Talk C – The first Panama Canal and the first Suez Canal were built by the Chinese and the Egyptians

Some months ago we started serious research into the DNA of the native Indian peoples of North America. This quickly threw up a mystery:  why were there so many clusters of Indian peoples on the borders of Panama, Ecuador and Colombia – no less than nine different peoples – who had DNA with such strong affinities to the Chinese and Japanese? Obviously Chinese and Japanese seafarers had settled in those areas – but why choose such an inhospitable country where there appeared little opportunity for trade compared with the rich Maya civilisation further north or the Incas further south? Why settle in the jungle?

Either side of the Atrato River (which flows from south east Panama  into the Caribbean have DNA which Professor Gabriel Novick and colleagues have summarised as follows: “Close similarity between the Chinese and native Americans suggests recent gene flow from Asia”. The same can be said of Professor Novick’s description of the Guambiano and Ingano peoples who live nearby where the Rio San Juan reaches the Pacific. The people who live either side of those two rivers – the Nganama/Wanana – “are clustered closer to Japanese people than to other American natives” (Fideas E Leon S and colleagues). Professor Fideas E Leon S and colleagues also found that some 200 miles further south “the Cayapa or Chichi from Ecuador [have genes] molecularly similar to those found in south east Asian and Japanese people”. Professors Tulio Arends and Galengo studied “the occurrence in transferins in 91 Yupa Indians, 69 of whom belong to the Pariri tribe and 22 to the Shaparu tribe. They inhabit the foothills of the Sierra Perija (latitude 9o to 110 north, longitude 720 40’ to 730 30’ west)…”

“In 58 per cent of the Yupa Indians of Venezuela there is a slow moving transferin electrophoretically indistinguishable from that which to date has only been found in Chinese. This finding is additional evidence of the existence of a racial link between South American Indians and Chinese.”

In short, between Lake Maracaibo (which can be clearly identified on maps such as the Cantino published before Europeans reached that part of America) and the estuary of the Rio San Juan there are fourteen Indian peoples who have Chinese or Japanese genes – a discovery made by seventeen dedicated geneticists.

When the first Europeans arrived in that part of the world they found coconuts planted along the Pacific coasts and on islands off the coasts – coconuts being plants which originated in the Far East. They also found Chinese ship dogs and Chinese rice.  Drake captured a Chinese junk trading between North and South America whose pilot had a chart showing the Pacific.  Taking all this evidence in the round, it seems to me inescapable that the Chinese and Japanese lived in this small part of the Isthmus of Darien and created settlements there before the first Europeans arrived – for, as mentioned in earlier talks, the first Europeans found Chinese people already settled on the Pacific coasts of both North and South America. The puzzle is, why should this be?

A clue may be obtained, as always, from medieval maps, which were published before Europeans reached the Pacific coasts of North America, notably the Waldseemueller. To my mind, the Waldseemueller accurately charts the Pacific coast of North America from 500 north right down to the approaches to the Straits of Magellan in the southern part of South America. Perhaps even more interesting, the Waldseemueller chart, which was published in 1507, does not show the Straits of Magellan – this chart was available for the public at large to purchase. However, smaller globes which Waldseemueller produced at the same time for his private client, do show the Straits of Magellan. So before Magellan set sail Waldseemueller knew the Straits of Magellan existed. As mentioned earlier in another talk, Magellan also had seen a chart of the Straits of Magellan in the King of Portugal’s library before he set sail on his circumnavigation of the world. He referred to that chart when he was passing through the Straits of Magellan.

The Waldseemueller also showed an opening between the Atlantic and Pacific at 80 north – that is, the latitude of the southern parts of the Isthmus of Darien where there is this cluster of Indian peoples who have Chinese and Japanese DNA. Pedro Menedez de Aviles, the first Castilian viceroy of Florida, believed that there was a canal which linked Pacific and Atlantic, for he found the wrecks of Chinese junks off the coast of Florida and stated that these could not have been there unless there was a passage similar to the Straits of Magellan. His biographer, Carlos Prince reported, “Chinese . . . with Tartairs, Japanese and Koreans . . . crossed the maritime stretch into the kingdom of Quivira, populating Mexico, Panama, Peru and other eastern countries of the Indies. In short, taking these reports together with the Synopsis of Evidence on my website, reveals a mountain of evidence which corroborates what Carlos Prince said – Chinese, Japanese and Koreans did indeed populate Panama, as is evidenced by the DNA of today’s people.

