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I was wondering if anyone might be aware of any good resources on the history and development of African civilizations? I will of course be seeking council from the Most Wise and Great God Google, but if anyone has suggestions they would be greatly appreciated!
Check out Burns and Collins's A History of Sub Saharan Africa, a general overview. It seemed to tell a lot of the same stories as an into to African History course I took.
John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent was a bit more enjoyable, writing-wise. Still glad I read both for the variance in perspective.
I'd be curious to hear what problems you or other readers find in those books. I also wouldn't mind hearing of a good into book written outside of the US/Europe.
I think the Wikipedia article about Africa's history might be as good an entry point for your research as any other. It's mainly an overview which just shortly mentions the most important kingdoms and civilizations, but it has lots of links presumably (I didn't check them) leading to more detailed articles.
At home I have a nice dog-eared copy of Colin McEverdy's The Penguin Atlas of African History.
Of course Africa is a big place, and things developed fairly independantly north and south of the Sahara for most of its history. But if you are interested in the development all all African civilizations (From Bushman to Arab), this is the best resource I know of.
Helen Tilley spent the better part of a decade investigating development in Africa, especially in relation to British Parliamentary funding of resource projects addressing issues like clean water, mosquitos and flooding. Her most recent book, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950, is a thoroughly-researched and well-written text.
Especially useful is the lengthy appendix providing primary source data taken from British Parliamentary Papers (take a look here).
Historical Context: Myths and Misconceptions: Slavery and the Slave Trade
Myth: Slavery is a product of capitalism.
Fact: Slavery is older than the first human records.
Myth: Slavery is a product of Western civilization.
Fact: Slavery is virtually a universal institution.
Myth: Slavery in the non-Western world was a mild, benign, and non-economic institution.
Fact: Slaves were always subject to torture, sexual exploitation, and arbitrary death.
Myth: Slavery was an economically backward and inefficient institution.
Fact: Many of the most progressive societies in the world had slaves.
Myth: Slavery was always based on race.
Fact: Not until the fifteenth century was slavery associated primarily with people of African descent.
Enslavement and the Slave Trade
Myth: New World slaves came exclusively from West Africa.
Fact: Half of all New World slaves came from central Africa.
Myth: Europeans physically enslaved Africans or hired mercenaries who captured people for export or that African rulers were "Holocaust abettors" who were themselves to blame for the slave trade.
Fact: Europeans did engage in some slave raiding the majority of people who were transported to the Americas were enslaved by Africans in Africa.
Myth: Many slaves were captured with nets.
Fact: There is no evidence that slaves were captured with nets war was the most important source of enslavement.
Myth: Kidnapping was the usual means of enslavement.
Fact: War was the most important source of enslavement it would be incorrect to reduce all of these wars to slave raids.
Myth: The Middle Passage stripped enslaved Africans of their cultural heritage and transformed them into docile, passive figures wholly receptive to the cultural inputs of their masters.
Fact: Slaves engaged in at least 250 shipboard rebellions.
Slavery in the Americas
Myth: Most slaves were imported into what is now the United States.
Fact: Well over 90 percent of slaves from Africa were imported into the Caribbean and South America.
Myth: Slavery played a marginal role in the history of the Americas.
Fact: Slave labor made it profitable to mine for precious metal and to harvest sugar, indigo, and tobacco slaves taught whites how to raise such crops as rice and indigo.
Myth: Europeans arrived in the New World in far larger numbers than did Africans.
Fact: Before 1820, the number of Africans outstripped the combined total of European immigrants by a ratio of 3, 4, or 5 to 1.
Myth: The first slaves arrived in what is now the United States in 1619.
Fact: Slaves arrived in Spanish Florida at least a century before 1619 and a recently uncovered census shows that blacks were present in Virginia before 1619.
Myth: The slave trade permanently broke slaves’ bonds with Africa.
Fact: Slaves were able to draw upon their African cultural background and experiences and use them as a basis for life in the New World.
Myth: Plantation life, with its harsh labor, unstable families, and high mortality, made it difficult for Africans to construct social ties.
Fact: African nations persisted in America well into the eighteenth century and even the early nineteenth century.
Myth: Masters assigned names to slaves or slaves imitated masters’ systems of naming.
Fact: Slaves were rarely named for owners. Naming patterns appear to have reflected African practices, such as the custom of giving children "day names" (after the day they were born) and "name-saking," such as naming children after grandparents.
Myth: Slaveholders sought to deculturate slaves by forbidding African names and languages and obliterating African culture.
Fact: While deculturation was part of the "project" of slavery, African music, dance, decoration, design, cuisine, and religion exerted a profound, ongoing influence on American culture.
Fact: Slaves adapted religious rites and perpetuated a rich tradition of folklore.
Economics of Slavery
Myth: Slaveholders lost money and were more interested in status than moneymaking slaves did little productive work.
Fact: Slaves worked longer days, more days, and more of their life.
Myth: Slavery was incompatible with urban life and factory technology.
Fact: Sugar mills were the first true factories in the world slaves were widely used in cities and in various kinds of manufacturing and crafts.
Myth: Slaves engaged almost exclusively in unskilled brutish field labor.
Fact: Much of the labor performed by slaves required high skill levels and careful, painstaking effort.
Fact: Masters relied on slaves for skilled craftsmanship.
Myth: West and Central Africans received their first exposure to Christianity in the New World.
Fact: Catholic missionary activities began in the central African kingdom of Kongo half a century before Columbus’s voyages of discovery and Kongo converted to Catholicism in 1491. A sizeable community of African Christians developed around Portuguese settlement.
Myth: Priests and missionaries were primarily responsible for converting slaves to Christianity.
Fact: In Latin America, slaves were instructed not by European clergy but by African Christians, who spread a specifically African interpretation of Christianity.
Myth: Upon arrival in Latin America, slaves were given hasty instruction in a complex foreign religion in a language they could barely understand.
Fact: A certain number of slaves were baptized Christians and others were familiar with Christianity.
Myth: The Catholic Church did not tolerate the mixture of Catholicism with traditional African religions.
Fact: In Kongo and in Latin America, the Church did tolerate the mixture of Catholicism with African religions, allowing Africans to retain their old cosmology, their understanding of the universe, and the place of gods and other divine beings in the universe.
Myth: Before the Civil War, southern churches were highly segregated.
Fact: In 1860, slaves constituted about 26 percent of Southern Baptist church membership.
Myth: Slave Christianity was essentially a "religion of docility."
Fact: Christianity was dual-edged and marked by millennialist possibilities whites could not prevent black preachers from turning Christianity into a source of self-respect and faith in deliverance.
Myth: Slaves were brainwashed and stunned into submission and rarely resisted slavery.
Fact: Resistance took a variety of forms ranging from day-to-day resistance, economic bargaining, running away and maroonage, and outright rebellions.
The Gold Trade of Ancient & Medieval West Africa
West Africa was one of the world's greatest producers of gold in the Middle Ages. Trade in the metal went back to antiquity but when the camel caravans of the Sahara linked North Africa to the savannah interior, the trade really took off. A succession of great African empires rose off the back of the gold trade as salt, ivory, and slaves were just some of the commodities exchanged for the precious metal that eventually found its way into most of southern Europe's gold coinage. Gold attracted unwanted attention and competition, too, with the Portuguese the first to exploit West Africa's coastal resources from the 15th century CE, and in their wake followed others. The discovery of the Americas and the gold of the Aztecs and Incas only gave West Africa a temporary respite as European colonial powers then returned to the continent as their chief source of slaves to work on the plantations of the New World.
West African Gold in Antiquity
The trade of gold in West Africa goes back to antiquity with one of the earliest examples being the voyage of the Carthaginian explorer Hanno in the 5th century BCE. The celebrated mariner sailed out of the Mediterranean and, turning south, stopped off at the mouth of the Senegal River before sailing on and perhaps even reaching as far the Bay of Guinea. Hanno was followed by other countrymen, and commercial relations were established with the locals. Thus, West African gold found its way from the trading post/island of Cerne (unidentified but on the Atlantic coast) northwards to the ancient Mediterranean cultures for the first time.
The 5th-century BCE Greek historian Herodotus describes in his Histories that gold was traded on the West African coast using a silent and cautious method of barter - perhaps understandable given the language barrier and mutual fear between unfamiliar peoples:
The Carthaginians tell of a place in Libya outside the Pillars of Hercules [Straits of Gibraltar] inhabited by people to whom they bring their cargoes. The Carthaginians unload their wares and arrange them on the beach then they reboard their boats and light a smoky fire. When the native inhabitants see the smoke, they come to the shore and, after setting out gold in exchange for the goods, they withdraw. The Carthaginians disembark and examine what the natives have left there, and if the gold appears to them a worthy price for their wares, they take it and depart if not, they get back on their boats and sit down to wait while the natives approach again and set out more gold, until they satisfy the Carthaginians that the amount is sufficient. (Book 4. 197)
The Romans were also interested in what Africa's interior had to offer and they employed cross-Saharan traders to exchange olive oil, fine pottery and luxury goods for commodities such as gold, ivory, ebony and exotic animals for shows in the amphitheatres and circuses. Roman Tripolitania in modern-day Libya, became a particularly successful trading city on this basis. However, it would not be until the 8th century CE and the twin arrival of the North African Islam caliphates and the hardy camel that trans-Saharan trade really took off and with it the boom in the gold trade.
Medieval West Africa
The Islamic North African empires of the medieval period had an insatiable demand for gold because it was needed not only for making precious manufactured goods (e.g. jewellery, vessels, embroidered clothing and illuminated manuscripts) but also to mint coinage to pay armies. Traditional Islamic teachings might have forbidden men to wear gold but a few coins in one's pocket was especially useful for soldiers of no fixed abode. The Islamic sensitivity to the metal is also evidenced by the fact that jewellery work was most often done by Jewish craftsmen once it reached the North African cities. In addition, gold was needed to pay the growing number of Spanish, Italian, and other European merchants who traded in the southern Mediterranean. Much of that gold then ended up as coinage in such places as Castille, Genoa, Florence, and Venice from the late 13th century CE.
