Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Marco Polo Meets a Flores Man

In 1292, during his return toward Europe after extensive travels across Asia and fantastic adventures among the court of Kublai Khan, famed explorer Marco Polo stopped with the Khan's wedding party in the port of Singapore to resupply. It was here that he caught his first sight, possibly the first sight for any European, of the intelligent ape that would later be named the "Flores Homem" or "Flower People" by Portuguese merchants. At that point in their history, the creatures were kept mainly as pets and taught tricks.

In further centuries, the three-and-a-half-foot-tall Flower People would come under increasing notice by slavers and anthropologists. The apes held obvious intelligence with their abilities to make and use simple tools, though hardly enough to rival a developed human. They lived in caves and primitive shelters, understanding but not mastering fire. As the Age of Enlightenment gave way to an end for slavery among humans, a new sense of slavery came over the world in widely breeding what would become known as Homo floresiensis. Their island was gradually depopulated of natives, but the Flower People came to be found on every continent working manual labor in plantations, mines, shops, and even private homes.

While reformers called for fair treatment of the Flower People, no one could argue that they were equal to humans. They were incapable of language beyond rudimentary nouns or descriptions, and their lack of understanding of any abstract concept made the idea of paying them for work a moot point. The Industrial Revolution gave a boom to even more need for Flower People performing simple mechanical tasks in factories, and World War I would see thousands of the short "men" gunned down as they ran as suicide-bombers against enemy trenches.

In the latter twentieth century, millions of Flower People still serve as slaves around the globe, though they are increasingly unpopular in industrialized nations. The legal questions of what to do with a subset of man in a world working to rid itself of racism and even speciesism proves agonizing for the modern mind.

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