1. What are the origins of the concepts of varna and jati, and why has the varna-jati system of social organization lasted so long? What social needs did they serve, and how are these social functions addressed in our culture?
During the Vedic Age of Indian civilization, it is believed that after the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization some of the kinship groups and patriarchal families migrated into India. As some within the Aryas tribe (light-skinned) entered into the Ganges Valley, they encountered a struggle with the Dasas tribe (dark-skinned) but managed to force the tribe into southern India. The struggle between the tribes led to the development of the Varna class system. Under this system, people were born into one of the four Varnas: Brahmin was the class of priests and scholars; Kshatriya was warriors; Vaishya was merchants; and Shundra was peasants and laborers. The fifth group was the Untouchables; they were outside the system because of the nature of their work. The work was considered polluted as it dealt with dead things and cremations (Bulliet, et. 2011).
Now, the Varna was divided into groups and subdivided into jatis: order of hierarchy. Under the hierarchy, were complex rules that governed the different occupations, duties, and rituals of each Jati as a well as regulations concerning interaction between people of different Jati (Bulliet, et. 2011). The system served to assign occupations to the Varna and Jati in which each individual belongs; and the system separated the members of the different Varna and Jati into a system of purity and impurity. Purity restrictions occurred in the areas of marriage, drink, food and touch.
The system of Varna and Jati lasted because many of the practices and attitudes were indoctrinated into the Hindu people, rules for social behavior, and the philosophy of reincarnation. The belief was every individual has an immortal spirit that will be reborn in another body after death and that body would be determined by karma in this and the previous life. The people believed that rebellion against caste expectations would result in a lower rebirth in the next life (Bulliet, ed. 2011). The system seems to have kept much of the Indian population
under subjection because some members was unwilling to challenge their positions.
The internal divisions and complexes hierarchy of the Indian society served an important social function. The system provided each individual with a clear identity and role and offered the benefits of group solidarity and support. Certain interactions and behaviors were appropriate only between those of equal status. The system assured that the religious, political, and financial powers were all separated into four different social classes (Bulliet, et. 2011).
The United States is a nation of diverse cultures. People are classified as rich, middle class, or poor. The rich are considered well educated and highly paid professionals; the middle class are semi-professional and educated working middle class; and the poor are the working under class with very little to no education. Income is the most prominent indicator of class status, and education to occupation and income.
2. Are there substantial similarities between the origins and the development of the Silk Road and the trans-Saharan trade?
There are similarities and differences between the origin and development of the Silk Road and the trans-Saharan trade. The Silk Road was a travel route across land that connected China and the Mediterranean region thru the Mesopotamia, Iran, and Central Asia (Bulliet, et. 2011). The origin of the Silk Road trading may have occurred with random trading of Central Asian travelers. The Chinese demand for western products were the beginning of regular large scale trading.
The Indian Ocean naval system was the linking force between the lands bordering the Indian Ocean Basin and South China Sea. Trading occurred in the South China Sea, Southeast Asia, and the West Coast of India. The Indian Ocean system did not retain political ties with their homeland, however, evidences point to early trading in ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus valley. Trade discontinued because Mesopotamia started trading with East Africa. The Indian Ocean trading system did not have access to a large inland population of potential consumers (Bulliet, et. 2011).
Trade across the Sahara developed slowly, but two trading systems were developed in southern and northern Sahara. The Berbers began trading with Africa after discovering gold dust. The Berbers of North Africa traded copper and other goods to the southern travelers for gold. The sub-Saharan Africa environment and geographical location made trading difficult from this region. However, there was trade of many small traditions. No foreign power was able to conquer Africa because the diversity of the ecosystems and difficulty of communication. This was the reason for the long dominance of small traditions. The Bantu migration was responsible for the spread of iron, ideas, the spread of Buddhism, and Christianity in Africa (Bulliet, et. 2011).
Bulliet, et al., (2011). The Earth and Its People: A Global History. Volume 1: to 1550 (5th Ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.