The great problem for the North African states was that to obtain the gold of West Africa they had to first cross the Sahara desert and then deal with the African rulers who monopolised the gold trade. Consequently, camel caravans controlled by Sanhaja Berbers and the Tuareg came into their own as a means to cross the dangerous and inhospitable Sahara and acquire the precious metal from Africa's interior and bring it back to such cities as Marrakesh, Fez, Tunis, and Cairo. This they did with great success and, at the trade's peak, two-thirds of the gold moving around the medieval Mediterranean came from West Africa.
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The Ghana Empire - 'Land of Gold'
One of the first sub-Saharan states in West Africa to gain attention in the wider medieval world was the Ghana Empire (6-13th century CE), located in modern-day southern Mauritania and Mali. The empire became famous for its gold, earning itself the nickname the 'land of gold.' The metal came from goldfields in Ghiyaru, Galam, and Bure on the upper Niger River (modern Guinea), and via traders who brought it from the goldfields of Bambuk at the meeting of the Falem and Senegal Rivers. Gold was largely found in alluvial deposits where it was easily panned to find gold dust and grains or in veins in relatively shallow mines. Mine shafts were typically only a few metres deep and produced a mere 2.5 to 5 grammes of gold each so thousands of shafts were dug in a single gold-bearing area. Most gold was not refined - although its purity was high anyway - but was melted down to cast it into convenient bars for transportation.
The most common commodity that gold was used to purchase was salt, a mineral that was always in great demand in order to better preserve dried meat and to give added taste to food. The Savannah region south of the western Sahara desert (known as the Sudan region) and the forests of southern West Africa were poor in salt. Camel caravans brought great slabs of rock salt to the south across the Sahara from such natural deposits as found at Idjil, Awlil, and Taghaza, and took gold back in the other direction as well as other valuable goods like ivory and slaves. Certain towns grew rich on the gold-salt trade. In the 11th century CE, a 90-kilo block of salt, transported by river from Timbuktu to Djenne (aka Jenne) in the south could double its value and be worth around 450 grams of gold. By the time the salt was passed on down to the southern forests of lower West Africa, the mineral could be literally worth its weight in gold.
Although there is no evidence that, unlike salt and copper, the trade or passage of gold was taxed in the Kingdom of Ghana, the commodity was very carefully controlled by the Ghana kings. Any nugget which weighed between 25 grammes and half a kilo (1 oz to 1 lb) became the property of the king who kept a great stockpile in his palace complex. Rather than an example of sheer avarice, this strategy was likely employed in order not to flood the market and so maintain the value of gold dust. Sizeable chunks of the metal had an association with magic which was another reason for the king to keep them as he was regarded as the supreme magician of the indigenous African religion before Islam came along (and sometimes even after it). One Arab writer, Muhammad al-Idrisi (1100-1165 CE), noted that one king had amongst his collection a single block of gold weighing over 13.5 kilos (30 pounds).
This royal monopoly of nuggets meant that the vast majority of gold which exchanged hands between traders and ordinary people in the Ghana kingdom was in the form of gold dust. This golden powder was carefully measured out, typically using small scales and glass weights. Gold dust and sometimes wire were used as a currency in some states but only rarely, and there is no archaeological evidence that sub-Saharan states ever minted their own gold coinage. Rather, the most common purpose of gold was for barter for imported goods. The other use was for decoration and could be seen in all manner of objects, especially, of course, those used by royalty such as regalia, shields, swords, jewellery, clothing, and even dog chains and collars.
The Mali Empire - The Riches of Mansa Musa
The Mali Empire (1240-1645 CE) gained access to new goldfields on the Black Volta (modern-day Burkina Faso) and in the Akan Forest (modern-day Ghana), and its kings became even wealthier than their regional predecessors in the Ghana Empire. Mali probably did not directly control the southern gold-bearing regions but, rather, extracted from them the precious metal as tribute.
Mali's most famous ruler was Mansa Musa I (1312-1337 CE). Having converted to Islam, Mansa Musa duly went off on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 CE. When he stopped off at Cairo en route in July of that year, the king's wealth in gold caused an absolute sensation. In some accounts, Mansa Musa's caravan included 100 camels which carried 135 kilos (300 pounds) of gold dust while 500 slaves each brandished a 2.7 kilo (6 pounds) gold staff. After straight away giving 50,000 gold dinars to the sultan of Egypt merely as a gesture of goodwill between two great rulers, Mansa Musa would subsequently give away so much gold and his entourage spend so much of it shopping in the markets of the city that the value of the gold dinar in Cairo crashed by 20% (in relation to the silver dirham) it would take 12 years for the flooded gold market to recover.
Although Mansa Musa kept the exact source of his gold a closely-guarded secret, news spread far and wide that this exotic ruler was perhaps the richest man in the world. Even in Spain, a mapmaker was inspired to create Europe's first detailed map of West Africa c. 1375 CE, and on it, Mansa Musa is depicted wearing a golden crown and holding a gold staff and nugget in each hand. The consequent stories of a city paved in gold somewhere in the heart of Africa, the fabled Timbuktu, would tantalise many an explorer and adventurer for the next four centuries.
The Songhai Empire & Its Rivals
The Mali Empire's successor as the most powerful state in West Africa was the Songhai Empire (c. 1460 - c. 1591 CE). The Songhai, continuing the tried-and-tested wealth accumulation method of trading sub-Saharan commodities and extracting tribute from conquered tribes, established the largest and richest empire yet seen in West Africa. However, things took a turn for the worse in 1471 CE when a Portuguese fleet, sponsored by the Lisbon merchant Fernão Gomes, sailed around the Atlantic coast of Africa and established a trading presence near the gold fields of southern West Africa. In addition, other kingdoms arose to compete with the Songhai for a share of the gold trade, especially to the west the Bornu Empire (1396-1893 CE) near Lake Chad, Hausaland (c. 1400 - c. 1800 CE) between the Niger River and Lake Chad, and, in the south, the Kingdom of Benin (13-19th century CE) in modern-day Nigeria.
The Portuguese in West Africa
The Portuguese ships which now regularly sailed down the Atlantic coast of Africa offered West African forest peoples a middle-man-free alternative to the trans-Saharan caravan routes. The Portuguese were especially keen to obtain gold because they needed it to pay merchants in Asia who were not so keen on exchanging goods in kind. There was still, though, plenty of gold travelling northwards through the Songhai Empire and onto North Africa but the African monopoly of the trade was now at an end.
In the 15th century CE, West Africa was producing 10% of the world's gold. On average, some 400-550 kilos a year were being handled by the Portuguese alone in the 1500s CE. Not surprisingly, European powers began to show an interest, such as England, France, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Fortifications were built, not to defend the Europeans from the native Africans but from each other. In short, it seemed that West Africa had exactly what everyone else most wanted: slaves and gold.
West African gold continued to be exploited after the medieval period as European powers competed for whatever they considered of value in the continent. The gold extracted from West Africa, though, was dwarfed by that extracted from the New World, the Inca civilization and Aztec civilization, in particular. European powers were also now far more interested in acquiring slaves than gold, many of them destined to work in the plantations of the Americas.
West Africa was not finished with gold, though, and kept producing it using much the same simple methods as had always been employed. The modern state of Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, gained independence from Britain in 1961 CE, and the introduction of new mining technology meant that it once more played a major role in the international gold markets. For a while, Ghana ranked 5th in the world in terms of annual gold production. Already in the mid-19th century CE, though, attention had turned elsewhere for new sources of the precious metal. Australia became a major source of gold from 1851 CE, and from 1898 CE South Africa became the world's biggest producer of gold, a position only relatively recently challenged and overtaken by China, Russia, the United States, Canada, and Peru.
Racial, economic and educational disparities are deeply entrenched in U.S. institutions. Though the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal,” American democracy has historically—and often violently—excluded certain groups. “Democracy means everybody can participate, it means you are sharing power with people you don’t know, don’t understand, might not even like,” said National Museum of American History curator Harry Rubenstein in 2017. “That’s the bargain. And some people over time have felt very threatened by that notion.”
Instances of inequality range from the obvious to less overtly discriminatory policies and belief systems. Historical examples of the former include poll taxes that effectively disenfranchised African American voters the marginalization of African American soldiers who fought in World War I and World War II but were treated like second-class citizens at home black innovators who were barred from filing patents for their inventions white medical professionals’ exploitation of black women’s bodies (see Henrietta Lacks and J. Marion Sims) Richard and Mildred Loving’s decade-long fight to legalize interracial marriage the segregated nature of travel in the Jim Crow era the government-mandated segregation of American cities and segregation in schools.
An undated sterograph of black soldiers returning from France after fighting in World War I (NMAAHC)
Among the most heartbreaking examples of structural racism’s subtle effects are accounts shared by black children. In the late 1970s, when Lebert F. Lester II was 8 or 9 years old, he started building a sand castle during a trip to the Connecticut shore. A young white girl joined him but was quickly taken away by her father. Lester recalled the girl returning, only to ask him, “Why don’t [you] just go in the water and wash it off?” Lester says., “I was so confused—I only figured out later she meant my complexion.” Two decades earlier, in 1957, 15-year-old Minnijean Brown had arrived at Little Rock Central High School with high hopes of “making friends, going to dances and singing in the chorus.” Instead, she and the rest of the Little Rock Nine—a group of black students selected to attend the formerly all-white academy after Brown v. Board of Education desegregated public schools—were subjected to daily verbal and physical assaults. Around the same time, photographer John G. Zimmerman captured snapshots of racial politics in the South that included comparisons of black families waiting in long lines for polio inoculations as white children received speedy treatment.
