The Dream That Changed The World

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Big Tex, Jan 25, 2010.

  1. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Chapter 1
    Merely a Dream

    In 1164 forty German monks and ten sailors boarded a transport in Genoa and departed across the Mediterranean on the most unlikely voyage of its day. The bustling medieval port was surely abuzz that day because these monks were not off to some mission in the Holy Land or Iberia; they were destined for Africa…West Africa.

    The unlikely trip was the end result of a series of unlikely events. The leader of the monks, Charles of Africa, started all of the events one fateful night at St. Medard Abbey in 1157 with a dream. Charles saw himself in a jungle surrounded by blacks speaking a language unfamiliar to him. However they were all taking communion and worshipping at the cross. Charles, who had never seen or heard of jungles or Africans before made inquires to his fellow scholar monks in the Soissons area. None had any knowledge of what had transpired in Charles’ dream.

    In the summer of 1160 a terrible storm struck Soissons and the monks were holed up in the Abbey for days. One day, through the storm, three other monks came to the door requesting shelter from the storms. The three monks from the County of Diez were making their way to meet Louis VII, King of France.

    During their stay, Charles finally got his answer. One of the monks, whose name has now been lost to history, had transcribed some parchment from Roman days speaking about black slaves from the jungles of Africa. It was at this moment that Charles decided his dream was a divine message and it was his duty from God to go to this “Africa” and make his dream a reality.

    While no one is sure if the monks from Diez made it to meet Louis VII, it is known that Charles left St. Medard Abbey for Rome shortly after. Walking the roads from Soissons to Rome took Charles through Reims, Alsace, Lorraine, Diessenhoffen, the Alps, Milan, Florence, and finally Rome. Along the way Charles recruited roughly 40 monks to make his journey with him, the men who would later be known as the Congregation of Africa.

    When the Congregation reached Old St. Peters Basilica, their popularity and mission was widespread. Motivated solely by faith and knowing full well they would likely never see Europe again; Alexander III was practically forced to authorize their mission and finance their voyage. The newly elected Pope had little say in response to the massive popularity of the faith and common folk driven congregation.

    It is also true that Alexander III was a great advocate of missionary work and spiritual expansion of the church. While the Congregation was away Pope Alexander would prove to be a great patron of the church in the far northeast around the Baltic.

    Most of 1160 was spent preparing and organizing, including purchasing some pricey charts and maps from Muslim Berbers active in the cross-Saharan trade. A trip of such proportions had never been done before. While ships ventured out beyond the Pillars of Hercules, they almost exclusively went north towards the British Isles or the Baltic, and even then such ventures were only a few hundred years old. Those that went south only made it as far as Chellah the strategic starting point for the Almohad’s attacks against Spain. Anything further south was either desert or worthless fishing villages.

    In addition to the practical, there was the spiritual side of the trip. On the slim chance Charles and the African Congregation did make it to Africa, what then? No one in Christendom had experience in African languages and customs. There was no structure for the church in Africa. While the questions of language, travel, customs, and such were left either unanswered or to the experts, Pope Alexander did ordain Charles as a Bishop of the church. While no “Diocese of Africa” was established, Charles’ titular status was enough for his duties (if he ever got the chance to fulfill them) in the newly created Prefecture Apostolic of Africa.

    By late 1163 though, everything was ready for the African congregation’s fateful voyage.
     
  2. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Chapter 2
    Enter the Caribella

    It is no secret that the Middle Ages were not kind to European ship design. The sudden drop in trade, the lack of financers for navies, Viking and pirate raids, all drove most Europeans away from the water. Those ships that did exist were largely similar to those from antiquity, oar powered galleys perhaps with a simple sail. The Venetians, Genoans, and Byzantines were all sea powers of the time, but none had good long distant ships. Only the hardy Vikings in their longboats made trips of any consequence when it came to European exploration of the time. That is until 1160 when the popularity and demands of Charles of Africa’s mission necessitated investment in a long distant ship by the Catholic Church.

