Thread: African Kingdoms and Empires
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African Kingdoms and Empires
Kings Pharaohs Sultans. Call them what you will but giants once roamed the Earth. Giants with a will of caste iron and hearts as fierce as dragons. The sands of time pour backwards; the tombs of history are flung open. Even as the artisan castes hues of reds and blues upon a canvas to inspire hearts with an image of beauty - he can only do so by expressing what came before him and all that he is! The tip of his brush bristles with light as rays of color fall to the blank sheet below... and a masterpiece is realized. So too is the retelling of antiquities past wonders. Empires rise and fall under the artful eye of God.
History is a light that illuminates the past, and a key that unlocks the door to the future Runoko Rashidi
That beacon that blazes in the stillness of your essence was lit from the fires of yesteryear. And with it - at last you realize - you can never relinquish a tie to your roots forged by God Himself.
Open your self and re-live the wonders - of African Kingdoms!
CLICK THE MAP TO JUMP TO AN EMPIRE: This map is not accurate in scale as Aksum is much larger, and extended into Arabia. Sokoto is also not included.
Ancient Egypt: Kemet
It has been noted that the first records of people describing their land as ''Motherland" were the Ancient Egyptians however the word above literally means, 'Land of the spirits' meaning 'land of the Ancesters'. It is from the work of Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow. Worthebuch der Aegyptishen Sprache. Band V, p. 216. The Ancients referred to Africa south of their country by names such as Ta-Kenset, literally „placenta-land‟, Khenti = „ land of beginnings‟ and Ta-iakhu = „the land of the spirits‟, that is, “where the souls of ancestors dwell ( “Nile Genesis: Continuity of Culture from the Great Lakes to the Delta” in Ivan Van Sertima).
Despite the new wave of myths regarding Nubia and Kemet (Ancient Egypt) It is clear that Kemet and Nubia were neighbouring African Civilizations just as Aksum and Nubia. Difference doesn’t mean Nubia was a ‘black race’ and Kemet wasn’t. Both groups were ethnic groups of indigenous African origin. The ethnic differences were no more significant than Ethiopians verses Kenyans.
Even today, you can find dark skin Ethiopians, much darker than South African Zulus and you can find light-skin Ethiopians lighter than most Arabs, and light skin Zulus lighter than most Indians. Skin color among African people is and always has been highly varied.
The salient reality is that no one can deny the historical truism that the Greeks (the world's first Europeans) went to ancient Kemet to study at the Temple of Waset (later called Thebes by the Greeks and Luxor by the Arabs).In his magnum opus, A Lost Tradition:
The mallet rises and falls and again the cycle of history turns. The waning of Ta-Seti gave birth to the waxing of the majestic dynasties of Ancient Egypt. The Pharaoh Narmer, also known as Aha Mena, bound together the two lands of upper and lower Egypt in his arms and founded the First Dynasty. Renown as the founder of Memphis, Narmer quickly established it as his capital and centre of administration. From Narmers time to the close of the sixth dynasty of the Old Kingdom, man-made mountains were hewn from living rock. Pyramids, where raised in the shadow of these pharaohs. An ever lasting testimony to feats of engineering yet to be surpassed or equaled.
The pyramid text and Solar Calender were born by the Nile river as it drew the people to it and nurished them. The lenghth and breath of its banks resembled any metropolitan skyline with its bustling streets and markets, grave yards, government buildings and temples of worship which served a population of some 5 million inhabitants!
What was to be described as the First Golden Age began in the third dynasty 5345-5043 BCE. The prodigious Pharoah Zoser commissioned the famous architect and prime minister - Imhotep - to build him a most magnificent tomb to rival all others. Rising to the challlenge Imhotep erected the step pyramid at Sakarah that stands until this day. Unique in its construction and the model for others to follow, the step pyramid was designed to resemble a celestial stairway leading to the heavens!