Seven of the Little Rock Nine, including Melba Pattillo Beals, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Jefferson Thomas, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed-Wair, Terrence Roberts and Gloria Ray Karlmark, meet at the home of Daisy Bates. (NMAAHC, gift of Elmer J. Whiting, III ©Gertrude Samuels)
In 1968, the Kerner Commission, a group convened by President Lyndon Johnson, found that white racism, not black anger, was the impetus for the widespread civil unrest sweeping the nation. As Alice George wrote in 2018, the commission’s report suggested that “[b]ad policing practices, a flawed justice system, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, poor or inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression and other culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination all converged to propel violent upheaval.” Few listened to the findings, let alone its suggestion of aggressive government spending aimed at leveling the playing field. Instead, the country embraced a different cause: space travel. The day after the 1969 moon landing, the leading black paper the New York Amsterdam News ran a story stating, “Yesterday, the moon. Tomorrow, maybe us.”
Fifty years after the Kerner Report’s release, a separate study assessed how much had changed it concluded that conditions had actually worsened. In 2017, black unemployment was higher than in 1968, as was the rate of incarcerated individuals who were black. The wealth gap had also increased substantially, with the median white family having ten times more wealth than the median black family. “We are resegregating our cities and our schools, condemning millions of kids to inferior education and taking away their real possibility of getting out of poverty,” said Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, following the 2018 study’s release.
The Kerner Commission confirmed that nervous police and National Guardsmen sometimes fired their weapons recklessly after hearing gunshots. Above, police patrol the streets during the 1967 Newark Riots. (© Bud Lee, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)
Today, scientific racism—grounded in such faulty practices as eugenics and the treatment of race “as a crude proxy for myriad social and environmental factors,” writes Ramin Skibba—persists despite overwhelming evidence that race has only social, not biological, meaning. Black scholars including Mamie Phipps Clark, a psychologist whose research on racial identity in children helped end segregation in schools, and Rebecca J. Cole, a 19th-century physician and advocate who challenged the idea that black communities were destined for death and disease, have helped overturn some of these biases. But a 2015 survey found that 48 percent of black and Latina women scientists, respectively, still report being mistaken for custodial or administrative staff. Even artificial intelligence exhibits racial biases, many of which are introduced by lab staff and crowdsourced workers who program their own conscious and unconscious opinions into algorithms.
The nature, dynamic, and development of the subject of African historiography have attracted the attention of many scholars. Afolayan 2005 provides us with a succinct chronological overview. Jewsiewicki and Newbury 1986 examines the sociopolitical conditions that shaped the development of historical writings in Africa. Falola 1993 examines the development of Yoruba, Christian Mission, and West African historiography. Ki-Zerbo 1981 is an edited volume that provides the most comprehensive and detailed exploration of different aspects of the subject. Ranger 1976 calls for a new historiographical approach that emphasizes current relevance and usability, a position forcefully castigated by Neale 1985 but welcomed conditionally by Temu and Swai 1981, which was sharply critical of the poverty of ideas inherent in a whole generation of postcolonial historical scholarship in Africa.
Afolayan, Funso. “African Historiography.” In Encyclopedia of African History. Vol. 2. Edited by Kevin Shillington, 626–633. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005.
A succinct overview that traces the development of African historiography from the earliest written records to the postmodernist accounts of the present. For general readers, undergraduate, and graduate students.
Falola, Toyin. African Historiography: Essays in Honour of Jacob Ade Ajayi. Harlow, UK: Longman, 1993.
Examines the importance of oral tradition as a historical source and explores pertinent issues in the development of Yoruba, Christian Missions, and West African historiographies. For general readers and college-level students.
Jewsiewicki, Boghumi, and David Newbury, eds. African Historiographies: What History for Which Africa? Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1986.
A collection of essays, by prominent practitioners, reflecting on the social and political conditions shaping the production of historical writings in and on Africa in the first two decades after independence. For specialists and college-level students.
Ki-Zerbo, J., ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. 1, Methodology and African Prehistory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.
The most comprehensive and detailed collection of commissioned essays written by pioneers and leading authorities on the subject of the methodology and historiography of African history and prehistory. Readable and accessible to everyone, but a must for graduate and advanced scholars.
Neale, Caroline. Writing Independent History: African Historiography, 1960–1980. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985.
Shows how post-independence history writing was predicated on a desire to achieve intellectual decolonization. Also shows how this writing rejects the prevailing notion of primordial savagery for the continent, creates and reaffirms African self-respect, and restores and establishes the continent’s claim to historical Antiquity and civilizations. For general readers, undergraduates, and graduate students.
Ranger, Terence O. “Towards a Useable African Past.” In African Studies Since 1945: A Tribute to Basil Davidson. Edited by Christopher Fyfe, 17–30. London: Longman, 1976.
A sobering assessment of the remarkable progress made in the study of the African past from 1945 to 1975. Examines the continuing crisis in African historiography and disillusionment among emerging African historians to make a case for methodological refocusing and sophistication and for more relevant historical approaches. For a general readership.
Temu, Arnold, and Bonaventure Swai. Historians and Africanist History: A Critique: Post-Colonial Historiography Examined. London: Zed, 1981.
A biting critique of the postcolonial liberal historical scholarship in Africa, focusing especially on its weak empiricism, its absence of theory, its divestment of itself from the canons of historical professionalism, and its lack of rigor and relevance to pressing contemporary issues on the continent. For specialists and graduate students.
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A Very Short History of Chad
Chad is one of several potential sites for the cradle of humankind in Africa following the discovery of the seven-million-year-old human-like skull, now known as the Toumaï ('Hope of life') skull.
7000 years ago the region was not as arid as it is today cave paintings depict elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, cattle, and camels. People lived and farmed around the shores of lakes in the north-central basin of the Sahara.
The indigenous Sao people who lived along the Chari river during the first millennia CE were absorbed by the Kamen-Bornu and Baguirmi kingdoms and the region became a crossroads for the trans-Saharan trade routes. Following the collapse of the central kingdoms, the region became something of a backwater ruled by local tribes and regularly raided by Arab enslavers.
Conquered by the French during the last decade of the 19th century, the territory was declared pacified in 1911. The French initially placed control of the region under a governor-general in Brazzaville (Congo), but in 1910 Chad was joined to the larger federation of Afrique Équatoriale Française (AEF, French Equatorial Africa). It was not until 1914 that the north of Chad was finally occupied by the French.
The AEF was dissolved in 1959, and independence followed on 11 August 1960 with Francois Tombalbaye as Chad's first president. It was not long, unfortunately, before the civil war erupted between the Muslim north and Christian/animist south. Tombalbaye's rule became more brutal and in 1975 General Felix Malloum took power in a coup. He was replaced by Goukouni Oueddei after another coup in 1979.
Power changed hands twice more by coup: to Hissène Habré in 1982, and then to Idriss Déby in 1990. The first multi-party, democratic elections held since independence reaffirmed Déby in 1996.
K-12 history education resources
Guide to children's literature on Africa. Reviews are written by univ. faculty, librarians, and teachers many of whom are in African studies or have lived in Africa. Use the Search to locate, for ex., Swahili culture. Has an Africana Book Buddies Club. Information on winners of the Children's Africana Book Awards (CABA). Edited by Brenda Randolph. [KF] http://www.africaaccessreview.org/
Africa Map Puzzle
Identify countries and capitals. Easy and Hard levels of difficulties. Time yourself on how fast you can complete the puzzle. From Owl and Mouse Educational Software. http://www.yourchildlearns.com/mappuzzle/africa-puzzle.html
Africa South of the Sahara: Selected Internet Resources - Photographs
Directory of internet resources for contemporary and historical photographs of Africa. Maintained by Stanford University Libraries. http://library.stanford.edu/africa-south-sahara/browse-topic/photographs
African Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Dr. Gloria Emeagwali, Professor of History, Central Connecticut State University, provides citations to books and links to web sites relating to the, "Background History of Africa, African Food Processing Techniques, African Textile Techniques, African Metallurgy, Colonialism and Africa's Technology, and Mathematics in pre-colonial Hausaland, West Africa. http://www.africahistory.net
African Odyssey InterActive - Kennnedy Center for the Performing Arts
Site for a festival in New York of music, dance, and theater from Africa and the African Diaspora. Has interviews with artists, a directory of web sites about Dance, Music, Literary Arts/Storytelling, Theater/Performance, K-12 teaching resources. [KF] http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/aoi/artsedge.html
Chronology with descriptions for Ancient Africa, African Empires, African Slave Trade & European Imperialism, Anti-Colonialism, Post-Independence Africa, plus Sources for Further Study. Site by Cora Agatucci, Associate Professor of English, Central Oregon Community College, Bend, Oregon. http://www.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum211/timelines/htimelinetoc.htm
Africans in America - October 19-22, 1998
"Africans in America will be the first comprehensive television history of the international events leading to the growth of racial slavery in the United States. The series opens in the 16th century on Africa's Gold Coast with the European and African trade, and ends on the eve of the American Civil War in 1865." Has a teacher's guide. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/
American Historical Association
The Teaching section, has a special membership plan for K-12 teachers, awards the Beveridge Family Teaching Award for distinguished K-12 history teaching, has a special web site for collaborative projects to strengthen history education for K-16 students, essays on teaching history, etc. Has a directory of U.S. history departments. [KF] http://www.historians.org/
American University. Washington College of Law - Rwanda Commemoration Project: Genocide In Our Time
The College of Law, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law's Rwanda Commemoration Project: Genocide In Our Time produced a resource booklet (background, programming ideas, bibliography) , a lesson plan for high schools. Based in Washington, D.C. [KF] http://www.wcl.american.edu/humright/center/rwanda/
Site for Freedom Schooner Amistad and Amistad America. The Freedom Schooner visits U.S. and international ports providing educational programs, interviews with the captain or crew on the history and the significance of the Amistad story, the transatlantic slave trade and present-day race relations. Recounts the story of the 1839 Amistad incident. Extensive curriculum resource center for elementary, middle school, and high school lesson plans. Based in New Haven, Connecticut. http://www.amistadamerica.org/
Links to sites about the Amistad incident. Includes Exploring Amistad, a web site, partially funded by NEH, which will have primary historical documents. Also links to the Steven Spielberg/Debbie Allen film site which has a slavery timeline and huge (9MB) film trailer/ads video clips. http://www.amistad.org/
Ancient Africa: Lesson Plans and Activities
Links to curriculum units on Ancient Africa developed by schools around the U.S. Page by Lin and Don Donn. http://members.aol.com/donnandlee/index.html#AFRICA
Animated Atlas of African History
Interactive atlas depicting changes from 1879 - 2002 in territorial names, conflicts, colonization and decolonization, post-colonial political developments, economic and demographic changes. Use through the web or download to your computer. Initiated by Professor Nancy Jacobs, Brown University. http://www.brown.edu/Research/AAAH/
Anti Slavery International - Breaking the Silence. Learning About the Transatlantic Slave Trade
For teachers, lesson plans. Organised by themes - Africa before the Transatlantic Slave Trade, through to Legacies in Africa, the Americas, Caribbean and Europe and Slavery Today. BBC African kingdoms timeline. Racist views of Africa, etc. "a joint initiative between UNESCO, Anti-Slavery International, the British Council and the Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation (NORAD)." Based in London, England. [KF] http://old.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/
Black History Canada
In English and French. Annotated online resources about Canada's Black history. Mathieu Da Costa (a free Black African translator) Slavery in Canada Timeline Teachers' Section. "compiled by editors from The Canadian Encyclopedia (Historica-Dominion Institute) in consultation with Rosemary Sadlier, President of the Ontario Black History Society." http://www.histori.ca/blackhistory.