    Charles’ divine mission called for transportation that could get him and his monks to West Africa, practically uncharted waters at the time. Until then, oceanic shipping was largely confined to the immediate coast ranging from Morocco to the Baltic. The only true ocean going vessels were those unlucky ships blown off course by storms. No one had rounded the deserted Mauritanian coast in many years, if at all.

    Because Charles’ mission called for something unprecedented, an unprecedented amount of money and time was put into creating a ship worthy of the voyage. Pope Alexander III commissioned some of the finest shipwrights in Christendom to create a vessel worthy of the mission.

    [​IMG]
    Alexander III's Papacy was notable for the start of the African Congregation

    The vessel they came up with was a ship based partly on the barque designs of the ancient Egyptians and the qarib’s of the Algavarian Muslims of the time. While it had oars, the ship was revolutionary for the time. It employed two Lateen Sails, a square rigged mainmast, its deck sloped down gently, and it sported an aftcastle in the back. It also had a revolutionary invention that came via the combination of ideas from across Europe during the assemblage of shipwrights. The vessel brought the idea of the sternpost from the northern European ships and combined it with a pintle and gudgeon stern-mounted rudder. The debate between shipwrights over whether to give the ship two lateen Sails or two square rigs was intense, and the lateen Sails were determined largely because of the windward needs of the ship sailing towards Africa. In fact the debate was so intense that it continued between shipwrights long after the monks had left port; inadvertently creating a frenzy of hybrid ship designs that would be so crucial to the new direction of Europe in the next centuries.

    The ship being constructed however quickly became the largest known ship in Europe at 100 tons. Its ability to carry large stores of supplies and transport 50 crew was central to the needs of the monks, more so than speed, and perhaps even accuracy. The goal was not comfort or time; it was to reach their destination with the monks and crew intact.

    The result was a ship called “Adeoae Africae”, Latin for “so far to Africa”, and the first Caribella in history. The Caribella, an Italian corruption of the Muslim qarib, was a mammoth undertaking and investment by the church. It is arguably the most important scientific endeavor in history and its legacy is known worldwide.

    Not only would the ship push European ship design decades into the future, it would change African history, change world history, and change the political game in Europe irrevocably. Shipwrights from as far as the Baltic were involved in the design of the vessel, and its production crept its way to the corners of Europe from that point on.

    While the Caribella design had much room for improvement, it brought the Lateen sail to Northern Europe, the square rig back to the Mediterranean, and disseminated numerous ideas across the continent.

    Many French and Italian nobles jumped on the fad of shipbuilding. Traders and merchants became all the rage and considerable investment was put into new ship designs and technologies. The most prominent among these was the introduction of the compass to Europe by Alexander Neckam in the 1180’s. Through this renewed European interest in the seas Venice, Genoa, and the Byzantines were joined by the Hanseatic League, France, Holy Roman Navy, and the Papal Fleet. The naval history of 1200’s Europe is a stark contrast to that of previous centuries and truly amazing considering the technological and investment jump created by one little boat.

    [​IMG]
    A Genoese Caribella sketched around 1210

    In the immediate moment however, Venice and Genoa now had the blueprints for a massive technological naval jump. Venice, battling the Byzantines’ rebuilding efforts under Manuel I Komnenos, had the strongest fleet in the Mediterranean and the addition of several Caribellas only aided its powerful fleet. The battle of the Mediterranean in the late 12th century was characterized by constant battles between Venetians, Genoese, Sicilians, Byzantines, and Arabs against the backdrop of the crusades.
     
  3. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Chapter 3
    The Land Where Dreams are Made

    In 1164 the African Congregation met in Genoa and boarded the completed Caribella and blessed it. Setting its revolutionary design but also using the oars, the monks departed the harbor destined for the Atlantic. Rowing to prayers, psalms, and scripture they somehow cleared the still dangerous Mediterranean and Moroccan coast. They took in some final supplies at a small isolated (and surprised) fishing village before departing for the desolate Mauritanian coast.