The Geography of the Darien Peninsula
The Colombian-Pacific coast region (Choco) occupies a stretch between eastern Panama and northern Ecuador between latitudes 80 45’ north and 10 15’ north and longitudes 790  to 76 0 15’ west,  a stretch of land between the Pacific Ocean and Cordilllera Occidentale of the Andes, from west of the mouth of the Atrato River near Panama to the border of northwest Ecuador.

The region is lowland with elevations rarely exceeding 600 metres. It has a complex of vast river basins, the most important being the Atrato and San Juan. Alluvial plains extend along these valleys and empty respectively into the Caribbean Sea (Gulf of Uraba – which appears on the Cantino) and the Pacific Ocean. And since these two rivers parallel the Cordillera Occidentale and receive numerous Andean subsidiaries, for much of the year they are swollen torrents. The San Juan River discharges more water into the Pacific than any other American river and the Atrato is the second-largest river in South America in terms of the volume of water discharged into the Atlantic.

The lower part of the Atrato basin is characterised by swamps and shallow lakes in contrast to much of the San Juan River. Bordering both the Atrato and San Juan rivers are wide belts of hills. Because of this geography the Choco area is probably the wettest sizeable region on earth with various parts receiving annual precipitation of 4 to over 9 metres. The Atrato which runs north into the Caribbean, and the Rio San Juan which runs south into the Pacific, both rise at the Bocca de Raspadura less than five miles apart. About 100 years before the Panama Canal was opened to ship traffic, cartographers showed a canal here, which they called the Atrato Canal on their maps of the world. The canal supposedly had been in existence since 1788. It was then called the Raspadura Canal and linked the San Juan and Atrato Rivers. The claim to have told the outside world of the existence of this Raspadura Canal came from the famous German scientist and geographer, Baron Alexander von Humboldt. Here is his note:

“…The interior of the Province of Choco, the small ravine Raspadura unites the neighbouring sources of the Rio San Juan and the small river Quito (a tributary of the Atrato). A monk of great activity, a curé of the village of Narita, employed his parishioners to dig a small canal in the ravine de la Raspadura, by means of which, when the rains are abundant, canoes loaded with cacao pass from sea to sea. This interior communication has existed since 1788, unknown in Europe…”

When Humboldt recommended the Atrato River as a canal possibility, that part of the Darien region had lain dormant for more than 200 years. The famous explorers, notably Bastide and de la Cosa and Christopher Columbus, did not get as far as the Gulf of Uraba, so it is a mystery how it appeared in the Cantino.

When Philip II ascended the Spanish throne in 1555, he immediately reversed the policy on transit rights across the isthmus. Since the Atrato was a very good canal channel, being more than 1000 feet wide and 50 feet deep as far as 60 miles upstream, navigation on the river was forbidden under penalty of death, thus effectively sealing both river, the route to the Pacific, and the knowledge of both, to the outside world for many hundred of years.

Digging deeper into the accounts of the curé of the village of Novita, reveals that the monk, assiduous and shrewd as he was, did not build a new canal but dug out an existing one. Evidence for this comes from a fascinating book The Golden Isthmus by David Howarth, who actually discovered the Raspadura Canal. As Howarth points out, possibly the canal was very much more ancient and had only been reopened by the curé – for there was the sentence Humboldt’s predecessor, Patterson, had written when on the Atrato: “We have only eight or nine leagues to a river where boats may go into the south seas”.  Somebody had told Patterson, and in those early days it was not a story that anyone would have invented. As David Howarth wrote:
On the whole, it seems likely there was a canal, or had been. Possibly it was built by the Indians in an earlier epoch: they had been quite capable of it. Or possibly it was a Spanish smuggling route: not only cocoa but gold and silver might have been taken that way to avoid the duty – and perhaps the awkward questions – of officials at Panama. . . . The problem awaits an explorer.