By the dawning of the 3rd Dynasty the world famous great pyramids were constructed under the wistful gaze of Pharohs Khufu, Khafa and Menkaura. These monuments preceded and long out lasted other so-called wonders of the ancient world.
Over the next 11 dynasties Pharoes rose and fell like the ebbing tide of the ocean. The close of the Old Period of Empire was signaled by the invasion of Saltis, whose subsequent defeat ushered in the new Golden Age. This time of glory witnesses the building of the Karnak Temple complex, the Abu Simbel temple in Nubia (Kush) and sea voyages of almost mythical grandeur and endeavour to the lands that would one day be called the Americas!
In the traces of the Mexican Almecs artefacts, are sixteen carved human heads weighing an incredible 10 to 40 tons each! Embellished with the unmistakable and majestic features of their African visitors! Those African striders of oceans inspired the Olmec race to construct pyramids of their own based on the Phaoronic model. Like their teachers the Olmec rulers adopted the elaborately distinctive triple crown of great Africans past.
The twilight of the Egyptian epoch was briefly held in check by the Kushite Pharaoh, Shabaka, who re-invigorated much of the governance of the old kingdoms but by 663 BCE the Assyrians had invaded and over ran the last ruler of Egypt - Priestess Shepenowpet. Following a dramatic succession of Persia and the domination by Alexander the Great, history saw the end of the phenomena that was Egypt!
The awe-inspiring achievements of the Egyptians have given rise to a plethora of theories in an attempt to claim these wonders in the name of any one or thing - but the Africans who put forth these splendours.
Not least of these theories range from the idea that people from the Middle-East, Asians and Europeans migrated south and settled among the natives, bringing enlightenment and governance but leaving the poor backward natives to grapple with technologies and precepts beyond their impoverished tribal minds! To the far-fetched notion that visitors from beyond the stars or dwellers from inter-dimensional stargates erected the pyramids and then fled!
Such arguments, particularly the latter, are hardly worthy of a response but doubts must be addressed and the voice of reason must prevail. Although in the nineteenth century Sir Richard Burton referred to modern Egyptians as "whitewashed niggers," and Sir Flinders Petrie referred to their ancient ancestors as being of "course mulatto stock," neither of these formulations serve to give an agreeable pedigree to the precursors of Western civilization. One writer that deal with race is Lefkowitz (a textbook anti-African orientalist White Supremist) go to considerable lengths to prove that "Blacks," however defined, are not part of the story. Indeed, it was for this reason that Giuseppe Sergi, an Italian anthropologist overcame the problem in the 1880s by divining that the ancient Egyptians were dark — sometimes very dark — Caucasians. He labeled his group Hamites and placed them at the intersection of Africa and Asia. Later anthropologists theorized a Hamitic or series of Hamitic languages. By the 1920s the American anthropologist, C. G. Seligman, wrote that any signs of "civilization" in Africa were the products of the penetration of these incomparable bearers of culture. A few years later, Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi Party ideologue, could confidently claim Egypt's ruling class for Europe's peoples - and their Aryan branch at that. By the 1960s, however, the "Hamitic Hypothesis" had fallen from grace as the established orthodoxy. The linguist Joseph Greenberg demonstrated that the "Hamitic" languages were a chimera; no such unified group could be found. The people called "Hamites" were found to belong to differing language families. As the linguistic foundations for the hypothesis fell away, so too did the idea of a conquering "Hamitic Race." W. E. B. Du Bois was right when he said: "We cannot if we are sane, divide the world into whites, yellows, and Blacks, and then call Blacks white." He might have said that it would be equally as strange to call them "Mediterranean," "Hamitic," or a hundred other euphemisms. "Black" in the North American context. The "social "construction of race in America does not rely on skin color. "African Americans," as Asante notes, " constitute the most heterogeneous group in the United States biologically, but perhaps one of the most homogeneous socially.