    Along the coast of Mauritania they finally ran into trouble as a storm nearly blew the ship off course and into the certain death of the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless it did send four monks and a sailor overboard, lowering the congregation to 45. In mid 1164 the vessel began encountering the jungles of West Africa, similar to those Charles had seen in his dream. The monks sighted people in August and put ashore. Relations were amicable at first, ironically lasting the same time as the communication barrier did. The natives (later found out to be the Akan peoples of Bono) were amused by the strange whites and the quirky ideology of drinking small amounts of wine and bread, reading constantly from the same book, and chanting. The monks were glad to finally have fresh supplies and Charles was beside himself that he was actually in the land of his dream seven long years ago.

    [​IMG]

    Raphael Bernadino's "The Storm and the Light", 1513, depicts the dangerous journey of the African Congregation.

    However when the communication barrier began to break down, so did relations. The Akan weren’t Muslim but they traded extensively with Berber and Hausa traders, both of which were Muslim. When the Berber and Hausa discovered Christian monks were living amongst them, trade was refused. Some violent threats were even made. Further damaging relations was the almost bullying of some of the natives by some of the monks. The long years of waiting for this moment drove them to a state of fanatical zeal. The Akan simply couldn’t convert fast enough and this was intolerable for the less patient monks.

    By November the situation had worsened. One day a monk was attempting to force a group of Akan to be baptized. The monk grabbed a child and the child’s father did what any angry parent would do when their child is threatened; he punched him in the face. The monk was beaten, taken back to his fellow monks and a tense situation followed. The chief of the Akan asked Charles to leave. Charles was reluctant but noticing just how outnumbered he was and how angry the Akan were he was forced to concede.

    The monks boarded the ship again and continued east, disheartened but not broken. They continued along the sea until the land began to bend south and they again encountered people, the Baka. The short Baka people were a similar story to the Akan and this time Charles wanted to ensure his monks own tactics did not result in disaster again. Stressing patience, the monks landed and made contact. Again things went well but the Baka were a very old tribe and their traditions were deeply ingrained. Just because a few white men came from around the world didn’t mean they had to convert.

    The monks lived with the Baka until 1166. In the time they were with them only about 20 Baka had converted the Catholicism. Frustrated, Charles decided to gamble on a third move. His gamble was not without merit though. In that same year several Kongo traders had visited the Baka and listened to what the monks had to say. They were intrigued but didn’t have the time to stay and let the word of God soak in. Leaving five monks behind with the Baka, the monks formed the settlement of St. Peter and the primitive but standing St. Peter Abbey. St. Peter became the first real European settlement in sub-Saharan Africa.

    While the monks did their work with the Baka, Charles and the rest of the monks made their way to the mouth of the Kongo River.
    --------------------------------------------
    Questions? Comments?
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2010
  4. Aranfan *yay*

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    Interesting, don't really know enough about the time period to say anything more though.
     
  5. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Well there is a great deal of information lacking from the period, especially when it comes to Africa, but there should be just enough to give this some structure, at the very least I hope everyone will give me a little creative leeway.

    Besides unlike Ameriwank which has a goal and a lack of butterflies, I want this one to be run by the butterflies :p
     
  6. Legosim Upstate New York Nationalist

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    Pretty good Big Tex, interesting concept. To be honest first off, I thought they where headed to America.
     
  7. Monopolist Member

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    Like others, I too think it's an interesting idea.
    I shall be watching this.
     
