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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 08:26 GMT
Africa's oldest map unveiled

The oldest map of the African continent, dating back to 1389, has gone on display in Cape Town.

AFP
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It is part of an exhibition drawing attention to the history of South Africa and the way it is perceived around the world.

The Chinese map, covering more than 17 square metres, was produced in silk.

It is thought to be a copy of a map sculpted into rock 20 or 30 years earlier.

It is never been shown to the public before anywhere in the world, and the South African government was given special permission to take a full size facsimile of the delicate historical artwork.


South Africans have to find their own perspective, and accept the validity of perspectives of others

Frene Jinwala, Speaker of South African parliament

The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu, or Amalgamated Map of the Great Ming Empire, is a unique snapshot of history.

Created in China in 1389, and clearly showing the shape of Africa, more than 100 years before Western explorers and map-makers reached the continent.

Challenging stereotypes

The full-size facsimile of the silk map forms the centrepiece of an exhibition, Perspectives on and of Africa, at the South African parliament.

Up to now, only a small number of people have been allowed to see the original.

The speaker of the National Assembly, Frene Jinwala, said it was an important exhibit for South Africa.

"We're trying to illustrate perspective. There is no north or south in space," she said.

"It's a political decision that places the northern hemisphere on top of a globe and that collectively South Africans have to find their own perspective, and accept the validity of perspectives of others."

Organisers hope the exhibition challenges Western perspectives of Africa, of slavery and colonial exploitation.

It is using the Chinese map alongside South African rock art to illustrate the history of the continent before the time it was discovered by Europeans.

See also:

10 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
09 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
06 Dec 00 | Science/Nature
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