British Broadcasting Company. The Story of Africa
". the history of the continent from an African perspective." "from the origins of humankind to the end of South African apartheid" by major African historians (Jacob Ajayi, George Abungu, Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya and others). Includes audio of each segment of the BBC program. (Requires sound card, speaker or headphone). Each segment has a timeline, bibliography, useful links. http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/
British National Archives. Learning Curve - Mussolini and Abyssinia (Ethiopia)
"Ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, the ancient civilisation of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was situated between the two small Italian colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland. Its lands were fertile and rich in mineral wealth, two reasons why Italian troops attempted an invasion in 1896. Ultimately, the Italians suffered an humiliating defeat." Tutorial with photographs, excerpts from documents. Questions, activities for students. Learning Curve is a free online teaching and learning resource, [from the British National Archives] following the History National Curriculum from Key Stages 2 to 5. http://www.learningcurve.gov.uk/heroesvillains/mussolini/default.htm
Caravans of Gold. Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa
Teacher resources for the Workshop May 28, 2020 arising from the exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Sponsored by Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Georgetown University, and Howard University. https://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/exhibitions/2019/caravans-of-gold,-fragments-in-time-art,-culture,-and-exchange-across-medieval-saharan-africa.html?mc_cid=4e18f33082&mc_eid=79af6d0774
Civilizations in Africa - Washington State University
Pre-colonial history. One page each on Mali, Songhay, Great Zimbabwe, Kush, Ghana, Islamic invasions, Swahili kingdoms, Hausa Kingdoms, Kanem-Bornu. ". designed as a learning module in the form of a "research textbook." Part of the Washington State University World Civilizations web site. Text by Richard Hooker. Some links are not accessible. http://www.wsu.edu/
Dowling, Mike - Electronic Passport
Mike Dowling teaches at Roosevelt Middle School in West Palm Beach, Florida. "The Electronic Passport is a collection of the lessons I have written for my students." Includes Ancient Africa, Colonial Africa, Africa Today. http://www.mrdowling.com/
Earth & Sky
Earth & Sky is a daily radio program on science topics. Includes short pieces on Africa's climate 1 million years ago, the largest meat-eating dinosaur found in Africa, the ancestors of modern humans traced back to Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Provides citations to related books and articles. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Natl Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. The program can be heard in the US and on Voice of America. http://www.earthsky.com/
Footsteps (Peterborough, NH)
Print magazine on African & African American history for middle school children (ages 10-14). Has a full text article on Africans in the United States, by Harvard Prof. J. Lorand Matory. Each issue of the magazine focuses on a different theme. Has teachers' guides for its Liberia issue by Jo Sullivan, for the Mansa Musa: King of Mali issue, Published by Cobblestone Publishing, Peterborough, NH. http://www.footstepsmagazine.com
Combines satellite imagery & maps. Need to download the software which is free for personal use. (See computer requirements, need Windows 2000 or XP, 400 MB disk space minimum). For African cities (such as Dar es Salaam) does not show detail, only an "airplane" view but you can "fly" from city to city. See the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa. [However you can't fly to Kisangani, DRC or Darfur, Sudan yet.] Click on the Borders check box to see country borders. Very useful for seeing the location of lakes, bays in relation to cities, etc. The Keyhold Community site has an Education discussion area for teachers and students using the maps. [KF] http://earth.google.com/
History Footsteps. Victoria County History Project
Includes The Bristol Slavery Trail. The British port town of Bristol was involved with the Transatlantic slave trade "just over 150 years from around the 1660's to the early 1800's. History as "told through historical documents (in Archive section), illustrations, photographs, video clips, with activity sheets for young people. There are teachers' notes. "The Slave Trail web was commissioned in 2001 by the Victoria County History Project based at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. " [KF] http://www.historyfootsteps.net/
Internet African History Sourcebook - Paul Halsall
Has full-text sources for African history arranged by topics. Includes the Black Athena Debate, human origins, Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, Islam in Africa, West African kingdoms, Great Zimbabwe, religion, the slave trade, excerpts from "Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African" (London, 1789), David Livingstone, excerpt from Edward Morel's Black Man's Burden, 1903, Nkrumah, the "Loi-Cadre" of June 23, 1956, Jomo Kenyatta speech 1952, Arusha Declaration, 1967, speech by Kenneth Kaunda on African Development and Foreign Aid (1966), statements/speeches on Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence 1965, and more. Maintained by Paul Halsall, Fordham University. [KF] http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/africa/africasbook.html
Kingdoms of the Medieval Sudan
An introduction to the history of Sudanic Africa (the states of Songhay, Kanem-Bornu, and Hausaland.) Discusses trade and Islam. Photographs by Lucy Johnson illustrate - Images of Islam (Grand Mosque at Jenne), River Scenes, Daily Life, The Dogon, Traditions and Beliefs, The Desert. Has multiple-choice tests. Project arises from a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to Xavier University's Center for the Advancement of Teaching (New Orleans, LA). Site by J. Rotondo-McCord. http://webusers.xula.edu/jrotondo/Kingdoms/
Accounts of archaeological excavations and information on the people and culture of Jenn? will be posted to this site from Jenn?, Mali January 18-30, 1997. The project leaders include Rod and Susan McIntosh from Rice University's Anthropology Dept. U.S. 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from a Texas school district will email messages to Mali and receive replies from the project participants. A goal is to save archaeological information from destruction by erosion. Jenn? is the earliest known urban settlement south of the Sahara and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Has photos, news, teaching resources, information on Mali and archaeology. http://anthropology.rice.edu/maliinteractive.html
Maps.Com - African Map Quiz
African map game using Macromedia's Flash. Drag the name of the country to its correct location on the map outline. Check your score. The Maps.com site also has a black and white map of the African continent. http://www.maps.com/learn/games/africa.html
National Geographic - First Footprints Found of Modern Man
Press release of the August 1997 discovery in South Africa. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/society/ngo/events/97/footprints/index.html
National Geographic - In Search of Human Origins
A team from the U.S., Botswana, and South Africa hunt for fossils in Botswana, Sept.-Oct. 1998. How to interpret findings, why is Africa a hotspot for hominid development, classroom ideas for K-12, links to related sites. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/outpost/
History of Nubia the area partly in southern Egypt and partly in northern Sudan. Articles such as "How Much Can We Trust the Writen Record?" and "Where does Nubia fit in the Context of Nile Valley Civilization and the Ancient World?" Section for kids. Links to related sites. Conceived by Northeastern Univ. Professor Ron Bailey and Marcia Baynes. Produced by Education Development Center, Newton Massachusetts. [KF] http://www.nubianet.org/
Find resources by global region, country, subject, resource type, time period, grade level, instructional strategy. News for teachers. Supported by "120[U.S.] federally-funded National Resource Centers (NRCs) based at 146 universities, focusing on Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands and International Studies, and 42 Language Resource Centers (LRCs) and Centers for International Business and Education Research (CIBERs) based at 44 universities and dedicated to promoting foreign language study and international business." Based in Van Nuys, California. [KF] http://www.outreachworld.org/
Parsons, Neil - History of Botswana
Authoritative historical essays, by Professor Parsons of the University of Botswana, History Department. Includes primary documents. http://www.thuto.org/ubh/bw/bhp1.htm
PBS. Global Connections - Liberia and the United States: Historic Ties and Policy Decisions
Grade Level 9-12. "Students will understand how relations between countries change over time in response to both domestic and international pressures. They will think critically about factors affecting U.S. foreign policy toward Liberia and analyze the comparative weight of historic ties, historic debts, pragmatic political alliances, and human rights." Video clips of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Liberia trip, a meeting of President William V. S. Tubman with President John F. Kennedy, President Samuel Doe, commentary by Herman Cohen. Use the PBS search box to find other stories about Liberia. [KF] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/liberia/educators/history/lesson1.htm
Public television free lesson plans. Teacher professional development, videos, blogs. Select grade level, then Cultural Studies: Africa. Topics include Nigerian elections, Sudan, AIDS, slavery, Rwanda, African culture, Ethiopian religions, South Africa, African drumming, Queen of Sheba, Timbuktu, Kenyan women, Swahili coast. [KF] http://www.pbs.org/teachers/socialstudies/inventory/culturalstudiesafricanstudies-912.html
Schmidt, Nancy - "Africana Resources for Undergraduates: A Bibliographic Essay"
Dr. Schmidt was the former Africana Librarian, Indiana University. Published in Phyllis M. Martin and Patrick O'Meara (eds.), Africa . Third edition. ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 413-434.) " The author would like to point out that this essay, published in 1995 and written a year before, does not reflect some more recent publications and web resources." http://www.libraries.iub.edu/index.php?pageId=1000297
Slavery and the Making of America