  8. Jord839 Well-Known Member

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    Interesting. I normally don't comment on African timelines, because I don't know enough on that subject, but since you're the one writing this I figure I won't be mocked too much for my ignorance. (Until Hash shows up.:p)

    I wonder how things will go for them in the Kongo. Certainly, OTL has examples of times where the Kongo was at least officially christian(usually just the nobles though, IIRC. There was some strange rules they made in regards to converting the lower classes that made it too difficult in most cases) so it's concievable that it might catch on there. I look forward to the rest of it, Tex.:)
     
  9. Riain Well-Known Member

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    Will these ships round the Cape? Can you give them Greek Fire?
     
  10. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Considering the Caribella is esentially a very early and cruder version of the caravel, and the Europeans have little oceanic and long distance sailing experience, no compass, few charts, and no reliable supply stations I would say their maximum range is the cape itself if everything goes right.

    And being Christian monks with no ties to Byzantinum or Orthodox Greece, occuring at the time Greek Fire is assumed to have disappeared, and on a mission of conversion....I doubt that greek fire would have even entered into the picture. ;)
     
  11. Philip One L only

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    Agreed. I assumed 'Caribella' was meant to suggest 'Caribbean'
     
  12. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    please tell me my Italian name for the caravel (and corruption of the qarib) doesn't mean caribbean in OTL...:eek::p
     
  13. snerfuplz Liveral Fascist

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    It is good to see a timeline about Africa. Keep up the good work!
     
  14. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Given European mortality rates in tropical Africa, those 5 monks could easily be half the survivors.:( Seriously, at least half the monks, quite possibly more, should be dead, IMO, from disease.

    I'm a bit surprised that your monks were only beaten, you don't have any of them killed? Given the conflict that you seem to have, I wonder if that's likely. OTOH, the monks aren't likely to start killing, not having guns, e.g., and likely not being very skilled with swords. So maybe no deaths be violence makes sense.
     
  15. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Well I suppose so but I'm going to have to ask everyone to suspend their disease disbelief for the moment, and I do try and take mortality into account. I believe only 3 or 4 of the 50 travelers make it to some kind of old age.

    Besides its not as if Europeans were dying by the boatload days after arrival in the tropical Caribbean and South America in the 1500's, or in this exact area of Africa in the 1400's. And I know that those dates are 300 years in the future, but its not like medicine exactly advanced much in that time frame especially when it came to treaing tropical diseases.

    And the reason that no one died in the incident is for two reasons. Firstly the monks are unarmed and surely any one death would lead to multiple deaths and the derailing of the mission as a whole. Not exactly a fun timeline. Secondly, you will come to find out that Charles is very good when it comes to defusing situations with natives.

    So while there is some disbelief that needs to be suspended...I can think of like a hundred OTL things that are more historically improbable...
     
  16. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Chapter 4
    Katholicism on the Kongo

    After the frustrations with the Baka, Charles and the remaining monks sailed south in search for the settlements of the Kongo peoples. Their search came to a conclusion after nearly two weeks when they reached the mouth of the massive Kongo River and encountered settlements along the river banks.

    This time the language barrier was not an issue as the monks had brought a Baka guide along with them, John Koozime. Koozime was one of the few Baka who had converted to Catholicism and was relativley fluent in the languages of the Kongo. Compelled by his new faith, a possible place in history, a desire to see the world, and pressed on by Charles he became the monks guide.

    Without the awkward phase of the language barrier, the monks were able to adapt much more readily to Kongo society than with the Akan or Baka. Knowledge of Kongo customs learned from the Baka and the Kongo traders also gave the monks an edge. Because of these factors and the experiences from before the monks finally had the success they were looking for. Unlike with the Akan or the Baka, a good number of Kongo converted initially and several had considerable zeal to go with their conversion. Before long, Charles was able to arrange with the chiefs of the Kongo tribes the building of an organized settlement around a new abbey.

    It was in this way that in mid-1166 the settlement of St. Victor was created around the original wooden framework of St. Victor’s Abbey (named for Pope Saint Victor I, the first African pope). It was around the construction of St. Victor’s Abbey that Charles came to meet a prominent chief, Nwene Mbata.