An Ancient Egyptian and a Modern Ethiopian lady (virtually identical features) Karenga notes that it "is . . . playing Europe's racial game to concede that Egyptians are white or Asian if they don't look like a Eurocentric version of a West African." Furthermore, "Ethiopians and Somalis, perhaps, resemble the ancient Egyptians and ancient Nubians more than any other peoples and they are, even by Eurocentric standards, African. Europeans normally reply that many races have these features, but do those "many races" occupy Africa thosands of years ago?
Using a mountain of linguistic, pictorial, geographical and genetic evidence, these scientists established that the linguistic similarities between the Egyptian language and that of the Wolof (Senegalese) marked the Egyptian tongue as an indigenous African language: analysis of pigmentation, blood groups and hair have shown conclusively that the Egyptians were related to other Nile Valley Africans more so than any other type outside of the African continent.
Ancient artistic depiction's again give much cause for reflection. Illustrations of red skinned men often reflected ceremonial colours rather than actual flesh tone. As seen in the painting of Nubians adorned with the same colours but never casting doubt upon the racial make up of the people them selves.
In point of fact even the Greeks held a tradition of painting their men black and their women with white skins but a again there is no confusion as to whether they were wholly Greek.
The controversy surrounding the racial classification of the Ancient Egyptians should be finally put to rest. Clear rational and scholarly voices must be allowed to ring true.
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GREECE STUDIED FROM KEMET
According to Dr. Obenga: “the ancient Greeks traced all human inventions to the Egyptians, from Calculus, Geometry, Astronomy and Dice Games to Writing...Since the time of Homer, Egyptian antiquity functioned strictly as a highly memorialized component of Greek history. Herodotus said it, Plato confirmed it, and Aristotle never denied it.” (p. 47). Indeed, in their book, A History of the Modern World (1984), R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton, corroborate this historical truism by contending that:
Europeans were by no means the pioneer of human civilization. Half of man’s recorded history had passed before anyone in Europe could read or write. The priests of Egypt began to keep written records between 4000 and 3000 B.C., but more than two thousand years later, the poems of Homer were still being circulated in the Greek city-states by word of mouth. Shortly after 3000 B.C., while the pharaohs were building the first pyramids, Europeans were creating nothing more distinguished than huge garbage heaps.
Furthermore, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) himself, writing in Metaphysics, not only refutes Dr. Lefkowitz’s ahistorical and false assertions but also confesses in Greek Hellenic language that: “Thus the mathematical sciences first (proton) originated in Egypt.” Egypt is “the cradle of mathematics-that is, the country of origin for Greek mathematics”. So, according to Aristotle, “the mathematical arts had never before been formed, constituted or elaborated anywhere else originating in Egypt only” (Obenga, p. 47-48). Aristotle acknowledges the originality of the ancient Egyptians in his own words.
In addition, in Prologue to Prodlus’s Commentaries on Euclid’s Elements, a disciple of Aristotle named Eudemus, who lived in the forth century B.C., confirms: “we shall say, following the general tradition, that the Egyptians were the first to have invented Geometry, (that) Thales, the first Greek to have been in Egypt, brought this theory thereof to Greece” (Obenga, p. 48).
The fact of the matter is that the famous, well known Greeks (Europeans) whom we study and revere in school curricula today all studied at the feet of the ancient Egyptians–Afrikans in the Nile Valley, Kemet. For example, Plato studied at the Temple of Waset for 11 years; Aristotle was there for 11-13 years; Socrates 15 years Euclid stayed for 10-11 years; Pythegoras for 22 yeasrs; Hypocrates studies for 20 years; and the other Greeks who matriculated at Waset included Diodorus, Solon, Thales, Archimides, and Euripides. Indeed, the Greek, St. Clement of Alexanddria, once said that if you were to write a book of 1,000 pages, you would not be able to put down the names of all the Greeks who went to Kemet to be educated and even those who did not surreptitiously claim they went because it was prestigious. “ Herodotus said it, Plato confirmed it and Aristotle never denied it”.
