Europa, Libya, Asia are names of ladies that refer to three parts of a contiguous whole treated as the separate continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. In the early 1900, political science planners referred to this contiguous landmass as World Island. Some have called it Africaeurasia.
Old Libya became Africa (from the Phoenician Afer, meaning "dust" in reference to sandy North Africa), the landmass south of the Mediterranean and west of the Red Sea that separates it from Asia. "Asia" was simply the region east of "Europa" of the Greco-Roman empire, not so much a definition as it is a negative separation of whatever was west of the Danube and south of the Dardanelles.
The climatic and cultural intercourse of rivers and mountains west of the Danube gives flesh to the category "Europe", including the insular English, the hard driving Slav, the methodical Deutsch, the stylish Frank, the passionate Iberian, the imperial Roman, and the rational Greek, a gelled but meaningful category. In contrast to the nebulously defined cultural and geographical unity called "Asia," which etymologically may be traced back to the Akkadian asu, meaning "to go outside," or the Phoenician asa, meaning "east," and the Greek Asia, east of the Aegean, the region east and outside of Europe is simply a makeshift lump!
"Africa" referred to Rome’s Carthage but kept expanding into one of Byzantium’s dioceses, until finally covering the African northwest. Europe united it in the competitive greed it received and the earnest exploitation it endured from colonizers. Historically, the reality of the region west of the Red Sea and the Ural mountains called Asia also suffered and was suffused by the avaricious tentacles of Europa’s children.
Asia as geography to Greece was originally Anatolia (Turkey), Asia Minor, and the Persian Empire (Iran) as Asia Major. Of course, centuries before several prominent civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Indus river valley, and Huanghe river basins flourished and spawned offsprings. We include the heterogeneous composition of the Nile, its formative influence on North Africa, and its creative discourses with Persia, Assyria, Greece, and Rome.
It is our continuing use of the category "Asia" that challenges our understanding since it hardly signifies a discernable entity. "Asian" is treated as an ethnic category in the U.S. Census, mirroring more our Eurocentric perspective than anything else. Afrikaans do not easily fit into African-Americans either. Highly regarded NewsAsia, MediaCorp’s broadcast journalism flagship of Singapura, defines its cognitive services as furthering our understanding of Asia’s workings! Duh.
The 45-nation Asian Games often reflects the diversity of this geographical category, from Aryan Turks to the Semites in Southwest Asia, Islamic Stans of Central Asia, Mongols in North Asia’s steppes, Hindustanis of South Asia, the Malayo-Indo-Chinese of Southeast Asia, and the predominant Hans of the Far East, including the Jurchen-descended far northeast of Siberia to the Aleutians, Nippon and the Korean peninsula. Though impervious to the winds of politics in theory, Israel had been barred from Asian Games competition.
The problem with a nebulous category treated as a definitive entity, geographically and anthropologically, is its ability to diffuse more than it clarifies, listing more the exceptions rather than focusing on the expected core. Nothing is more nebulous in ethnic categories in the United State than the label Asian-American!
Other geo-ethnic names now stuck in English usage are just as dubious in origin. "China" as the people of the Qin (they first referred to themselves as the people of the Han) was given by the Persians to designate oriental traders on the Silk Road, picked up and popularized by Marco Polo, worming itself into the European lingo of the French and the Brits.
Though the name is now officially used, China’s folks call their country Zhongguo (the Middle Realm), and themselves the Zhongguoren, the people who stand in the middle. Imagine a swirling Taiji (yin-yang) and the stance to stand at the pivot; it gives one the internal "feel" and "idea" of what it means to be a real Zhongguoren.
Filipinos are named after España’s Felipe, originally referring to Europeans born in the archipelago and the natives designated as indios. Malaysia is Britain’s local Malays in Asia; ditto for Indonesia (India in Asia) to the Dutch. Indochina of Southeast Asia had the more varied taste and the "whatever" tolerance of the French. Vive le difference!
A rose is a rose is a rose by any other name. Asia covers too huge a variety of skin tones and tongues. Aye, there’s the rub!
"Asia" connotes no definitive meaning. But BC in history has moved from "before Christ" to BCE, "before the Current Era." Still Eurocentric but an improvement. We are redefining our time frames as appropriate to the inclusive global mindset. Time to do the same with geography. After all, the key is location, location, location! The Chamorro identity as bastardized Hispanic prejudice will not do. What we name people and geography needs to reflect current understanding rather than the prejudices of the past.
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Jaime R. Vergara (firstname.lastname@example.org) previously taught at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan and is currently a guest lecturer at Shenyang Aerospace University in China.