    Historians question whether Mbata was truly religious or if he was motivated to befriend the Europeans for technological and political gain. Regardless, Mbata quickly converted, becoming the first chief to take up the new religion. Mbata’s conversion compelled many Kongo to convert as well and by 1167 the tribe could largely be considered the first real Christian peoples of sub-Saharan Africa not located in Ethiopia.

    Mbata’s conversion did more than bring many Africans to Christianity; it solidified his friendship with Charles. We do know that Mbata was an enthusiastic scholar and cunning politician. Charles and him talked for hours about the history of Europe and the church, the political structures of the nations there. They even delved into economics, trade, and occasionally even weaponry.

    In 1168 Mbata began encouraging the construction of crude European style weapons. The Kongo crossbow entered the Kongo’s arsenal around this time and writings from one of the monks depicts a crude catapult, though this was probably simply for show rather than for practicality. As Mbata’s power grew, so did his influence over the Kongo people. Mbata was successful in uniting several of the Kongo tribes under his rule and even struck deals with some lesser chiefs allowing them some autonomy in exchange for his supremacy in the first glimpses of Kongoese feudalism.

    By 1169 it was clearly obvious that Mbata was using Catholicism as an excuse for expansion of his power. Charles and the monks certainly knew this but turned the other way. Besides they had come to bring Catholicism to Africa, something Mbata was spreading. The church was thriving under his rule, St. Victor’s Abbey had been rebuilt in stone and several other abbeys and churches had been erected as well. Even the rough communications with St. Peter’s Abbey amongst the Baka showed that the Baka were converting more rapidly as the stories of Kongo power increased. Though the Baka were still far behind the rapid progress being shown in the lands of the Kongo.

    [​IMG]
    Picture of St. Peter's Cathedral, 1879

    The way Mbata spread his power and influence over the other Kongo tribes is an amazing political strategy still studied to this day. Mbata became a champion of this new faith and began pushing Catholicism as the religion of the future and the foundation for progress and social climbing. As the de facto secular leader of the religion (Charles was still very much in command of the spiritual leadership), Mbata began to create a new stratification in Kongo society that polarized families and villages. Many older Kongo refused to convert so easily but many younger Kongo people, and the most skilled warriors and shrewd leaders, flocked to the religion and the opportunity it presented to climb society’s ladder very fast and very soon. When necessary Mbata would use his newfound leadership and leverage to promote allies and bring them closer, or ostracize enemies from society and overcome the obstacles they imposed; oftentimes without bloodshed. Whenever Mbata and his movement encountered trouble from a prominent family or counter movement questioning his motives and leadership, and bloodless political maneuvering didn’t work, he always had the benefit of his skilled warrior class equipped with better technology and tactics. Granted those weapons and tactics would have led Mbata to a slaughter on a European battlefield they were so crude, but the new ideas revolutionized tribal warfare in the region. Mbata was also quiet shrewd on the battlefield, no slouch as a warrior himself, he was able to create himself as a great fighter and battlefield hero. He never led an offensive and instead when warfare seemed to be inevitable he pushed and prodded his enemies to the point that they would attack him and he would crush them on the defensive. This way he managed to paint himself not as a conqueror, but as a peacemaker simply defending his people and his honor. He also had a penchant for leaving the occasional great warrior, or leader that wasn’t to “misguided” alive and in his debt.