At the time of the 1421-23 voyages, the Chinese had had centuries of experience in building canals. And to build one to link the Atlantic to the Pacific across the whole of the Darien peninsula would have been no problem at all, let alone the five miles or so to connect the Atrato with the San Juan river. The Grand Canal of China was begun under the Wu dynasty and was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

From 584 AD onwards it was extended and the individual sections linked together to form a system stretching for 1800 kilometres, to this day the longest man-made waterway in the world. It was the main artery of commerce between north and south China. In 1411 the Emperor Zhu Di decided to dredge and reconstruct the northern section to clear 130 miles of channel. Thirty-six new locks were built for Beijing was over 100 feet higher than the Yellow River. Three hundred thousand labourers were employed on the task. The completed canal stretched from Beijing in the north to Hang Zhu on the coast south of Shanghai. By 1416, 300 million kilograms of grain were being ferried along the canal from south to north to feed the workers in Beijing.

The Chinese had a great deal to gain from a canal which linked Atlantic and Pacific, and perhaps even more important, North America to South America – to this day there is no road which connects the two continents. Apart from connecting the oceans and continents, it would enable the Chinese to export the extraordinary wealth of plants, especially medicinal ones, found in the Darien peninsula. The Darien peninsula is a pantry for the world of medicinal raw materials, providing the world’s pharmacology industry with natural medicine. So much wood is being carried down the Atrato today that thousands of indigenous people living in communities along the banks of the river are working together in a desperate bid to save their forest.

The scientist Alwyn Gentry describes the Choco jungle as “the richest in the world in terms of vegetation species”. There is an incredible number of tree species growing together in a single area. The medicinal plants will have been of particular interest to the Chinese as McKay Rippey has pointed out on our website:

“… Chinese medicine, one of the unequivocal jewels of Chinese civilisation, is based on a brilliant insight into how human beings fit into nature’s web. Chinese medicine is as viable today as it was two thousand years ago. One major facet of Chinese medicine is herbology. The Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia  draws upon the many plants and animal products indigenous to China and surrounding regions. In addition to local herbs, the Chinese include substances that can only have come from overseas. Chinese physicians and herbalists would have carried their knowledge and herbs with them on a voyage such as proposed in 1421…”
Mr Rippey then goes on to describe herbs that clearly originated in the Americas (i.e. corn cob) are highly regarded by native American cultures and would likely to have been the subject of trade and curiosity between herbalists. They are now grown in both Asia and America and we might have the Chinese to thank for propagating them. Mr Rippey then lists them: Corn cob and corn silk (yumixu) native to the Americas both found in China by early European explorers; American ginseng originally grown only in the north east United States – this form of ginseng is highly prized by Chinese herbalists because it is a kidney yin tonifier; Chinese reishi (ling zhi) a native of north Florida and China; horny goatweed (yang huo cao/jin yang huo); epidemium – Chinese and native American herbalism; versicolor mushroom (turkey tail) kawaratake yung-zhi (cloud fungus) again used in Chinese and native American herbalism. Plants are used for colds and ‘flu and other infections; they were named “herb of the saints” by Catholic missionaries in California and much valued by west coast native Americans;  it is likely they would have been part of the trade between Chinese explorers and native Americans.

We have been extremely lucky in being informed by readers of my book and visitors to our website of the Complete Herb Book of China which was printed in 1503. This was a huge encyclopaedia of all the plants known to China – contained in no less than four hundred and three volumes. It lists a vast number of plants which were native to the Americas – such as peanuts. The book was originally written by imperial officials under the order of the Ming dynasty Xiao Zhong Emperor. The first missionaries to China found peanuts all over the country so they were certainly introduced to China long before Columbus landed in America.  The obvious question is, how could this Chinese book published in 1503 have listed so many plants, medicinal and otherwise, indigenous to the Americas if the Chinese had not already been to the Americas?