PBS television series (first aired Feb. 9, 2005). "four-part series documenting the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies to its end in the Southern states and the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction." "Episode one opens in the 1620s with the introduction of 11 men of African descent and mixed ethnicity into slavery in New Amsterdam." Chronology, resources for teachers, annotated book list for students, virtual museums prepared by four groups of students, online resources. See also a review of the TV series by David W. Blight, "America: Made and Unmade by Slavery" in The Chronicle Review, Feb. 4, 2005. [KF] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - African Voices
Site for a permanent exhibit at the Museum in Washington, D.C. Attractive site featuring master sculptors (Lamidi Fakeye), a history moving timeline, society, metalworking, clay pottery and a master potter, an annotated bibliography. Uses Flash software some captions are difficult to read. http://www.mnh.si.edu/africanvoices/
South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy
". video footage documenting mass resistance and police repression, historical documents, rare photographs, original narratives and essays" "interviews with 45 South African activists" biographies maps "designed especially for high school and undergraduate students." Includes Black Consciousness Movement, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, post-apartheid era. Has a 3 minute preview video. An Educators section uses primary materials. Maintained by Michigan State University MATRIX (matrix.msu.edu) and the MSU African Studies Center (africa.msu.edu). http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu
South African Historical Documents - African National Congress site
The site maintained by the African National Congress has the full-text of primary documents - speeches by Albert J. Lutuli, Oliver Tambo, Mandela, G. M. Naicker, Yusuf Dadoo, Olof Palme, documents from Umkhonto we Sizwe, the OAU and the UN, documents concerning women in the struggle, the text of leaflet bomb fliers, biographies of leaders, etc. http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/
South African History Online
An NGO, people's history online, based in Sunnyside, South Africa. Has a History of Film in South Africa (including a chronology), a history classroom section, This Day in History, a chronology of South African history, biographies, topics (African independence, Black Consciousness, Black education, Gandhi, Paul Kruger, Mandela, Umkhonto we Sizwe, passive resistance, the United Nations and apartheid, etc.). [KF] http://www.sahistory.org.za/
The Online Wall of Remembrance has biographies / photographs of anti-apartheid leaders, a list of banned people. "We are inviting you to help us with biographical details, letters, diaries, articles, photographs and reminiscences on those South Africans, people in your family communities people who played a leading role in the struggle."
Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education, SPICE
"(SPICE) serves as a bridge between Stanford University and K-14 schools by developing multidisciplinary curriculum materials on international themes." Sells curriculum units with Africa-related topics. http://spice.stanford.edu/
UCLA. World History for Us All
A project of the UCLA Department of History. https://whfua.history.ucla.edu/ Includes sections on -
United Kingdom. National Archives
Has online exhibitions such as the Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain, 1500-1850, which includes Black Romans and West Africa before the Europeans(with amap of West Africa in 1600). http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/
United Kingdom. National Archives. Learning Curve
The Archives' education section for schools includes:
Resources on the History of African Civilization - History
If you want to teach African History to your kids, you’re in the right place. Teaching African history and culture should be an essential part of educating all children in the African Diaspora. It’s often said that education with no direction is useless. As I continue the journey of homeschooling my three sons, I’ve started searching for resources to teach them African history as part of our daily curriculum. That will include lessons in African history, spirituality and languages. Even if you’re not homeschooling, here are some websites you can utilize after school and on weekends to help your children understand the daily lives of our ancestors and the current lifestyles, accomplishments and culture of our brothers and sisters throughout the Diaspora on the African continent. Enjoy!
The Library of Congress – African-American Archives (https://www.loc.gov/collections/?fa=subject:african+american+history)
Narratives from enslaved Africans, the speeches of Frederick Douglas, portraits of African-American life and more can be found in the Library of Congress’s African-American Archives.
Africa Access Review (http://africaaccessreview.org/)
I love the African children’s books and book reviews posted on this site. I have three boys and sometimes it’s hard to find Black children’s books that feature Black boys. Africa Access Review is always reviewing books that have Black boys as main characters. I’ll be purchasing several books on their listing for my sons this school year.
The 1619 Project (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html)
This website is an interactive map that visual museum that traces the period of Black history when African were enslaved in America. I recommend this for young people ages 8 and up.
Ancient Africa for Kids (http://www.africa.mrdonn.org/)
First up, this site teaches everything a child needs to know about the historic kingdoms of Africa. It also has a list of African proverbs and some African folktales.
History.com – African Empires (https://www.history.com/news/7-influential-african-empires)
This post on history.com details the substantial accomplishments of the some of the African Empires prior to European pillage.
Bino & Fino (http://www.binoandfino.com/)
This site has resources geared toward developing ethnic confidence in young African-American children. You can purchase posters, digital DVD downloads and other educational resources.
Our Africa (http://www.our-africa.org/)
This site teaches your child everything they need to know about each country in Africa. From agriculture to climate and culture, Our-Africa.org gives a break down of each country’s unique way of life.
DuoLingo – Swahili https://www.duolingo.com
Duolingo.com has long been known for it’s ability to help children learn all types of languages. Now, the site is planning a curriculum to teach Swahili. The website says the curriculum should be ready before Christmas 2016.
Push Black (http://pushblack.org/)
I love PushBlack.org. This site sends you daily black history facts and articles via text message. SUBSCRIBE! This site is a great way to spark lesson plans or daily conversations. I love this site for teaching kids Black history in tidbits. You can use Push Black for a quick daily African history fact. Love it! [icon name=”li_heart” size=px” color=”#8224e3″ link=””]
The Black Past website site focuses on helping us to recognize the current accomplishments of African people in the world. It post profiles of African-Americans making a mark in their professions and also post little know facts about African people throughout history. This is a great sight for your teenager or tween to visit often and stay up to date on the achievements of Black people today.
World of Tales (http://www.worldoftales.com/African_folktales.html)
If you want to make sure your child is well-versed in the folklore of the Motherland, visit WorldofTales.com for a great list of African folktales. It boast tales from many countries in Africa and some great stories.
Also, check out these worksheets on teaching African geography on TeachersPayTeachers.com.
PBS Learning also has some great videos on the ancient African empires. Here is an illustrative guide showing you where to start in your African history studies.
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Africa, the second largest continent (after Asia), covering about one-fifth of the total land surface of Earth. The continent is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east by the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and on the south by the mingling waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Africa’s total land area is approximately 11,724,000 square miles (30,365,000 square km), and the continent measures about 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from north to south and about 4,600 miles (7,400 km) from east to west. Its northern extremity is Al-Ghīrān Point, near Al-Abyaḍ Point (Cape Blanc), Tunisia its southern extremity is Cape Agulhas, South Africa its farthest point east is Xaafuun (Hafun) Point, near Cape Gwardafuy (Guardafui), Somalia and its western extremity is Almadi Point (Pointe des Almadies), on Cape Verde (Cap Vert), Senegal. In the northeast, Africa was joined to Asia by the Sinai Peninsula until the construction of the Suez Canal. Paradoxically, the coastline of Africa—18,950 miles (30,500 km) in length—is shorter than that of Europe, because there are few inlets and few large bays or gulfs.
Off the coasts of Africa a number of islands are associated with the continent. Of these Madagascar, one of the largest islands in the world, is the most significant. Other, smaller islands include the Seychelles, Socotra, and other islands to the east the Comoros, Mauritius, Réunion, and other islands to the southeast Ascension, St. Helena, and Tristan da Cunha to the southwest Cape Verde, the Bijagós Islands, Bioko, and São Tomé and Príncipe to the west and the Azores and the Madeira and Canary islands to the northwest.
The continent is cut almost equally in two by the Equator, so that most of Africa lies within the tropical region, bounded on the north by the Tropic of Cancer and on the south by the Tropic of Capricorn. Because of the bulge formed by western Africa, the greater part of Africa’s territory lies north of the Equator. Africa is crossed from north to south by the prime meridian (0° longitude), which passes a short distance to the east of Accra, Ghana.
In antiquity the Greeks are said to have called the continent Libya and the Romans to have called it Africa, perhaps from the Latin aprica (“sunny”) or the Greek aphrike (“without cold”). The name Africa, however, was chiefly applied to the northern coast of the continent, which was, in effect, regarded as a southern extension of Europe. The Romans, who for a time ruled the North African coast, are also said to have called the area south of their settlements Afriga, or the Land of the Afrigs—the name of a Berber community south of Carthage.