The fact of the matter is that it took 40 years to graduate/matriculate from Waset; this then means that none of the Greeks graduated.
Dr. Obenga points out this significant Kemet-Greece linkage:
I Thales (624-547 B.C.) was the first (protos) Greek student to receive his training from Egyptian priests in the Nile Valley.
II Plato (428-347 B.C.) records that Thales was educated in Egypt under the priests.
III Proclus (Neoplationist, 420-485 A.D.) Reports that Thales introduced science, philosophy and mathematics/geometry to Greece.
IV Greek intellectual life started with the Egyptian-trained student, Thales. He was the founder of the first Greek school of philosophy and science.
V Thales strongly recommended that Pythagoras travel to Egypt to receive his basic education and to converse as often as possible with the priests of Memphis and Thekes.
VI In the fall of 332 B.C. when Alexander invaded Egypt, Aristotle accompanied him
VII Aristotle ranked the country of the Pharaohs (Egypt) the most ancient archaeological reserve in the world. He wrote “That is how the Egyptians whom we considered as the most ancient of the human race”. (Obenga, pp. 28-45).
The Temple of Waset, the world’s first university, and known as “the septer” was built during the reign of Amenhotep III in the XVIII Dynasty, ca 1391 B.C. At its zenith, it educated 80,000 students.
Many people today believe that the words “man know thyself” (in Greek, qnothi seauton) were originally written and spoken by the Greek philosopher, Socrates. The ancient Egyptians wrote these words on the outside of their Temples in the Nile Valley and addressed these words to the neophytes - one of whom was the student Socrates himself. In a companion scenario, the originality of the words “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die,” has been assigned to the Greek philosopher Socrates, whereas history proves that the inventor who coined these words is Imhotep, the Afrikan deity and “the world’s first recorded multi-genius.” He built the world’s first stone building–the Step pyramid at Saqqara circa 2630 B.C.
Moreover, contrary to public information, the first Olympics that was held in Olympia, Greece, in776 B.C., was not held to reward sportsmanship, physical brawn or brinkmanship but instead as a public ceremonial worship by the Greeks of the Afrikan deity Amon, the “ruler of the Gods.” In fact, history proves quite convincingly that the Gods and Goddesses of Europeans were of Afrikan origin but given European names. For example, the Afrikan God, Amun, was renamed Zeus by the Greeks and Jupiter by the Romans; the Afrikan God, Heru (the son of God and associated with light and sun) was called Apollo by both the Greeks and the Romans; the Afrikan God Imhotep (the God of Healing and medicine) was renamed Asclepius by the Greeks and Aesclapius by the Romans; the Afrikan God Djhuti/Thoth (God of Science, Writing and Knowledge) was called Hermes by the Greeks and Mercury by the Romans; the Afrikan God, Pluto, was called Pluto by both the Greeks and Romans; the Afrikan God, Ausar, (the God of resurrection) was renamed Osiris by the Greeks; whereas the Afrikan Goddess Hathor (the Goddess of love and beauty) was called Aphrodite by the Greeks and Venus by the Romans; and the Afrikan Goddess Ist (Aset), (Goddess of maternity), was renamed Isis and was worshiped as the “Black Madonna.” This Afrikan Goddess has had such an impact on Europe that if we were to decipher Paris, the capital city of France, we get Per Isis: Per means Temple, while Isis means “House of Isis”; so the capital of a major European country is named in honor and eternal worship of an Afrikan Deity/Goddess. (See Figure I.)