I have had the enormous good fortune to visit the South American rainforest on a tributary of the Amazon. We arrived in lowering cloud and scudding rain in a shanty town on the confluence of the Tambobata and Madre de Dios Rivers, a wild west frontier settlement. The place was almost inaccessible save by air, the truck journey took four days in the dry season, three weeks in the wet. As we arrived, El Niño’s floods had washed away the bridges so the road was impassable. We hired rickety old trishaws and soon had reached the ramshackle harbour and were sailing in a canoe down the green clear waters of the Madre de Dios River. In an hour or so we were amidst virgin jungle, the banks dominated by Brazil nut trees the size of beeches. On the exposed sandbanks, sluggish white caymans snored in the sun oblivious as we photographed them. It became overcast and soon a warm leaden rain was splashing off the oily river. The monotony of the jungle, silent but menacing, induced a trance. We sat hypnotised for hours on end as the endless river glided dreamily past the oily, glistening banks.

We stayed with an Indian people who cultivated small plots near the river’s edge. They fished from the Tambopata River and hunted birds and game in the forest – deer, peccary and monkeys. The river used to be rich in fish with more than four hundred species from minnows to monster paiche weighing up to four hundred kilograms, the world’s largest fresh water fish. The Indian peoples enjoyed a huge variety of medicinal plants, edible fruits and nuts; provided the jungle ecosystem was left undisturbed, food was plentiful and easy to come by, the people of the rainforest healthy and they made few demands on the outside world. A stones throw from our hut, the people had created a garden in which there were over one hundred medicinal plants varying in size from the oje at 70 feet to the guisador, a small ground shrub.

The peoples of the rain forest used 90 per cent of her wealth for some purpose or other – hallucinogens used by hunters to make themselves invisible. They used gum from the trees as latex and her wood for canoes and houses, bows and arrows, and the leaves as palm for thatch and for an endless variety of medicinal purposes, as vegetables and fruits, stimulants and sedatives, aphrodisiacs, soaps, tobacco, for all manner of drinks and vitamin additives. Pinon blanco, the roots of the chic sanangon, are used for purges. Many remedies are available against diarrhoea – the young tender leaves of the cachu tree mixed with salt and sugar is an effective remedy against dehydration. All sorts of remedies are available to cleanse the blood – café, a concoction of leaves, quoin, ginger root, or the bark of the puna tree. Interestingly, this bark is now being tested in the USA to discover whether, as claimed, it attacks the Aids virus. Shinto vari leaves cure snake bites. Abscesses are treated with leaves of the prickly pear, gergon sasha. Piri bulbs soothe strained muscles. The latex from sangi degrada relieves toothache and stomach pains. The crushed roots of beri beri have anti-inflammatory properties. In short, this fabulously rich rainforest has a diversity of trees, which may be used for every purpose imaginable.

Tall balsa trees provide the lightest wood known to man – density 0.21, soft and porous yet solid. At the other end of the scale is lignum vitae, its greenish brown heartwood seven times as heavy as balsa. In between come all manner of woods and canes, flexible for bamboos and cane furniture, high tensile for bows, hard and light for arrows.

Equally rich is the variety of fruit – piled up outside our hut are wild bananas, mangoes and custard apples. We eat yuccas as a delicious alternative to bread and potatoes. Climbing marrows and squashes come in all shapes and colours, cooking oil being extracted from their seeds. Beverages of all types and tastes can be extracted from jungle berries. Cocoa, whose beans are fermented to develop their flavour contain 50 per cent of fat (cocoa butter) and caffeine, a stimulant. Roasted and ground they make chocolate to which sugar and vanilla are added. To this day, caucho masha, a sap resembling milk, is used for baby food and as a tonic when sweetened by sugar cane. Herba louisa – lemon grass, a common herb, is used today for Incacola, the popular equivalent Coca Cola sold throughout South America.

Before setting out on that adventure I had imagined jungle life would be a battle for survival. When seen at first hand, the richness of the rainforest explains what had hitherto been incomprehensible – that the Indian peoples when their habitat is undisturbed need only hunt a few days each month. They may live a perfectly healthy, comfortable and well-fed existence by fishing, gathering fruits, roots and vegetables from the jungle; if they fall ill, they can apply remedies derived from the trees and shrubs that grow so abundantly round them. Not without reason did the Chinese wish to exploit the incredible richness of the Darien peninsula. As will be described in another talk, many of her richness were exported by the Chinese to New Zealand where to this day they are used in Maori healing and herbal medicines and practices.

