The Gardens of Their Dreams - Desertification and Culture in World History

Article excerpt

The Gardens of Their Dreams - Desertification and Culture in World History Brian Griffith, 2001, Fernwood Publishing, Zed Books, Halifax, NS, Canada, Pp 368, Price CAD $29.95

Review by Reggie Modlich

A four times "aha," book! It answered three puzzles in rny mind. How and why did societies where women's roles were more equal to men's disappear? What's the basis for the concept of nation? Why do people believe in god/gods the way they do? What role does the natural environment play in all of this? Maybe The Gardens of Their Dreams will also help other feminists in their search for answers.

In very clear and straightforward language, but sometimes overwhelming detail, Griffith shows the interrelationship between a society's relation to its natural environment, its religion, and its social structure. The author covers most of the globe. Only Australia and the Americas are not examined. Yet, there is no reason to believe they do not follow parallel patterns.

What happened to the societies where women's roles were equal to, if not higher than, those of men? Griffith shows that such societies existed in all areas he researched. They were the aboriginal human settlements that succeeded in establishing a sustainable way of life in most adversary and sensitive environments, in India, China, Europe, and pre-Saharan Africa. The communities were extremely vulnerable to, aware of, and therefore greatly respectful of, nature. Co-operation, sharing, and mutual assistance was critical for survival. Women embodied the concept of the all-important fertility and therefore gained a high status. Then, as now, humans turned the unknown, un-understood and more powerful into the supernatural, divine or spiritual. At that time, animals, trees, and the elements tended to take on spiritual and divine dimensions.

If communities failed to survive in an environment, either because of over exploitation or climate changes often caused by over exploitation, - they had to pack up and search for greener pastures, mostly already inhabited by others. In this process new values were needed such as fighting, control, power. Women and children became more of a hindrance than help in such situations. …