Malindi’s Journey Authors Alicia Caroll and Lucy Montgomery Make Their Way to Zheng He Conference in Malaysia

Boston Union Teacher
Volume XLII, Number 11

Alicia Caroll, New Teacher Developer, and Lucy Montgomery, History Teacher, Odyssey High School, were invited to present their research on connections between Africa, China and Islam through the Silk Route trade, and their related children’s book entitled Malindi’s Journey at the First International Conference on Zheng He, in Melaka, Malaysia from July 5-8, 2010.

Malindi’s Journey, is about the gift of a giraffe from the Kingdom of Malindi (in present-day Kenya) to the Emperor of China in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. It focuses on the connections between Africa and China, and the influence of Islam through the Silk Route trade in the Indian Ocean in the 15th century. A key event in the story is the African ambassadors meeting with the Chinese Treasure ships commanded by the admiral Zheng He.

Zheng He was a Chinese Muslim admiral and explorer who made seven voyages into the Indian Ocean, establishing trade and positive diplomatic relationships with countries including Indonesia and Malaysia to Bengal, Arabia, and trading kingdoms all along the Swahili coast of East Africa. He is remembered and respected in all of these countries today. The Treasure Fleet was unprecedented in its day – it included 60 large ships and 255 smaller ships; and the total crew consisted of more than 27,800 men. The largest of the ships was the Treasure Ship: it had nine masts, and was about 416 feet long and 170 feet wide – bigger than a football field, and at least three times the size of Christopher Columbus’ ship!

The theme of the conference was Zheng He and the Afro-Asian World. The conference was organized by the Melaka State Government, the Perbadanan Museum Melaka, Cheng Ho (Zheng He) Cultural Museum and International Zheng He Society (Singapore). Their presentation is a product of our research and writing since 2001, including research conducted in Kenya through a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship (Alicia Carroll) and Fund for Teachers grant in 2004.

Alicia and Lucy were two of 74 paper presenters, including scholars from Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore, Taiwan, UK, and US. The conference had over 350 participants, and Alicia and Lucy’s presentation was attended by over 200 people. The conference papers will be published in a book by the International Zheng He Society in 2011.

While at the conference, Alicia and Lucy were interviewed for a newspaper article for the New Straits Times, the major newspaper for Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Sarawak, and Indonesia, by Dr. Rosey Wang Ma, a Research Fellow in the Department of Islamic History and Civilization at the University of Malaya. Dr. Ma asked Alicia and Lucy to speak about their work on African-Chinese connections, turning research into culturally grounded curriculum for global education.

Alicia and Lucy were given first-class treatment by the conference organizers; they were picked up at the airport and given a nice hotel room. At the Zheng He (Cheng Ho) Cultural Museum, they were treated like visiting scholars and dignitaries.

Alicia Carroll (far left) and Lucy Montgomery (far right) with museum personnel in front of the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum in Singapore.

Everyone wanted to know how they were affording the trip as teachers, and they were able to proudly say that they had received generous funding from the Fund for Teachers! People remarked that there need to be more organizations like Fund for Teachers to support teachers and their work.

In addition to attending the conference in Melaka, Malaysia, Alicia and Lucy are travelling to Singapore and to Nanjing, China to continue research on Zheng He’s influence in southeast Asia, and to visit the shipyard and other historical sites.

While they are traveling, they are writing a blog for teachers and students at: http://malindisjourney.blogspot.com

Dr. Jackie Jenkins-Scott, the President of Wheelock College, invited Alicia, who is a graduate of Wheelock, to make a presentation to students and faculty of the Wheelock College – Ngee-Ann Polytechnic University Early Childhood Teacher Training Program in Singapore. The focus of Alicia’s talk will be “Early Childhood Curriculum: and Cultural Competency and Achievement;” Lucy will talk about building on this foundation of early childhood education all the way through high school.

More information on Zheng He: http://www.chinaheritagenewsletter.org/

International Zheng He Society (sponsor of the Conference): http://www.chengho.org/

Zheng He (Cheng Ho) Cultural Museumin Melaka, Malaysia: http://www.chengho.org/museum/web/history.html