the dialects of the Phoenician parent-language. Anybody at all familiar with language-dialects knows how far any spoken word can vary from its original rendering. Vowels and consonants can become all but unrecognisable, over time.

Yet transliterated names are all we have to work with. Plausibility is our only tool. Take the Hebrews, for instance. It’s pointless explaining their name as something to do with Eber, a Biblical character of whom nothing is known. It’s simple-minded to claim that their name originated with the habiru, a generic term throughout many centuries for peoples similar to modern gypsies.

Much more plausibly: the Hebrews were the inhabitants of a city situated within the land controlled from time to time by the Egyptian empire in northern Phoenicia (now north-western Syria), at the western end of an ancient trade route. That city was Ebla – alternatively Ebuwa, by the same dialectal variation by which the English city of Bristow became Bristol, and back. Consonants w and l are interchangeable in the dialects of most languages. The people of Ebuwa were the Ebuwa-im, and Ebrium was a legendary king.

Between Israel and Abraham (Isuwa-ili and Ebrium/Ebuwa-im) in the chronicles, comes Isaac – whose name contained the first syllable of the same god that named Isuwa. If that were the case, one of the two patriarchal names (Israel and Isaac) would have to go. I think the explanation lies in the name Jacob/Yakov, the more favoured of Isaac’s twin sons. Why was Jacob’s name changed to Israel?

One can’t say exactly how any names were pronounced 3000 years ago in totally different language-families. The only clues we have are their European-Aryan transliterations in Roman script. Without the vowels, there is negligible difference between YKV and YHW(H) – Yakov and Yahw(eh)/ Jehov(ah). Yahweh may have been a late choice for the new tribe’s new god. Naturally, it was the patriarch’s name that would be changed in the greater interests of the tribe. Jacob disappeared from the story.

It remains to wonder what path Abraham’s pre-Hebrew ancestors followed, to get to Ebuwa/Ebla from the mountains of Ararat, after the Flood. I will leave that speculation for another day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Protection versus Education

There are several earlier posts on this blog criticising education in Cayman – Indentured Servitude in January 2011, Bamboozled and Tribal Jostling the next month, and others later. They deplored the failure of the British FCO and its local agents to educate enough native Caymanians to the point where they could compete on equal terms with expats. Regrettably, nothing has changed.

When it first set up the Cayman tax-haven, did the FCO deliberately keep the locals under-educated and under-developed, in Britain’s national interests? Why did Caymanians never demand a decent education system? Why did they prefer to rely on protectionism, which trapped so many of them below the glass ceilings of their office workplaces?

The Caymanian Protection Law of 1973 may indeed have been well-intentioned, on Britain’s part. When the FCO first planned to move its regional intelligence headquarters from Nassau to Cayman, an Offshore tax-haven was reckoned to be essential camouflage. A basic Offshore tax-haven – which Cayman was, in the beginning – doesn’t need hordes of professional experts; but it does need hordes of office clerks who are literate and educated.

The natives comprised a community of fisher-folk and dirt-farmers, plus a few small-island shopkeepers, and sailors employed on American cargo ships. Except for the sailors, very few of the 8000 Caymanians had any exposure to the world beyond Cayman’s isolated shores, or to the self-discipline required by non-Caymanian employers.

The Law was ostensibly intended to protect the Islanders from exploitation by the foreign employers whom the tax-haven would attract, and to keep the locals “in the loop” until a network of government schools could make good the educational deficiencies. As the skills-deficit shrank, the need for protection would shrink. Within a generation, surely, Caymanians would be able to compete on equal terms with expats in all aspects of commerce. It didn’t quite work out like that.

Employers were obliged (by the Law) to hire Caymanians ahead of expats, and to advance the careers of all Caymanians on their payroll. Well, that was the theory. In practice, the employers and government enforcers all cheated – as noted in Everybody’s Cheating in December 2010. The issuance of indentures for each migrant worker was the responsibility of a Caymanian Protection Board, whose members were appointed by the local politicians. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened next.