    After one larger battle between his forces and the forces of a countermovement in which Mbata’s warriors defeated and captured nearly 200 warriors and their chief, Mbata had the enemy chief brought to him. Before both groups of warriors Mbata gave the man a choice, that Mbata’s forces would either kill the leader and spare his warriors or the warriors would all be killed and the leader would be spared, with the choice lying in the chief’s hands. Knowing he was ruined and deciding to go out with honor, the chief told Mbata to kill him. The chief was ordered to kneel before Mbata, presumably to be beheaded, but instead Mbata informed him that he so admired his self sacrifice and courage before death that he could not kill so worthy an adversary. He offered the chief a chance to be reborn anew in the glory of God and to fight side by side with Mbata as his brother in Christ. The chief quickly accepted this radical turn of events and was baptized on the spot by Charles. So powerful was the moment and the message that the 200 captured warriors clamored for baptisms and service as well. The chief would become a close Mbata family ally and would be knighted several years in the future. All of this transpired even though we know today from documents and other evidence that Mbata was planning this from the start. If the chief had asked for his life before his warriors then Mbata planned to execute him and use the power of that image to bring the betrayed 200 warriors into the Mbata fold!

    But while Mbata expanded his power and reputation across the Kongo lands and was easily the most powerful Kongoese person, he still did not have the legal control he desired over his people. One aspect of European culture Mbata was fascinated with was royalty and the concept of empire. Mbata was a greatly ambitious person from his remarkably early rise as chief of his village to his perfect playing of the spiritual and secular politics of the arrival of Catholicism. He saw no reason why the peoples of the Kongo could not be united under the twin behemoths of his house and the church. If he could establish a Kongo state with himself at the helm, his legacy would forever be cemented in history and the future of his house would be secure.

    By 1171 Mbata had largely solidified his control, whether de facto or de jure over the majority of the Kongo lands. The only thing that stood between him and his goal was an alliance of dissatisfied chieftains and some outside non-Kongoese clans worried about the suddenly very real possibility of a powerful and radicaly new Christian Kongo state. Built up in the south and centered on the mountain stronghold of Mbanza Kongo, if Mbata and his allies could defeat them, he would have control over the Kongo.

    In late 1172, the warriors assembled to depose Mbata began heading to St. Victor. Their goal was to kill Mbata, his sons, daughters, and wives, and burn the Catholic abbey to the ground with any Europeans they found inside. In a literal battle with everything on the line, Mbata and his warriors prepared defenses outside the village of Coinzo.

    The numbers of the two armies is generally considered to be almost even, perhaps with a slight nod in favor of those against Mbata thanks to non-Kongoese forces participating. Mbata’s forces though were equipped with the crude European weapons. Crude pikes, swords, various types of bows, and a good number of shields would give the Mbata warriors an edge over the enemy equipped with a smattering of captured quality weapons but for the most part still using spears and tightly woven armor and thatch shields. We don’t know much about the battle of Coinzo outside of the fact that Mbata prevailed, his tactics and weapons winning out over the enemy. From Coinzo Mbata and his warriors pushed on to Mbanza Kongo where they stormed the mountain and executed the chief of the town. It should be noted that the storming of Mbanza Kongo occurred at night and also coincided with a meteor shower, an event the citizens of Mbanza Kongo and those warriors fighting there took as a miracle and the inspiration for Mbata’s coat of arms and banner; a red cross wreathed in golden flames of faith.

    Several days after the battle Mbata declared himself the Mwene Kongo, or Lord of the Kongo (for readability purposes Mwene Kongo is henceforth referred to simply as King). Mbata made the centralized and easily defensible stronghold of Mbanza Kongo his capital and erected the grand St. Thomas Cathedral (named so because Mbata’s favorite saint was Thomas, whom had traveled away from the European world) to be the seat of Catholic power in Africa.

    [​IMG]
    King Nwene Mbata, the first king of the Kingdom of the Kongo

    And with that not only did the Catholic Church gain a foothold in Africa but the Kingdom of the Kongo was established and the continent was changed forever.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2010
  17. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    I don't know how widespread the African tropical diseases were in the New World in the 1500s. They were widespread in Africa, however.

    True, they don't die in days, but the death rates over e.g. a year in the slaver trading stations was huge (50% maybe? more?).

    When I said 5 might be half the remainder I was partly exaggerating for effect, but the numbers ought to be about half, what they were originally.

