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Trading with the Enemy?
June 14, 2000

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Enter the gate into another place and time, Fort St. George, Madras, India
This is Fort Saint George in Chennai, India. A British man named Francis Day bought this land in 1639 and it became the main headquarters for a Company called the East India Company.

Everyone wanted to trade with India. In Medieval times, the Arab traders had a monopoly on the trade route between Asia and Europe. They would cross the mountains and deserts in camel caravans along the legendary Silk Road.


subcontinent - a large land mass, smaller than a continent
missionaries - those who travel to spread their religious belief

Europeans wanted in on the action, and were searching desperately for a sea route. That's why Columbus made his famous voyage westward in 1492, on the radical idea that the world is round instead of flat.

As I'm sure you know, Columbus thought he'd made it to India, but he was a little lost. The dark-skinned, dark-haired natives of the Americas are still called 'Indians' because of his mix up!
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A man in a white lungi squats under a British pagoda
Queen Elizabeth I of England, in 1600, granted the East India Company exclusive trading rights with India. Doesn't it seem odd to you that the British Queen thought it was within her power to decide who could or could not trade with this entire huge subcontinent?

Over the next 250 years, the East India Company slowly gained control over all of India, and had a huge army made of European officers and local Indian men.

The Queen had made it illegal for missionaries to come to India. Trade was the only acceptable activity.

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St. Mary's Church looks as if it were transported from England
One day, I slip off my shoes (I am still in India, after all), and walk inside what could be a small English church anywhere in the world, until you read the grave stones. This guy was killed in a war in Northern India, that guy was lost at sea somewhere around the Cape of Good Hope. And another poor man was 'killed in an encounter with a tiger.' Bummer of a way to go.

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Indians rest in the shade next to the Company's personal cannons
The Company's glory days ended when they gave new ammunition cartridges to their troops. The top had to be bitten off before being loaded into the gun, and a rumor spread that the cartridges were greased with animal fat. The Muslims were told that the fat was pig fat. Since pigs are considered unclean, to bite pig fat would be bad for a religious Muslim. The Hindus were told it was cow fat. Since cows are holy to Hindus, biting cow fat would be bad to them!

The people of India were so upset that they fought and kicked out the English.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Andrew - Follow the Yellow Brick Road (to meet an eight year old monk?)!

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