The whole of Africa can be considered as a vast plateau rising steeply from narrow coastal strips and consisting of ancient crystalline rocks. The plateau’s surface is higher in the southeast and tilts downward toward the northeast. In general the plateau may be divided into a southeastern portion and a northwestern portion. The northwestern part, which includes the Sahara (desert) and that part of North Africa known as the Maghrib, has two mountainous regions—the Atlas Mountains in northwestern Africa, which are believed to be part of a system that extends into southern Europe, and the Ahaggar (Hoggar) Mountains in the Sahara. The southeastern part of the plateau includes the Ethiopian Plateau, the East African Plateau, and—in eastern South Africa, where the plateau edge falls downward in a scarp—the Drakensberg range. One of the most remarkable features in the geologic structure of Africa is the East African Rift System, which lies between 30° and 40° E. The rift itself begins northeast of the continent’s limits and extends southward from the Ethiopian Red Sea coast to the Zambezi River basin.
Africa contains an enormous wealth of mineral resources, including some of the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels, metallic ores, and gems and precious metals. This richness is matched by a great diversity of biological resources that includes the intensely lush equatorial rainforests of Central Africa and the world-famous populations of wildlife of the eastern and southern portions of the continent. Although agriculture (primarily subsistence) still dominates the economies of many African countries, the exploitation of these resources became the most significant economic activity in Africa in the 20th century.
Climatic and other factors have exerted considerable influence on the patterns of human settlement in Africa. While some areas appear to have been inhabited more or less continuously since the dawn of humanity, enormous regions—notably the desert areas of northern and southwestern Africa—have been largely unoccupied for prolonged periods of time. Thus, although Africa is the second largest continent, it contains only about 10 percent of the world’s population and can be said to be underpopulated. The greater part of the continent has long been inhabited by Black peoples, but in historic times there also have occurred major immigrations from both Asia and Europe. Of all foreign settlements in Africa, that of the Arabs has made the greatest impact. The Islamic religion, which the Arabs carried with them, spread from North Africa into many areas south of the Sahara, so that many western African peoples are now largely Islamized.
This article treats the physical and human geography of Africa, followed by discussion of geographic features of special interest. For discussion of individual countries of the continent, see such articles as Egypt, Madagascar, and Sudan. African regions are treated under the titles Central Africa, eastern Africa, North Africa, Southern Africa, and western Africa these articles also contain the principal treatment of African historical and cultural development. For discussion of major cities of the continent, see such articles as Alexandria, Cairo, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Kinshasa. Related topics are discussed in the articles literature, African literature, South African architecture, African art, African dance, African music, African theatre, African art and architecture, Egyptian Islam arts, Islamic and Islamic world.
1. The human race is of African origin. The oldest known skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans (or homo sapiens sapiens) were excavated at sites in East Africa. Human remains were discovered at Omo in Ethiopia that were dated at 195,000 years old, the oldest known in the world.
2. Skeletons of pre-humans have been found in Africa that date back between 4 and 5 million years. The oldest known ancestral type of humanity is thought to have been the australopithecus ramidus, who lived at least 4.4 million years ago.
3. Africans were the first to organise fishing expeditions 90,000 years ago. At Katanda, a region in northeastern Zaïre (now Congo), was recovered a finely wrought series of harpoon points, all elaborately polished and barbed. Also uncovered was a tool, equally well crafted, believed to be a dagger. The discoveries suggested the existence of an early aquatic or fishing based culture.
4. Africans were the first to engage in mining 43,000 years ago. In 1964 a hematite mine was found in Swaziland at Bomvu Ridge in the Ngwenya mountain range. Ultimately 300,000 artefacts were recovered including thousands of stone-made mining tools. Adrian Boshier, one of the archaeologists on the site, dated the mine to a staggering 43,200 years old.
5. Africans pioneered basic arithmetic 25,000 years ago. The Ishango bone is a tool handle with notches carved into it found in the Ishango region of Zaïre (now called Congo) near Lake Edward. The bone tool was originally thought to have been over 8,000 years old, but a more sensitive recent dating has given dates of 25,000 years old. On the tool are 3 rows of notches. Row 1 shows three notches carved next to six, four carved next to eight, ten carved next to two fives and finally a seven. The 3 and 6, 4 and 8, and 10 and 5, represent the process of doubling. Row 2 shows eleven notches carved next to twenty-one notches, and nineteen notches carved next to nine notches. This represents 10 + 1, 20 + 1, 20 – 1 and 10 – 1. Finally, Row 3 shows eleven notches, thirteen notches, seventeen notches and nineteen notches. 11, 13, 17 and 19 are the prime numbers between 10 and 20.
6. Africans cultivated crops 12,000 years ago, the first known advances in agriculture. Professor Fred Wendorf discovered that people in Egypt’s Western Desert cultivated crops of barley, capers, chick-peas, dates, legumes, lentils and wheat. Their ancient tools were also recovered. There were grindstones, milling stones, cutting blades, hide scrapers, engraving burins, and mortars and pestles.
7. Africans mummified their dead 9,000 years ago. A mummified infant was found under the Uan Muhuggiag rock shelter in south western Libya. The infant was buried in the foetal position and was mummified using a very sophisticated technique that must have taken hundreds of years to evolve. The technique predates the earliest mummies known in Ancient Egypt by at least 1,000 years. Carbon dating is controversial but the mummy may date from 7438 (±220) BC.
8. Africans carved the world’s first colossal sculpture 7,000 or more years ago. The Great Sphinx of Giza was fashioned with the head of a man combined with the body of a lion. A key and important question raised by this monument was: How old is it? In October 1991 Professor Robert Schoch, a geologist from Boston University, demonstrated that the Sphinx was sculpted between 5000 BC and 7000 BC, dates that he considered conservative.
9. On the 1 March 1979, the New York Times carried an article on its front page also page sixteen that was entitled Nubian Monarchy called Oldest. In this article we were assured that: “Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history, preceding the rise of the earliest Egyptian kings by several generations, has been discovered in artifacts from ancient Nubia” (i.e. the territory of the northern Sudan and the southern portion of modern Egypt.)
10. The ancient Egyptians had the same type of tropically adapted skeletal proportions as modern Black Africans. A 2003 paper appeared in American Journal of Physical Anthropology by Dr Sonia Zakrzewski entitled Variation in Ancient Egyptian Stature and Body Proportions where she states that: “The raw values in Table 6 suggest that Egyptians had the ‘super-Negroid’ body plan described by Robins (1983). The values for the brachial and crural indices show that the distal segments of each limb are longer relative to the proximal segments than in many ‘African’ populations.”
11. The ancient Egyptians had Afro combs. One writer tells us that the Egyptians “manufactured a very striking range of combs in ivory: the shape of these is distinctly African and is like the combs used even today by Africans and those of African descent.”
12. The Funerary Complex in the ancient Egyptian city of Saqqara is the oldest building that tourists regularly visit today. An outer wall, now mostly in ruins, surrounded the whole structure. Through the entrance are a series of columns, the first stone-built columns known to historians. The North House also has ornamental columns built into the walls that have papyrus-like capitals. Also inside the complex is the Ceremonial Court, made of limestone blocks that have been quarried and then shaped. In the centre of the complex is the Step Pyramid, the first of 90 Egyptian pyramids.
13. The first Great Pyramid of Giza, the most extraordinary building in history, was a staggering 481 feet tall – the equivalent of a 40-storey building. It was made of 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite, some weighing 100 tons.
14. The ancient Egyptian city of Kahun was the world’s first planned city. Rectangular and walled, the city was divided into two parts. One part housed the wealthier inhabitants – the scribes, officials and foremen. The other part housed the ordinary people. The streets of the western section in particular, were straight, laid out on a grid, and crossed each other at right angles. A stone gutter, over half a metre wide, ran down the centre of every street.
15. Egyptian mansions were discovered in Kahun – each boasting 70 rooms, divided into four sections or quarters. There was a master’s quarter, quarters for women and servants, quarters for offices and finally, quarters for granaries, each facing a central courtyard. The master’s quarters had an open court with a stone water tank for bathing. Surrounding this was a colonnade.
16 The Labyrinth in the Egyptian city of Hawara with its massive layout, multiple courtyards, chambers and halls, was the very largest building in antiquity. Boasting three thousand rooms, 1,500 of them were above ground and the other 1,500 were underground.
17. Toilets and sewerage systems existed in ancient Egypt. One of the pharaohs built a city now known as Amarna. An American urban planner noted that: “Great importance was attached to cleanliness in Amarna as in other Egyptian cities. Toilets and sewers were in use to dispose waste. Soap was made for washing the body. Perfumes and essences were popular against body odour. A solution of natron was used to keep insects from houses . . . Amarna may have been the first planned ‘garden city’.”
18. Sudan has more pyramids than any other country on earth – even more than Egypt. There are at least 223 pyramids in the Sudanese cities of Al Kurru, Nuri, Gebel Barkal and Meroë. They are generally 20 to 30 metres high and steep sided.
19. The Sudanese city of Meroë is rich in surviving monuments. Becoming the capital of the Kushite Empire between 590 BC until AD 350, there are 84 pyramids in this city alone, many built with their own miniature temple. In addition, there are ruins of a bath house sharing affinities with those of the Romans. Its central feature is a large pool approached by a flight of steps with waterspouts decorated with lion heads.
20. Bling culture has a long and interesting history. Gold was used to decorate ancient Sudanese temples. One writer reported that: “Recent excavations at Meroe and Mussawwarat es-Sufra revealed temples with walls and statues covered with gold leaf”.
21. In around 300 BC, the Sudanese invented a writing script that had twenty-three letters of which four were vowels and there was also a word divider. Hundreds of ancient texts have survived that were in this script. Some are on display in the British Museum.
22. In central Nigeria, West Africa’s oldest civilisation flourished between 1000 BC and 300 BC. Discovered in 1928, the ancient culture was called the Nok Civilisation, named after the village in which the early artefacts were discovered. Two modern scholars, declare that “[a]fter calibration, the period of Nok art spans from 1000 BC until 300 BC”. The site itself is much older going back as early as 4580 or 4290 BC.