One of the greatest contributions of the Nile Valley civilization in Egypt to the world was its educational system. The ultimate aim of education in ancient Kemet was for a person to become “one with God,” to “become like God” or “to become godlike through the revision of one’s own ‘Neter’ of how god is revealed in the person.” “Education in ancient Egypt was religious at its base.” At age seven, the brightest boys in Egypt were selected for training in the priesthood. This was the highest honor that could be possibly bestowed on a family-the selection of a son for admission into a caste of brilliant thinkers, the “guardians of the state” whom Plato so greatly admired and wrote about. When the boys (Neophytes) entered the Temple/schools (or Grand Lodge) they had to study for 40 years - subjects as Grammar, Arithmetic, Rhetoric and Dialectic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music, Architecture, Masonry, Carpentry, Engineering, Sculpture, Metallurgy, Agriculture, Mining, Forestry, Art and Magic.
The Neophyte was vigorously trained in how to:
1. Control his thoughts
2. Control his actions
3. Have devotion of purpose
4. Have faith in the ability of his master to teach him the truth
5. Have faith in himself to assimilate the truth
6. Have faith in himself to wield the truth
7. Be free from resentment under the experience of persecution
8. Be free from resentment under experience of wrong
9. Cultivate the ability to distinguish between the real and the unreal (i.e., he must have a sense of values)
10. Cultivate the ability to distinguish between right and wrong
Plato, who greatly admired the Egyptian education system and actually recommended that it be introduced into Greece, copied/imitated/derived his three “cardinal virtues” from these ten goals the neophyte had to attain in the Nile Valley. “Control of thoughts and action,” Plato called the “virtue of wisdom;” “freedom of resentment under persecution” Plato called the “virtue of fortitude;” “the ability to distinguish between right and wrong and between the real and unreal,” Plato called the “virtues of justice and temperance.”
In the area of medicine, the literature says that Hypocrates (born 460 B.C.) is the “father of medicine,” but again history proves that the Afrikan deity, Imhotep, (born 2700 B.C.) was worshiped by the Greeks as the “God of Medicine” 2,000 years before the birth of Hypocrates. Nevertheless, Hypocrates is portrayed as supreme in the area of medicine as reflected in the “Hippocratic Oath” that graduates from medical schools must recite.
The “Oath” reads as follows:
I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I fulfil according to my ability and judgement this oath and this covenant:
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art-if they desire to learn it-without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning of my sons and to the sons of him who instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to medical law, but to no one else.
Now, as was mentioned earlier, Apollo is the Greek and Roman derivative of the Afrikan deity, Heru and Asclepius is the Greek derivative of the Afrikan deity, Imhotep. However, in this European medical “Oath,” no mention is made of the truism that the revered Greek and Roman deities, Apollo and Asclepius, are duplicates of the original Afrikan deities, Heru and Imhotep. Furthermore, the “Oath” also callously omits evidence of “the Kemetic roots and the personalities associated” with this ahistorical, Eurocentric medical Oath. Instead of reciting the “Hippocratic Oath,” medical school graduates should now recite the real, historical “Imhotep Oath.”
Egypt is indeed the light of the world. In the words of Cheikh Anta Diop: “Universal knowledge runs from the Nile Valley toward the rest of the world, in particular, Greece, which served as an intermediary. As a result, no thought, no ideology is foreign to Africa which was the land of their birth.” And no amount of Eurocentric research can ever efface this Egyptian, historical, contributive reality.
Lefkowitz, M. (1996). Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach My as History, New York: Basic
Obenga, T. (1995). A Lost Tradition: African Philosophy in World History, Philadelphia, Pa.: The Source Editions.
Palmer, R.R. and Colton, J. (1984). A History of the Modern World, New York: Knopf, Ltd.
Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").
Dr. Nantambu is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, U.S.A.
The African Kingdoms of Nubia
Despite the new wave of myths regarding Nubia and Kemet (Ancient Egypt) It is clear that Kemet and Nubia were neighbouring African Civilizations just as Aksum and Nubia. Difference doesn’t mean Nubia was a ‘black race’ and Kemet wasn’t. Both groups were ethnic groups of indigenous African origin. The ethnic differences were no more significant than Ethiopians verses Kenyans.
