OCHIENG: Europeans named sea out of ignorance - Daily Nation

Europeans named sea out of ignorance

Saturday August 11 2018

the Mediterranean Sea

Migrants on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea during a rescue operation by the Italian coastguard ON August 29, 2016. The sea was thus called Mediterranean because the Europeans assumed that their continent was the human planet’s “Mediterra” (“middle land”). PHOTO | AFP  

More by this Author

In English, the Latin prefix medi means “middle of”. We find it, say, in the term “Mediterranean Sea”, a water system which the Latins shared with certain African, Palestinian and other European peoples. The sea was thus called Mediterranean because the Europeans assumed that their continent was the human planet’s “Mediterra” (“middle land”).

But a question mark stares at you as doggedly as Medusa’s face. The “middle” of which land? The answer: The middle of the only land that the speakers of that language were so far familiar with. They and certain related languages assumed that the historic sea lay along a line that divided our planet into two parts, namely, into Europe and Africa.


The only problem was that the European account had neatly left out such other important human habitats as Asia, Australasia, North America and South America, lands whose existence now makes even greater nonsense of the term “mediterranean”, though Caucasian map-makers continue to impose that term on humankind.

In English, the prefix medi is found in, say, the verb to mediate, literally meaning to occupy the middle. To mediate, then, is to try to assume a non-partisan attitude so as to be able to reconcile two squabbling parties. Terra, the middle part of mediterranean, is already well known as the Latin word for our planet.


The only reason that the great Afro-European sea is known by the European (Latin) word mediterranean is that, for a long time recently, human influence has travelled north-south. The Latins – the imperious classical Romans to the north – assumed that the Mediterranean, their sea, occupied the very middle of the entire human world.

Indeed, no authority lower than God was what had allotted the whole of the Mediterranean to the Latins – just as that same God (nowadays alleged to be “the lord of universal justice”) would allot to an eastern Mediterranean tribe called Israel a land that already belonged to the Canaanites, a Palestinian people with deep Nilotic African roots.


But, from elementary logic, it should be clear that, if you are almighty, then, only in clear prejudice can you commit such injustice in favour of any tribe or race of your own choice and yet continue to allow even the African side to laud you for it even after the European side has subdued you both militarily, economically and in terms of ideas.

Yet, in today’s world, anybody fully familiar with humanity’s history the whole world over now knows that it depends on which one of any two peoples is the more powerful militarily, economically and in terms of ideas – the one who is, therefore, the louder and more systematic with its evangelistic words of praise for the powers above.

In this regard, then, there is no denying that the missionaries from the other side of the Mediterranean were loud and systematic about their promises of heavenly salvation that we could inherit if we allowed the Europeans a free run over our worldly property.