As you create your world(s), do you consider events that could or have changed the trajectory of a civilization? Is there a moment in time or a stage of evolution that will later affect an entire continent to the point it “falls behind,” other civilizations? In other words, does your world have a Tsetse?
That question is to be asked in a very broad sense as the theory behind the impact of the TseTse on Sub-Saharan Africa in the years leading up to 1000 CE and beyond is highly contentious. It does, however, lend itself well as a worldbuilding question.
My phrase above, concerning a continent or civilization falling behind other civilizations addresses technology only. Sub-Saharan Africa is full of rich and vibrant cultures that are as equal to one another as they are to the rest of the world. Technologically, Sub-Saharan Africa was on par with Europe and Asia up until about 1000 CE until new technologies came into use elsewhere.
The theory considers the impact the Tsetse had on large mammals. What changed in the world after 1000 CE? The introduction of larger and heavier plows leading to the ability to grow more agricultural products and create a surplus that is imperative for population increases. Europe, for instance, saw a dramatic increase in its population in the years following the introduction of the new technology.
But why does this matter? The Tsetse, much like mosquitos, live off blood. When they feed off humans, they can at times cause sleeping sickness. However, when they feed off animals, like oxen, for plow usage, it causes nagana, also known as trypanosomiasis. Nagana has several effects, the most severe being paralysis.
Back to the introduction of a new, larger, heavier plow. In order to be used effectively, larger draft animals were needed. Unfortunately, no larger domesticated animals in the region were immune to nagana. Chiefly the N’Dama of Western Africa has been used for centuries in agriculture due to its seeming immunity to nagana. It is, however, not large enough to be effective in use of the newer technology.
How do we apply this?
Consider your own world, is there an aspect of a culture or region that could be affected by a single event, animal, or maybe person. What about the magic system you created for your world? Let’s consider Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time (WoT) and the One Power.
I love WoT, even with some of its weaker points, it’s just a fun read for me, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I was first conceiving this post. Think about the world they are in? It wasn’t until I had already read through the first 5 or 6 books a few times before I read about Jordan referencing that the world of WoT is in fact our own world, just millennia in the future. WHAT?!?
It all made sense afterwards, feel free to look into yourself. Then I took a deep dive. This world advanced for several millennia before coming to the point where the Breaking occurred. I found, through some online research, that the amount of time from the Breaking to the events of book one, was roughly 3500 years. Think about that. An advanced civilization, one seemingly beyond our current state, was still using swords, bows and arrows and horses 3500 years after nearly destroying themselves.
Let’s compare that to our own world. Just over 3500 years ago, Hatshepsut became Pharaoh of Egypt in 1473 BCE. The all important ancient city of Rome would not be founded for another 700 years. The Bronze Age didn’t even end until 1200 BCE. How far along has our own world advanced since the end of the Bronze Age?
The One Power may not necessarily be to blame for the lack of advancement in WoT, but I think it has a heavy hand in it.
Get to it!
Does your world have a magic system? Is it possible that it has held back your cultures? There could be countless reasons behind why a civilization has been held back from advancing. I myself am using one from our own history to explain why my world is in the situation it is in. History is a wonderful place to find ideas that can be expanded and melded with others.
Feel free to comment on any Tsetse events you can think of or maybe are using for your own world, if you’re comfortable with that at least. Always feel free to reach out for any questions, especially when inquiring the usage of anthropology to better advance your worldbuilding. I am ready and willing to assist in any way possible.