Ancient Nubia, like modern Sudan, was a land of many different peoples who identified themselves primarily by ethnic group and probably spoke many different languages. We now refer to them all as "Nubians" but they were not all the same, nor were they unified.
In the first half of the twentieth century, most European and American scholars identified the Egyptians as "white" and primarily "Near Eastern" in order to remove them from the African cultural sphere and to serve their ignorant and bigoted views that high civilization could only have been created by non-Africans. In the latter twentieth century, Afrocentric scholars indignantly challenged this model, asserting the "blackness" and "African-ness" of the Egyptians. In each case the aim of these scholars was to claim "ownership" of the Egyptians for their own "race" within the context of the modern, primarily American racial debate. In fact, the Egyptians are certainly Africans, but they are neither "white" in the European sense nor "black" in the Congo-African sense. It can be argued that they were like the modern Ethiopians or Somali people with straight to curly hair and narrow bone structure. So from a modern racial context they would sit in the African world just as Ethiopians, Sudanese, Fulani and Somalis do today. The Egyptians really possessed a wide range of skin color and many differing physical characteristics, as did the ancient Nubians. But as time progressed an Egypt mixed more with outsiders with the final influx of modern Arabs the racial texture of Egypt became more complex with a higher percentage of “white skinned Arabs.” (As seen in lower Egypt today (North Egypt).
The land of Nubia was located in what is now Sudan and lower Egypt. Home to what is considered to be the earliest African culture, Nubia waves of Central African inhabitants managed to transform a land notorious for its high temperatures and infrequent rainfall into a series of kingdoms that influenced, occasionally conquered and inevitably outlasted their more famous Egyptian neighbours. Nubian achievements include the worlds first Archaeoastronomy devices, conceived approximately a millennium before Stonehenge.
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I Below are excerpts from various historical and archeological sources that describe the progression of the Nubians from the initial organization of the settlers to the end of Christian domination around 1400AD. The reader is encouraged to follow the embedded links to find more information.
A-Group is the designation for a distinct culture that arose between the First and Second Cataracts of the Nile in Nubia between the Egyptian 1st dynasty and the 3rd millennium BC. The A-Group settled on very poor land with scarce natural resources, yet they became the first Nubians to develop agriculture. This culture was one of the two important “kingdoms” in Lower Nubia. Artifacts from this culture were discovered in 1907 by Egyptologist George A. Reisner.
A-Group royal tombs were found to be two centuries older than those of the Egyptians. It is believed that the Egyptians developed their grave site customs for honoring pharaohs from Central Africa. The A-Group had strong beliefs in the afterlife. A great deal of time was put into their cemeteries and funerals.
The so-called C-Group appeared in Lower Nubia about 400 years later and persisted from about 2500 to 1500BC. They likely like their cultural origins in Upper Nubia, and many of the artifacts that they left are quite different from those of their A-Group predecessors in the area. The C-Groupers traded with the Egyptians, but the Egyptians themselves wanted to exert more control over their southern neighbours. During the Middle Kingdon, they built forts near the second cataract of the Nile. During Dynasty 13, Egypt lost control of Nubia, and Nubians occupied the Egyptian formts. And toward the end of Dynasty 17, the rulers of Nubia and Hyksos rulers were treating each other as equals.
The Kerma culture, called Kush or Kushite by the Egyptians, was the first Nubian state, situated between the fourth and fifth cataracts of the Nile River in what is now the Sudan, between 2500 and 1500 BC. Early Kerma society was agricultural in nature and had round hut dwellings with distinctive circular tombs; later Kerma developed into a foreign trade-based society with mud-brick architecture, dealing in ivory, diorate, and gold.