    As for survival rates - certainly medicine wasn't any more effect a couple of hundred years later, I agree.
     
  18. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Sorry I meant tropical diseases in general, didn't mean to be confusing.

    And I'm working on the disease situation right now, hopefully I can find a realistic happy medium.
     
  19. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    For those interested. This concept can be traced back to a map I posted in April of '09. I found it randomly here.

    Obviously the butterflies, etc. mean this TL won't turn into the map. But its a fun resource nonetheless! :D
     
  20. Big Tex Texas Thunderhawk

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    Chapter 5
    A New Church for a New Land


    So King Nwene Mbata had established a unified Kongo Kingdom under his rule. However, the work was far from over. Mbata needed to secure his reign over the various chiefs and elders that dominated his people. In order to do this he needed to break with the long running traditions of his people. To do that, he needed the two things that could break tradition; Catholicism and prosperity. ​

    While it’s a well known fact the world over that prosperity and success are the keys to changing any society, the Catholic Church was the key most important to Mbata. In a few short years a handful of monks had come from across the seas and rocked the African world. While the Kongo people were hardly completely catholicized, many had taken up the faith over the few years the monks had been amongst them. Many more converted when they unofficially sided with Mbata during his rapid rise. These Catholics would be key to Mbata’s plans.​

    Indeed Mbata’s plan was actually quite simple. Expand the faith amongst his people, further consolidating his rule and putting the monks in his pocket. Then use their zeal and the church as a casus belli to expand the kingdom further. Prosperity would follow expansion as it always did and his dynasty would be secure. ​

    However old traditions die hard and Kongo Catholicism was taking on many strange new twists. It has been nearly five years since the monks had come and with so few in number trying to reign in such a rapid and indeed strange spiritual and political revolution in a foreign jungle, control wasn’t exactly widespread. Catholicism was blending with local animism and other religions so that the core was maintained, but the old traditions could stay alive in some way. After all to the local villager who “converted” for no other reason than to stay on the House of Mbata’s good side, as long as you could call yourself Catholic, took communion, and were baptized you should be in the clear. And Mbata himself didn’t truly care about the details, just the core. Let the Europeans deal with the details, that’s why they came after all right? ​

    So like whenever a new religion spreads into an established area, the old culture often comes along for the ride (albeit with a fresh coat of faith based paint). Catholicism in the Kongo was still recognizably Christian with Jesus at the center and the tenets of the faith intact, but there were additions. Many considered magic to still be in existence, but its practice was now largely considered a black art. The Kongo believed that most of the denizens of the Other World (Other World would slowly give way to Heaven over the years) were the souls of deceased ancestors, and not gods who had never lived on earth or had a material existence. Thus, the catechism described the Holy Trinity as literally "three people". Old names would persist, the newly rising Kongoese clergy was termed “nganga” (though European missionaries would forever remain “monks”), while the Kongo initially called the Bible “nkanda ukisi”. It even took several generations for God to be named “God” as the old creator god; “Nzambi Mpungu” had a strong following to simply fill the Christian God spot (missionaries and Kongo clergy put an end to that by 1250). ​

    The biggest church issue was that of idols. Many Kongoese refused to depart with their idols (though they may not worship them anymore), regardless of what the church said. Ancestry was an important aspect of Kongo culture even if their ancestors now transitioned from the Other World to Heaven, Purgatory, or Limbo. In fact, many initial Kongo converts simply refused to believe their good ancestors would be denied Heaven. Limbo became a popular destination for ancestors who had never converted, in the minds of the living at least, there the good ancestors could continue their old way of life, though they may never know salvation. Idols were seen as a way for speaking with loved ones, some even saw their idols as a way to earn their relatives access to heaven and it was not uncommon for a few open minded, and not properly trained, Kongoese clergymen to baptize idols…they didn’t see them as false gods to be outlawed in the commandments but ancestors trying to find Christ. Mbata either didn’t care to, or refused to, intervene on the idol issue the European monks wished to rid the Kongo of. And the European monks, despite their best efforts, never truly purged the idol issue from African Catholicism. Over the next 200 years pagan idol worship transitioned away from idol respect (the term for the above) and into beautiful Kongo sculptures of Jesus or various saints.​