23. West Africans built in stone by 1100 BC. In the Tichitt-Walata region of Mauritania, archaeologists have found “large stone masonry villages” that date back to 1100 BC. The villages consisted of roughly circular compounds connected by “well-defined streets”.
24. By 250 BC, the foundations of West Africa’s oldest cities were established such as Old Djenné in Mali.
25. Kumbi Saleh, the capital of Ancient Ghana, flourished from 300 to 1240 AD. Located in modern day Mauritania, archaeological excavations have revealed houses, almost habitable today, for want of renovation and several storeys high. They had underground rooms, staircases and connecting halls. Some had nine rooms. One part of the city alone is estimated to have housed 30,000 people.
26. West Africa had walled towns and cities in the pre-colonial period. Winwood Reade, an English historian visited West Africa in the nineteenth century and commented that: “There are . . . thousands of large walled cities resembling those of Europe in the Middle Ages, or of ancient Greece.”
27. Lord Lugard, an English official, estimated in 1904 that there were 170 walled towns still in existence in the whole of just the Kano province of northern Nigeria.
28. Cheques are not quite as new an invention as we were led to believe. In the tenth century, an Arab geographer, Ibn Haukal, visited a fringe region of Ancient Ghana. Writing in 951 AD, he told of a cheque for 42,000 golden dinars written to a merchant in the city of Audoghast by his partner in Sidjilmessa.
29. Ibn Haukal, writing in 951 AD, informs us that the King of Ghana was “the richest king on the face of the earth” whose pre-eminence was due to the quantity of gold nuggets that had been amassed by the himself and by his predecessors.
30. The Nigerian city of Ile-Ife was paved in 1000 AD on the orders of a female ruler with decorations that originated in Ancient America. Naturally, no-one wants to explain how this took place approximately 500 years before the time of Christopher Columbus!
31. West Africa had bling culture in 1067 AD. One source mentions that when the Emperor of Ghana gives audience to his people: “he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth of gold: behind him stand ten pages holding shields and gold-mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair . . . The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed . . . they wear collars of gold and silver.”
32. Glass windows existed at that time. The residence of the Ghanaian Emperor in 1116 AD was: “A well-built castle, thoroughly fortified, decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having glass windows.”
33. The Grand Mosque in the Malian city of Djenné, described as “the largest adobe [clay] building in the world”, was first raised in 1204 AD. It was built on a square plan where each side is 56 metres in length. It has three large towers on one side, each with projecting wooden buttresses.
34. One of the great achievements of the Yoruba was their urban culture. “By the year A.D. 1300,” says a modern scholar, “the Yoruba people built numerous walled cities surrounded by farms”. The cities were Owu, Oyo, Ijebu, Ijesa, Ketu, Popo, Egba, Sabe, Dassa, Egbado, Igbomina, the sixteen Ekiti principalities, Owo and Ondo.
35. Yoruba metal art of the mediaeval period was of world class. One scholar wrote that Yoruba art “would stand comparison with anything which Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece and Rome, or Renaissance Europe had to offer.”
36. In the Malian city of Gao stands the Mausoleum of Askia the Great, a weird sixteenth century edifice that resembles a step pyramid.
37. Thousands of mediaeval tumuli have been found across West Africa. Nearly 7,000 were discovered in north-west Senegal alone spread over nearly 1,500 sites. They were probably built between 1000 and 1300 AD.
38. Excavations at the Malian city of Gao carried out by Cambridge University revealed glass windows. One of the finds was entitled: “Fragments of alabaster window surrounds and a piece of pink window glass, Gao 10th – 14th century.”
39. In 1999 the BBC produced a television series entitled Millennium. The programme devoted to the fourteenth century opens with the following disclosure: “In the fourteenth century, the century of the scythe, natural disasters threatened civilisations with extinction. The Black Death kills more people in Europe, Asia and North Africa than any catastrophe has before. Civilisations which avoid the plague thrive. In West Africa the Empire of Mali becomes the richest in the world.”
40. Malian sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312. This mariner king is not named by Al-Umari, but modern writers identify him as Mansa Abubakari II.
41. On a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 AD, a Malian ruler, Mansa Musa, brought so much money with him that his visit resulted in the collapse of gold prices in Egypt and Arabia. It took twelve years for the economies of the region to normalise.
42. West African gold mining took place on a vast scale. One modern writer said that: “It is estimated that the total amount of gold mined in West Africa up to 1500 was 3,500 tons, worth more than $30 billion in today’s market.”
43. The old Malian capital of Niani had a 14th century building called the Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in silver those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold.
44. Mali in the 14th century was highly urbanised. Sergio Domian, an Italian art and architecture scholar, wrote the following about this period: “Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilisation. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated”.
45. The Malian city of Timbuktu had a 14th century population of 115,000 – 5 times larger than mediaeval London. Mansa Musa, built the Djinguerebere Mosque in the fourteenth century. There was the University Mosque in which 25,000 students studied and the Oratory of Sidi Yayia. There were over 150 Koran schools in which 20,000 children were instructed. London, by contrast, had a total 14th century population of 20,000 people.
46. National Geographic recently described Timbuktu as the Paris of the mediaeval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to Professor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.
47. Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 hand written mediaeval books. There may be another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private collections in Niger. Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about 700,000 surviving books.
48. A collection of one thousand six hundred books was considered a small library for a West African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying that he had the smallest library of any of his friends – he had only 1600 volumes.
49. Concerning these old manuscripts, Michael Palin, in his TV series Sahara, said the imam of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years . . . Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe. In the fifteenth century in Timbuktu the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the planets, knew about the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for 150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.”
50. The Songhai Empire of 16th century West Africa had a government position called Minister for Etiquette and Protocol.
51. The mediaeval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive walling totalling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.”
52. Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once stated that: “These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . . Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.”
53. Winwood Reade described his visit to the Ashanti Royal Palace of Kumasi in 1874: “We went to the king’s palace, which consists of many courtyards, each surrounded with alcoves and verandahs, and having two gates or doors, so that each yard was a thoroughfare . . . But the part of the palace fronting the street was a stone house, Moorish in its style . . . with a flat roof and a parapet, and suites of apartments on the first floor. It was built by Fanti masons many years ago. The rooms upstairs remind me of Wardour Street. Each was a perfect Old Curiosity Shop. Books in many languages, Bohemian glass, clocks, silver plate, old furniture, Persian rugs, Kidderminster carpets, pictures and engravings, numberless chests and coffers. A sword bearing the inscription From Queen Victoria to the King of Ashantee. A copy of the Times, 17 October 1843. With these were many specimens of Moorish and Ashanti handicraft.”
54. In the mid-nineteenth century, William Clarke, an English visitor to Nigeria, remarked that: “As good an article of cloth can be woven by the Yoruba weavers as by any people . . . in durability, their cloths far excel the prints and home-spuns of Manchester.”
55. The recently discovered 9th century Nigerian city of Eredo was found to be surrounded by a wall that was 100 miles long and seventy feet high in places. The internal area was a staggering 400 square miles.
56. On the subject of cloth, Kongolese textiles were also distinguished. Various European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wrote of the delicate crafts of the peoples living in eastern Kongo and adjacent regions who manufactured damasks, sarcenets, satins, taffeta, cloth of tissue and velvet. Professor DeGraft-Johnson made the curious observation that: “Their brocades, both high and low, were far more valuable than the Italian.”
57. On Kongolese metallurgy of the Middle Ages, one modern scholar wrote that: “There is no doubting . . . the existence of an expert metallurgical art in the ancient Kongo . . . The Bakongo were aware of the toxicity of lead vapours. They devised preventative and curative methods, both pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical (exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead poisoning.”
58. In Nigeria, the royal palace in the city of Kano dates back to the fifteenth century. Begun by Muhammad Rumfa (ruled 1463-99) it has gradually evolved over generations into a very imposing complex. A colonial report of the city from 1902, described it as “a network of buildings covering an area of 33 acres and surrounded by a wall 20 to 30 feet high outside and 15 feet inside . . . in itself no mean citadel”.
59. A sixteenth century traveller visited the central African civilisation of Kanem-Borno and commented that the emperor’s cavalry had golden “stirrups, spurs, bits and buckles.” Even the ruler’s dogs had “chains of the finest gold”.
60. One of the government positions in mediaeval Kanem-Borno was Astronomer Royal.
61. Ngazargamu, the capital city of Kanem-Borno, became one of the largest cities in the seventeenth century world. By 1658 AD, the metropolis, according to an architectural scholar housed “about quarter of a million people”. It had 660 streets. Many were wide and unbending, reflective of town planning.
62. The Nigerian city of Surame flourished in the sixteenth century. Even in ruin it was an impressive sight, built on a horizontal vertical grid. A modern scholar describes it thus: “The walls of Surame are about 10 miles in circumference and include many large bastions or walled suburbs running out at right angles to the main wall. The large compound at Kanta is still visible in the centre, with ruins of many buildings, one of which is said to have been two-storied. The striking feature of the walls and whole ruins is the extensive use of stone and tsokuwa (laterite gravel) or very hard red building mud, evidently brought from a distance. There is a big mound of this near the north gate about 8 feet in height. The walls show regular courses of masonry to a height of 20 feet and more in several places. The best preserved portion is that known as sirati (the bridge) a little north of the eastern gate . . . The main city walls here appear to have provided a very strongly guarded entrance about 30 feet wide.”
63. The Nigerian city of Kano in 1851 produced an estimated 10 million pairs of sandals and 5 million hides each year for export.
