By B.E. and T.C. Heritage Dodd
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Local time, on 26 December 2004, an undersea earthquake shook the ocean floor north-west of the island of Sumatra. 1 magnitude unleashed a tsunami that killed an estimated 228,000 people and caused tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage. The devastation was not limited to nearby Sumatra or Thailand but was spread across the Indian Ocean—India, Sri Lanka and even as far away as East Africa. It was a reminder that the Indian Ocean is not merely a geographic term but an ecosystem interconnected by both human and natural forces.
This brings us back to why I decided to start this book with Nandi Varman II. His story draws together many of the elements that are explored in this book: the deep links of trade and culture across the Indian Ocean, the back-and-forth movement of people, the importance of the female lineage, but also the difficulty of piecing together history from random scraps of evidence. Moreover, it illustrates the contingent nature of history. The flow of events in southern India took a certain turn because a twelve-year-old boy in a faraway land decided to take a leap into the unknown.
In many places, people were forced to abandon old hunting grounds and move closer to the remaining rivers. The Sahara savannah had so far supported a significant population but desertification forced many to shift to the Nile. 20 Surrounded by desert, the people settling along the Nile ‘oasis’ became increasingly sedentary. The ‘oasis’ ran from Sudan to Cairo, around 800 kms, but was no more than a few kilometres wide. We have evidence that human population steadily increased over time, probably through a combination of local births and further inward migration.