In the schools, generic curriculums were adopted that made no allowance for the absence of an underlying culture of education. Native-born children went off to school woefully ill-equipped to absorb the lessons – and with not the slightest incentive to absorb them. After all, Caymanians were a protected species, now, guaranteed first dibs on all jobs for which their Protection Board deemed them qualified. Why did they need to do the homework assigned to them? Huh!

Exposure to overseas experience and the Western work-ethic were dismissed by the Protection Board as worthless. A blog-post of mine in November 2010 compared the resulting attitude to an indigenous cargo-cult that Linda & I encountered during our years in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific.

Filled with Island pride and awash with revenue from the tax-haven, an assertive and expansionist government appointed itself the employer of last resort for Caymanians. For those with even the most trivial and basic of diplomas, government was the employer of first resort. In effect, the FCO in 1973 offered Caymanians a choice between protection and education.

In effect, the Caymanian politicians chose protection and allowed education to wither on the vine. Today, forty years later, the educational standards of the average native Caymanian are dire, according to our local newspaper headlines. Unless the original choice is revisited, they will still be dire forty years from now.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Expats in the family tree

An expat is someone who lives in a foreign country, right? And an immigrant is one who lives in a foreign country until it’s his home and not foreign to him any more. Those are my definitions, and they’ll have to do.

Linda and I have several families of expats and immigrants among our ancestors. She & I began as Australians, and have ourselves been expats in England, Canada, Bahamas, New Hebrides and Cayman. Technically, we morphed into immigrants some time during our 35 years in Cayman, but we’re not sure when. Ever since this blog began, I’ve written about the native-born Caymanian community’s resentment of incomers, and it’s hard to feel at home when you don’t feel welcome.

We were 37 and 38 when we came here. Our son Ross in his 37 years has been an expat in Cayman, England, Australia, Mexico, Guatemala and Norway. For the past nine years he has lived the life of a Norwegian father. If the Government of Norway weren’t so stingy with its citizenship grants, he would be a Norski by now.

Linda’s mother was an English immigrant in Australia; my Barlow grandfather was too, after a stint as an expat in New Zealand. He had two brothers who had earlier died in Madagascar and Queensland, respectively – as expats, not immigrants. Another brother stayed in South Africa after the Boer War, and eventually settled there; his child moved to Zimbabwe and her grandchildren are now immigrants in Texas.

Linda’s sister was an expat in Canada and Bahamas before settling in Monaco as a Permanent Resident. (Monaco doesn’t grant new citizenships.) One of my brothers was an immigrant in Malaysia before returning to Oz. My mother emigrated to England at age 70. We’re an international bunch.

Further up my family tree, off on some of the branches, were English expats in Britain’s Indian Empire. Cousin Arthur was a “political” in the Indian Civil Service (it would be MI6, today) in Calcutta, Persia and Sinkiang for 20 years until the creation of Pakistan and India Bharat. His Uncle Harry had been the official tutor to the son of the Maharaja of one of the smaller Princely States up near the Himalayas. He married a Branson girl from Bombay and died of cholera on his way down from the hills in 1909.

In the 1790s there were an Andrews and an Atkinson ancestor, brothers-in-law, in Trincomalee, Ceylon, in charge of the East India Company’s pearl-fishing fleet. It was a thrill finding the draft transcript of Atkinson’s trial for falsification of accounts to the tune of 31,512 Pagodas (12,000 pounds), in The India Office archives in London. He had diverted some of the pearl-harvest to his own account. In his defence, he claimed that the proceeds were (in these exact words) "an allowable though not an avowed emolument". The court made him pay back half the money, and demoted him to a judge-ship. Oh, the disgrace!

Sherlock Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia made a passing reference to "the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee." I wish I knew where Conan Doyle got that bit of intelligence from, and why he bothered to mention it.

One day our Norwegian grandchildren are going to ask Linda and me, “What was wrong with you both, that you kept moving, when you were young?” I’ll tell them, “It’s in the blood.” Our 19th-Century British ancestors upped sticks and left for one or more of the Australian colonies – all as free settlers, to the best of our knowledge. I’m not 100% convinced that my Hickeys’ departure from Ireland was voluntary, but I like to give them the benefit of the doubt.