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    A Congoese sculpture of a Christian saint, circa 1460's

    There were other issues as well aside from the spiritual. Logistically, coordinating a network of European and newly ordained Kongo priests across the dangerous and slowly traveled rainforest was not an easy task. Early Kongo churches outside of the St. Thomas Cathedral at Mbanza Kongo and the abbey at St. Victor, were little more than crude wooden chapels. Congregations would often sit on the ground or on logs, a far cry from the orderly straight-backed pews of Europe. The alters, chalices, and crucifixes, often the only pieces of gold or art work in many European villages, were little more than wooden cups on crudely carved rocks (though Kongo goldsmiths would make great fortunes creating African chalices and ornamentation). Grape based wine was impossible to come by for communion and was substituted with palm based wine traditional in Kongo society known as malafu ya ngasi, or just malafu for short.
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    A wooden Congoese cross circa 1310's. Note the smaller engraved crosses with triangular arms reflecting crusader and Northern European influence.

    While the meager accommodations and strange tastes were a harsh transition for the European monks, it didn’t exactly hurt their cause. The Kongo enjoyed the familiarity of their surroundings and more than a few Kongo attended church services for the first time at the very least to obtain some free malafu. In addition living and preaching in the meager conditions similar to Jesus didn’t hurt religious fervor in the same way the local cathedral and clergy tended to be elevated above European society both socially and economically. ​

    The final issue was the structure of the church. With a few small abbeys, no communication with Rome, and working in the most remote Apostolic Prefecture in Christendom, St. Charles and Mbata found themselves in positions of considerable religious power and autonomy. While St. Charles was eager to reestablish connections with Rome, he understood the limitations and did what was necessary to continue the church. Mbata on the other hand was more than willing to put off communication with the Pope. After all, the Pope was someone who would instantly have authority over him and the tribes regardless of what Mbata did. ​

    St. Charles used his bishop powers liberally to establish the church in Africa. He ordained dozens of native Kongoese clergy, worked with Mbata to construct churches in many villages and missions outside of tribal areas. With the constant work he was doing and the constant threat of native disease taking his life, many consider Charles’ long life in Africa to be a miracle, one of the many that would earn him sainthood almost immediately after his death. ​

    Through these issues the church in the Kongo evolved into a very unique but still very catholic sect. Mbata wielded considerable authority over both the state and church. When necessary he distracted the German monks by either erecting a distant mission deeper and deeper in the forest or constructing a new abbey. With the monks scattered across central Africa, and more and more dying of diseases every year (by 1180 only 18 remained), only St. Charles was the main rival to Mbata’s power. And St. Charles cared little for the politics, he just wanted to expand Christendom into Africa and Mbata could provide the political avenue for him. Mbata had the arena largely to himself, and with his power and desire to expand, that meant his arena was the entire Kongo basin. ​

    That didn’t mean King Mbata had everything going for him. St. Charles’ power as the unofficial head of the church in the Kongo region meant that often times Mbata had to perform tasks he found annoying, but necessary to maintaining good relations with the church. For instance in late 1173, King Nwene Mbata took the name King Thomas Mbata at the insistence of Charles to take a Christian name. Truthfully, by this time Charles was meeting hundreds if not thousands of Kongoese a year and made it a point to remember names, not an easy task for a German monk to learn hundreds of traditional African names. He figured, in a shrewd move, that if Mbata took a Christian name many Africans would do the same; something he would prove correct. ​

    But while Charles was merely interested in religious affairs, King Thomas had to deal with the tribal chiefs and consolidation of his own power in his kingdom.​
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2010