Known as the â€śLand of the Yamâ€ť to the Egyptians, Kerma lay in a well-watered basin where Ethiopian nutrients deposited by the Nile supported the agricultural resources of the kingdom. They were rich in cattle for domestic use, sacrifice, and exported large numbers to Egypt. Prosperous and powerful, the kings of Kerma built a sprawling city with a white temple (deffufa) fortified by mud-brick walls and rectangular towers astride the ancient routes of trade from south to north and east to west. Their craftsmen produced exquisite black-topped pottery. The indigenous burials of their kings pre-date any Egyptian influence and were accompanied by ritual human and animal sacrifice. One Kerma royal turmulus records the slaughter of 4,00 cattle for the deceased.
At one point, Kerma came very close to conquering Egypt, with Egypt suffering a “humiliating defeat” by the hands of the Kushites. According to [the] head of the joint British Museum and Egyptian archaeological team, the attack was so devastating that, had the Kerma forces chosen to stay and occupy Egypt, they might have eliminated it for good and brought the great nation to extinction.
Egypt dominated parts of Nubia from about 1950 to 1000 BC. Forts, trading posts and Egyptian style temples were built in Kush, and the Nubian elite adopted the worship of Egyptian gods and even the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system. The gold, ebony and ivory of Nubia contributed to the material wealth of Egypt, and many of the famed treasures of the Egyptian kings were made of products from Nubia.
The one factor that chiefly characterized Egypt’s relationship with Nubia through most of their history was exploitation. Nubia’s most important resource for Egypt was precious metal, including gold and electrum.
Nubia was also an important source of manpower and labor for the Egyptians. The Palermo Stone records that early in the 4th Dynasty, King Snefru led a military campaign into Nubia reputedly to crush a “revolt” there (the Egyptians considered all enemies, whether foreign or domestic, as “rebels” against the natural order). According to that text, he captured 200,000 head of cattle and 7,000 prisoners, all of whom were deported to Egypt as laborers on royal building projects.
Napatan, Meroitic and Ballana Periods
The Napatan Period (about 700 - 300 BC) is named after the town Napata, where an Amun temple was built and where the kings were buried in small pyramids (the cemeteries are located not far at Nuri and el Kurru). Napata was the religious centre of the country. In the visible record Napatan culture seems heavily influenced by the Egyptians. The kings were buried in small pyramids, with an Egyptian style funerary equipment (shabtis, sarcophagi with religious texts, canopic jars, funerary stelae). The Egyptian hieroglyphic script was used. The exact order of most kings of the Napatan period is still under discussion. There is a group of well attested rulers dating shortly after the the end of Napatan control of Egypt (for example: Senkamanisken and Aspelta). Some kings dating to about the 4th century BC are again well-known from long monumental inscriptions (Arikamaninote, Harsiotef).
By 200 BC the capital had shifted yet farther south to Meroe, where the kings continued to be buried in pyramid tombs and to build temples to Nubian and Egyptian gods in a hybrid Egyptian Roman-African style. Roman historians record the skirmishes and treaties which marked the relation ship of Roman Egypt and Nubia. By AD 250 the culture of Nubia changed radically, perhaps due to the immigration of new peoples into the Nile Valley. Pyramid tombs were replaced by the great tumulus burials of the kings of Ballana.
Nubian Christianity developed in great isolation. Between 639 and 641, the Arabs conquered Egypt, and, from then on, Coptic Christians there were a diminishing minority in a country under Muslim rule. Despite this isolation, Nubian Christianity was to survive and, indeed, flourish for centuries.
Culturally, its Christianity was greatly influenced by Byzantium. The Nubians used the liturgy of St. Mark, and decorated the walls of their churches with murals that showed their royals dressed in Byzantine style. In 1961, Polish archaeologists excavated what appeared to be a mound of sand, and, within it, found Faras Cathedral, its walls decorated with 169 magnificent paintings of dark-skinned Nubian kings, queens and bishops, and biblical figures and saints.
The decline of Christianity in Nubia seems to have been mainly cased by a gradual process of Muslim immigration. As time went on, the Nubian population became increasingly dominated by Islam or Islamic Nubians. In 1315, the Muslim government of Egypt imposed a Nubian Muslim as the king of Makouria, and, in 1317, Dongola Cathedral officially became a mosque. However, the tiny Christian splinter kingdom of Dotawo survived in lower Nubia until the late 15th century.
