AsianPages.com – One of my life’s goals is to swim in as many lakes, rivers, ponds and oceans as possible, using my independence and swimming skills as freely as possible. I love the feeling of being in a large, fresh body of water, its soft immersive, spacious or deep buoyancy.
Les Nugers (The Swimmers), from the series Le Supreme Bon Ton, c. 1810–1815. Credit: Public Domain
I swam in a freshwater lagoon near Acapulco in Mexico, the guide assured us that there were no crocodiles in the water that day. I’ve swam in a busy indoor pool in London amidst a cacophony of swimmers and in Australia’s only women’s pool. i swam in see visor The lake on the outskirts of Berlin, the same lake in which my grandmother swam before fleeing Germany. At Jaffa’s Alma/Al-Manshiya Beach, Tel Aviv, I have seen from the sea to the minaret of the Mahmoudiya Mosque.
I was surprised to find myself in the water so far from home. It turns out that my ability to swim makes me part of the elite.
Karen Eva Carr opens Shifting Currents with the startling information that all over the world today – for all of Earth’s rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, seas and oceans, to say nothing of the built-in pools, canals and theme parks For – Most people cannot swim. People may bathe and wash their clothes in rivers and lakes, or perform rituals in bathhouses, but the vast majority must keep their feet on the ground.
Yet as early as 100,000 years ago humans taught themselves to swim for food and for pleasure. Human swimming for utility and comfort has a long history, abundantly documented in early cave paintings and illustrations from folk tales.
This year the OECD reported that only one in four people in low-income countries can swim. Low- to middle-income countries report more non-swimmers than swimmers, and the majority of those able to swim are girls and women.
Access to natural waterways has been reduced worldwide through the privatization of shores and beaches, and through the development of dams, roads, ports, wetlands, and the construction of large cities.
Learning to swim takes time, is especially difficult to learn as an adult, and is do or die – impossible to fake.
It has not always been the case that most people around the world cannot swim, although Carr’s world history shows that the ability to swim has changed over time with weather patterns and geographic regions. People have migrated, conquered, traded, competed and shared stories that celebrate entering water or warn of its dangers and the need for sacred respect.
The earliest humans swam. Neanderthals who lived in Italy about 100,000 years ago swam with confidence. Their ear bones show that they were traumatized by a swimmer’s ear from a dive 3–4 meters away, then shaped into tools.
During the last major Ice Age 23,000 years ago, when glaciers reached as far south as England, northern Germany, Poland, and northern Russia, the swim, if it existed, was abandoned. For the next tens of thousands of years, people did not know how to swim.
In Eurasia, people cultivated wheat and millet for bread, and began to eat less fish, a food rich in vitamin D. In order to absorb more sunlight, and to produce enough vitamin D needed for good health, these populations genetically developed lighter skin. Some of these light-skinned white people moved south and their descendants, the Greeks, Romans, Scythians and Iranians remained non-swimming until the end of the Bronze Age, even in places that were warmer during the Ice Age .
Thousands more years passed, and then rock paintings at Tasli n’ Ajer in southern Algeria show people walking with their arms raised in a horizontal posture. Maybe they are swimming.
By 8000 BC, in the Cave of the Swimmers in western Egypt, small red figures float.
Another 5,000 years pass, and Egyptian hieroglyphic texts and imagery are filled with representations of swimming. Egyptian kings swam, as did poor Egyptians. Many Egyptian girls and women swam, and possibly Cleopatra too. Mark Antony could swim.
Swimming was common throughout the continent of Africa, and stories about swimming for fun and enjoyment, along with hunting and food, are found in many traditional tales. In the Ethiopian tale of “the two jealous wives”, twin children thrown into the river are quickly rescued by swimmers. A humorous West African tale tells of a miserly woman who eagerly jumps into a river to swim after stray beans.
The overarm is the oldest swimming stroke that has been depicted. Egyptian, Hittite, and early Greek and Roman images show people swimming, alternating their arms and sometimes using flutter kicks with straight legs, the same strokes we see regularly in Australia. is taught. Greek and Roman swimmers are not shown putting their face in the water, and the breaststroke is absent from ancient fiction and stories.
