Exploring the unknown

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Exploring the unknown


Portugal opened the era of global navigation. In 1415 Prince Afonso Henriques led the Portuguese armada to explore unknown land. Thus the Portuguese opened sea routes to India via the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and discovered a new sea route to Brazil across the Atlantic.

Although the armada never found its way to its intended destination of the Garden of Eden, its sailors made two valuable discoveries. One was gold, and after this find the Portuguese royal family was said to have owned more gold than all other European royal families combined. The other discovery was African communities, whom they enslaved in large numbers.

By the end of the 15th century, over 2,000 enslaved Africans came to live in Portugal each year. The offspring of African slaves and Portuguese men were baptized and given the status of free citizens of Portugal.

As there was no limit in the number of slaves one could have, the number of biracial Portuguese grew large as time went by. By the middle of the 18th century, some 300 years later, the greedy, slave-trading country of Portugal was turned into a mixed-race society where people didn’t mind racial differences.

The first encounter between Portugal and Japan took place 120 years after the former started exploring the land beyond Europe. The Portuguese, who dropped anchor at Tanegashima lying to the south of Kyushu Island, introduced modern weapons to the Japanese. Western rifles were called “the gift of the typhoon.” The Japanese replicated the Portuguese rifles, and not long afterward, Japan became one of the largest manufacturers of rifles in the world.

Portugal and Japan were on the peripheries of Europe and Asia. But the new sea routes they explored led them to unknown lands. At that time, no one would have anticipated that Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, would be turned into a colorful city with a biracial population, nor that Japan would become a troublemaker in the region armed with rifles in such a short time.

Wire news services report that two German merchant ships, which began their journey in Ulsan, South Gyeongsang at the end of July, are about to dock in Rotterdam in the Netherlands after traversing the fabled Northeast Passage. The passage, also known as the Arctic route, is about one-third shorter than the Indian Ocean route.

Up until recently, however, it was only a dream route that was blocked by ice. How could explorers, who tried to open a route through the Arctic Ocean for hundreds of years without success, have imagined that global warming and melting ice would ultimately open a route? The new Northeast Passage gives us hope of further discoveries. I wonder whether we can get a magical rifle, as the Japanese did some 460 years ago, which we can use to solve such pending problems as the economic crisis, a nuclear North Korea and even the new flu.

The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Hoh Kui-seek

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