So the canal would have made absolute sense to the Chinese. They could use it to bring out the cornucopia of wealth from the rainforest to either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts. They could use it to tranship Chinese goods from the Pacific to the Caribbean; North American maize to China; South American cocoa to North America. They could obtain water in abundance, all manner of wood for their ships – no wonder the Darien peninsula became of pivotal importance in the great Chinese concept of bringing all of the worlds into Confucian harmony.

The First Suez Canal
From “the windows of the world” bar atop the Ramses Hilton on the banks of the Nile one is directly above the mediaeval harbour of Cairo. In 1421 a fleet of feluccas, barges and dhows would be unloading their cargoes beneath us – wheat came downstream from the Sudan; Venetian glass was carried upriver; pitiful slaves arrived on the trade winds from Zanzibar; Chinese junks with silk and porcelain sailed down the Red Sea-Nile canal; gold caravans plodded forty days from Mali. In 1421 Cairo was still the world’s biggest port outside China; on a normal day two thousand ships would unload, twenty times the traffic of Bruges, Europe’s busiest.

The artery, which pumped wealth into the heart of Cairo is clearly visible from this splendid bar. The mighty Nile sweeps in a majestic arc round the hotel out of the heart of Africa, even today carrying dhows, water and silk to the delta – a green smudge to the north. To the west the Sahara stretches to the Atlantic, the setting sun glints off the sides of the pyramids. For the five thousand years from the pharaohs to the British the Nile has been Egypt’s lifeblood, the source of her fabulous wealth. To the east from the foot of the hotel a green ribbon stretches to the horizon criss-crossed now and then by roads and railways. Below this green line lie the remains of the Red Sea-Nile canal, which as its name implies, connected the mighty river with the Red Sea and the East.   It was filled in when the Suez canal was built.

The canal had first been built by the pharaohs, it then silted up but was dug out once again by the Romans and then, after their empire fell, against fell into disuse. The first Fatamid caliph, Al Muiz, whose name still graces the main street of mediaeval Cairo, had invested his own fortune in taking the city. He wanted to recoup his money as fast as possible and the Red Sea-Nile canal was his vehicle to do so.  Muiz had it dredged and widened; he organised a new port and customs headquarters where the canal met the Nile north of Al Kahira, the site of today’s Ramases Hilton.  He built a fleet of six hundred merchant ships, 275 feet long and 100 feet in the beam – a colossal size for those days, fifty times larger than the cogs, which then plied the North Sea.  Muiz’s barges with the equivalent of supertankers built for carrying grain down the Nile. With the canal reopened, seaborne trade flourished.

Huge junks could now carry silk and porcelain from China across the Indian Ocean on the free power of the monsoons. They sailed into the Red Sea, thence along the Red Sea canal to Cairo where they met the Nile to continue downstream to the Mediterranean. Goods could now be shipped direct from Beijing to Venice, from the heart of Africa to China, from the Malabar Coast of India to Cairo and beyond. Spices could be carried direct from the Spice Islands to Mediterranean ports. We know that Zheng He’s fleets passed through this great canal into the Mediterranean and west Spain for the Ming Shi (History of the Ming Dynasty) states that in 1408 his fleet visited Misr [Cairo], Mulanpi, Kelin and other places.

Mulanpi is the Kingdom of Al Muribitum or Al Moravid Berber dynasty which ruled Spain.  In their reports the Chinese give the correct dates of  rulers of the Al Mamoud dynasty and they describe Mount Etna erupting when they sailed south of Sicily en route west to Spain.  Today, Spanish gypsies of the south of Spain have DNA, which is far closer to Chinese than to the Europeans or Moors who live around them.

It is curious to think that what are considered two of the greatest European engineering feats of all time, the Suez canal and the Panama canal, were replacements of canals that had been built hundreds, and in the case of Suez canal, thousands of years earlier. It is equally curious that this fact goes unnoticed in European histories of exploration.

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