Only Plato’s Phaedrus mentions backstroke, suggesting that a person “swimming on his back against the stream” is behaving foolishly. Sidestrokes are used when swimmers need to push a canoe or propel something up through the water.
The Assyrians were probably the first to build flotation devices, habitually using Musuk Made from goat skin to help keep them afloat in the fast-flowing rivers of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Louvre / Wikimedia Commons
Swimming in ancient Eurasia was associated with many more conflicting myths about racial superiority. The floating population was particularly dehumanized, when associated with darker skin. For example, by the 1st century BCE, northern Chinese writers were racializing swimming, attributing knowledge of southern Chinese people swimming in the ocean and eating fish to the dark color of their skin.
Northern China was part of the northern Eurasian non-swimming “zone”, and for these northern-hemisphere non-swimmers, the water was sacred, dangerous, sometimes magical, and not to be polluted by the human body.
The Greek historian Herodotus remarked that the Persians took great care,
Never urinate or spit in a river, nor wash your hands in one; nor let other people do so; Instead, they greatly respect the rivers.
Cultural difference expressed through swimming is present throughout historical narratives as one people view another and mark themselves as different depending on how well the other culture swims. It is also often a marker of class. Wealthy Greek and Roman women sometimes took up swimming. Augustus’ great-granddaughter, Agrippa the Younger, was a strong swimmer. When she was stabbed during an attempted murder of her son, she escaped by swimming across a lake, her assailants unable to give chase.
Not all cultures floated in the ancient world. Throughout Europe and northern Asia, in Mesopotamia (Syria, Iraq, and Kuwait) and southwest Asia, people did not know how to swim, were afraid of water, and feared the real and imaginary creatures of the seas and lakes. Carr’s history explores the reasons for this non-swimming through a wealth of archaeological, text-based and pictorial sources.
sexuality and slavery
Carr shows that it is not just the hot weather that decides whether a community will swim, but also other cultural and political factors. She also describes her history as a study of whiteness and white culture. Swimming’s role in world history is not neutral.
Swimming was often associated with sexuality and promiscuity. For example, Ovid often evokes swimming as an erotic prelude to rape in the Metamorphoses. A medieval tale from Central Asia tells of Alexander the Great and a companion hiding behind a rock to spy on women swimming naked. In many stories and paintings, the sight of women and girls swimming semi-clothed or naked is associated with shame and excitement.
Swimming is closely linked to the history of patriarchy. The practice of ducking women and girls with water as a trial and punishment for suspected witches was practiced in Europe for centuries – even as far back as the 1700s when wealthy Europeans and European-Americans were learning to swim .
Slavery’s association with swimming cultures emerges with Muslim slave traders, who associated Central African nudity with promiscuity and compared the ability to swim to animal behavior. In the continents of Africa and the Americas, later medieval and later European explorers also invoked people’s swimming skills as justification for their enslavement.
Nevertheless, slave-holders expected African and Native American slaves to float in the course of their work. Slaves dived to clean ships, served as lifeguards for white swimmers, swam while tracking runaway slaves, and salvaged lost goods from shipwrecks. Enslaved Native Americans worked as pearl divers in the Americas.
University of Washington / Wikimedia Commons
In the midst of this economic and educational history of worldwide inequality, swimming can best be described as a pastime of the elite, and Carr certainly believes it has become so.
Carr’s engaging history is very well structured, with clearly titled chapters for readers who want to dive into certain eras or topics. It is the weakest of modern-day analyses, drawing too many ready-made conclusions about contemporary conditions. (For example, Carr’s analysis of the causes of the 2005 Cronulla riots does not mention the Howard government’s anti-immigration stance or Islamophobia post-9/11.)
Australian First Nations and Pacifica history is also only sketched in. Nevertheless, this ambitious work achieves its aim of being an engaging and highly informative world history, written for the general reader with an interest in this rich subject, and beautifully illustrated with mono and colour. Illustrations, an index and chronology.
written byHonorary Associate Professor in Creative Writing and Literature, Macquarie University
provided by negotiation
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. read Original article.