64. In 1246 AD Dunama II of Kanem-Borno exchanged embassies with Al-Mustansir, the king of Tunis. He sent the North African court a costly present, which apparently included a giraffe. An old chronicle noted that the rare animal “created a sensation in Tunis”.
65. By the third century BC the city of Carthage on the coast of Tunisia was opulent and impressive. It had a population of 700,000 and may even have approached a million. Lining both sides of three streets were rows of tall houses six storeys high.
66. The Ethiopian city of Axum has a series of 7 giant obelisks that date from perhaps 300 BC to 300 AD. They have details carved into them that represent windows and doorways of several storeys. The largest obelisk, now fallen, is in fact “the largest monolith ever made anywhere in the world”. It is 108 feet long, weighs a staggering 500 tons, and represents a thirteen-storey building.
67. Ethiopia minted its own coins over 1,500 years ago. One scholar wrote that: “Almost no other contemporary state anywhere in the world could issue in gold, a statement of sovereignty achieved only by Rome, Persia, and the Kushan kingdom in northern India at the time.”
68. The Ethiopian script of the 4th century AD influenced the writing script of Armenia. A Russian historian noted that: “Soon after its creation, the Ethiopic vocalised script began to influence the scripts of Armenia and Georgia. D. A. Olderogge suggested that Mesrop Mashtotz used the vocalised Ethiopic script when he invented the Armenian alphabet.”
69. “In the first half of the first millennium CE,” says a modern scholar, Ethiopia “was ranked as one of the world’s greatest empires”. A Persian cleric of the third century AD identified it as the third most important state in the world after Persia and Rome.
70. Ethiopia has 11 underground mediaeval churches built by being carved out of the ground. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD, Roha became the new capital of the Ethiopians. Conceived as a New Jerusalem by its founder, Emperor Lalibela (c.1150-1230), it contains 11 churches, all carved out of the rock of the mountains by hammer and chisel. All of the temples were carved to a depth of 11 metres or so below ground level. The largest is the House of the Redeemer, a staggering 33.7 metres long, 23.7 metres wide and 11.5 metres deep.
71. Lalibela is not the only place in Ethiopia to have such wonders. A cotemporary archaeologist reports research that was conducted in the region in the early 1970’s when: “startling numbers of churches built in caves or partially or completely cut from the living rock were revealed not only in Tigre and Lalibela but as far south as Addis Ababa. Soon at least 1,500 were known. At least as many more probably await revelation.”
72. In 1209 AD Emperor Lalibela of Ethiopia sent an embassy to Cairo bringing the sultan unusual gifts including an elephant, a hyena, a zebra, and a giraffe.
73. In Southern Africa, there are at least 600 stone built ruins in the regions of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. These ruins are called Mazimbabwe in Shona, the Bantu language of the builders, and means great revered house and “signifies court”.
74. The Great Zimbabwe was the largest of these ruins. It consists of 12 clusters of buildings, spread over 3 square miles. Its outer walls were made from 100,000 tons of granite bricks. In the fourteenth century, the city housed 18,000 people, comparable in size to that of London of the same period.
75. Bling culture existed in this region. At the time of our last visit, the Horniman Museum in London had exhibits of headrests with the caption: “Headrests have been used in Africa since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs. Remains of some headrests, once covered in gold foil, have been found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and burial sites like Mapungubwe dating to the twelfth century after Christ.”
76. Dr Albert Churchward, author of Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, pointed out that writing was found in one of the stone built ruins: “Lt.-Col. E. L. de Cordes . . . who was in South Africa for three years, informed the writer that in one of the ‘Ruins’ there is a ‘stone-chamber,’ with a vast quantity of Papyri, covered with old Egyptian hieroglyphics. A Boer hunter discovered this, and a large quantity was used to light a fire with, and yet still a larger quantity remained there now.”
77. On bling culture, one seventeenth century visitor to southern African empire of Monomotapa, that ruled over this vast region, wrote that: “The people dress in various ways: at court of the Kings their grandees wear cloths of rich silk, damask, satin, gold and silk cloth these are three widths of satin, each width four covados [2.64m], each sewn to the next, sometimes with gold lace in between, trimmed on two sides, like a carpet, with a gold and silk fringe, sewn in place with a two fingers’ wide ribbon, woven with gold roses on silk.”
78. Southern Africans mined gold on an epic scale. One modern writer tells us that: “The estimated amount of gold ore mined from the entire region by the ancients was staggering, exceeding 43 million tons. The ore yielded nearly 700 tons of pure gold which today would be valued at over $7.5 billion.”
79. Apparently the Monomotapan royal palace at Mount Fura had chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. An eighteenth century geography book provided the following data: “The inside consists of a great variety of sumptuous apartments, spacious and lofty halls, all adorned with a magnificent cotton tapestry, the manufacture of the country. The floors, cielings [sic], beams and rafters are all either gilt or plated with gold curiously wrought, as are also the chairs of state, tables, benches &c. The candle-sticks and branches are made of ivory inlaid with gold, and hang from the cieling by chains of the same metal, or of silver gilt.”
80. Monomotapa had a social welfare system. Antonio Bocarro, a Portuguese contemporary, informs us that the Emperor: “shows great charity to the blind and maimed, for these are called the king’s poor, and have land and revenues for their subsistence, and when they wish to pass through the kingdoms, wherever they come food and drinks are given to them at the public cost as long as they remain there, and when they leave that place to go to another they are provided with what is necessary for their journey, and a guide, and some one to carry their wallet to the next village. In every place where they come there is the same obligation.”
81. Many southern Africans have indigenous and pre-colonial words for ‘gun’. Scholars have generally been reluctant to investigate or explain this fact.
82. Evidence discovered in 1978 showed that East Africans were making steel for more than 1,500 years: “Assistant Professor of Anthropology Peter Schmidt and Professor of Engineering Donald H. Avery have found as long as 2,000 years ago Africans living on the western shores of Lake Victoria had produced carbon steel in preheated forced draft furnaces, a method that was technologically more sophisticated than any developed in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century.”
83. Ruins of a 300 BC astronomical observatory was found at Namoratunga in Kenya. Africans were mapping the movements of stars such as Triangulum, Aldebaran, Bellatrix, Central Orion, etcetera, as well as the moon, in order to create a lunar calendar of 354 days.
84. Autopsies and caesarean operations were routinely and effectively carried out by surgeons in pre-colonial Uganda. The surgeons routinely used antiseptics, anaesthetics and cautery iron. Commenting on a Ugandan caesarean operation that appeared in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1884, one author wrote: “The whole conduct of the operation . . . suggests a skilled long-practiced surgical team at work conducting a well-tried and familiar operation with smooth efficiency.”
85. Sudan in the mediaeval period had churches, cathedrals, monasteries and castles. Their ruins still exist today.
86. The mediaeval Nubian Kingdoms kept archives. From the site of Qasr Ibrim legal texts, documents and correspondence were discovered. An archaeologist informs us that: “On the site are preserved thousands of documents in Meroitic, Latin, Greek, Coptic, Old Nubian, Arabic and Turkish.”
87. Glass windows existed in mediaeval Sudan. Archaeologists found evidence of window glass at the Sudanese cities of Old Dongola and Hambukol.
88. Bling culture existed in the mediaeval Sudan. Archaeologists found an individual buried at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the city of Old Dongola. He was clad in an extremely elaborate garb consisting of costly textiles of various fabrics including gold thread. At the city of Soba East, there were individuals buried in fine clothing, including items with golden thread.
89. Style and fashion existed in mediaeval Sudan. A dignitary at Jebel Adda in the late thirteenth century AD was interned with a long coat of red and yellow patterned damask folded over his body. Underneath, he wore plain cotton trousers of long and baggy cut. A pair of red leather slippers with turned up toes lay at the foot of the coffin. The body was wrapped in enormous pieces of gold brocaded striped silk.
90. Sudan in the ninth century AD had housing complexes with bath rooms and piped water. An archaeologist wrote that Old Dongola, the capital of Makuria, had: “a[n] . . . eighth to . . . ninth century housing complex. The houses discovered here differ in their hitherto unencountered spatial layout as well as their functional programme (water supply installation, bathroom with heating system) and interiors decorated with murals.”
91. In 619 AD, the Nubians sent a gift of a giraffe to the Persians.
92. The East Coast, from Somalia to Mozambique, has ruins of well over 50 towns and cities. They flourished from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries AD.
93. Chinese records of the fifteenth century AD note that Mogadishu had houses of “four or five storeys high”.
94. Gedi, near the coast of Kenya, is one of the East African ghost towns. Its ruins, dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, include the city walls, the palace, private houses, the Great Mosque, seven smaller mosques, and three pillar tombs.
95. The ruined mosque in the Kenyan city of Gedi had a water purifier made of limestone for recycling water.
96. The palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi contains evidence of piped water controlled by taps. In addition it had bathrooms and indoor toilets.
97. A visitor in 1331 AD considered the Tanzanian city of Kilwa to be of world class. He wrote that it was the “principal city on the coast the greater part of whose inhabitants are Zanj of very black complexion.” Later on he says that: “Kilwa is one of the most beautiful and well-constructed cities in the world. The whole of it is elegantly built.”
98. Bling culture existed in early Tanzania. A Portuguese chronicler of the sixteenth century wrote that: “[T]hey are finely clad in many rich garments of gold and silk and cotton, and the women as well also with much gold and silver chains and bracelets, which they wear on their legs and arms, and many jewelled earrings in their ears”.
99. In 1961 a British archaeologist, found the ruins of Husuni Kubwa, the royal palace of the Tanzanian city of Kilwa. It had over a hundred rooms, including a reception hall, galleries, courtyards, terraces and an octagonal swimming pool.
100. In 1414 the Kenyan city of Malindi sent ambassadors to China carrying a gift that created a sensation at the Imperial Court. It was, of course, a giraffe.