3,800 - 3,100 BC
In the darkness of mans waking moments on earth a mallet strikes an anvil and for the briefest of moments and while the universe holds its breath - the darkness is dispelled. The power of God ignites the plains of the Earth with brilliant civilisations. The first of such events manifested in the regions of modern day Egypt and was known as Ta-Seti, thus called 'The Land of the Bow' for its renown archers.
Nestled in the ancient land of Nubia known as 'The Land of Gold' - this civilisation was established 300 years before the first dynasty of ancient Egypt was even a dream, as 12 noble dynasties reigned over its impressive countenance. In fact evidence suggests that it may have held the antecedence of Egypt in its womb signalling it as the first form of government and kingship known to mankind.
The idea of a pharaoh (king) may have come down the Nile from Nubia to Egypt (and) that would make Nubian civilization the ancestor of Egypt...
Dr. Bruce Williams, Archaeologist
These wonderful discoveries were made by archaeologists labouring tirelessly with spades, chisels and shovels, who have revealed the illustrious days of Ta-Seti - stradling the regions of northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Also known as Ethiopia and Kush, its hidden secrets were laid bare by Professor Bruce William's in 1962. It took a colossal 20 years to gather the results of his teams extensive excavation.
Recognised for its fabulous natural resources of gold, ebony, ivory and incense - Ta-Seti engaged contsantly with its neighbours in trade and commerce. Artefacts of profound importance discovered in the ancient ruins and royal tombs bear witness to craftsmanship of excelled skill and precision. Pottery and jewellery, found in Qustul, made to the highest order were encrusted with gold and precious stones: amethyst - carnelian.
Astonishingly, writing was found in abundance adorning exquisite pottery establishing the universal literacy for all who lived in this forgotten but pivotal realm. This hieroglyphic textual evidence constitutes the oldest known form of writing yet discovered!
The Kingdom of Ghana
In west Africa, in what is modern day Mali and southern Mauritania, a golden age was coming into fruition. Ancient Ghana ranks as one of the most note worthy of African Kingdoms, as Dr Basil Davidson as stated;
Important archaeological discoveries late in the 1970's have revealed a more complex and much earlier development, well before Ancient Ghana of 300 AD, of early state-like communities and even early cities. Surveys and excavations in this 'Middle Niger' region completed in 1984 at no fewer than forty-three sites of ancient settlement, proved that they belonged to an Iron Age culture developing there since about 250 BC, that the settlements grew into urban centres of natural size and duration'.
The city Dr Davidson alludes to is the city of old Djenne and its neighbouring lands. Large stone masonry villages have also been discovered dating as far back as 1100 BC. Their archaeological finds include roads and walls of 2 metres high very likely erect in defence of the village.
Taking the title 'Ghana' meaning King, figures through out history expanded upon these beginnings and the Ghanaian Empire began in earnest in 300 AD.
The Sonninkes, the founders of the empire, who excelled in the use and manufacture of iron had the advantage of superior weapons, quickly dominated surrounding nations.
At its heart was Kumbi-Salah which acted as a hive of extensive trade and attracted caravans from a variety of regions. Famed for its gold from the Wangara region, commented upon by the Arab writer Ibn Fazari who called Ghana the land of gold, compered it in size to its northern contemporary Morocco, while salt came to the city from the Sahara. Due to their expertise with iron and other metals, ancient Ghana traded in some of the finest artefacts in the area. Along side cotton, it was also known for its leather work called 'Moroccan Leather' despite the fact that it indeed originated in Ghana.
Ibn Khaldun the well known Arab historian of the 14th century had this to say concerning the Ghanaian empire.
At the time of the conquest of Northern Africa by the Arabs (between the periods 639 and 708 CE), some merchants penetrated into the western regions of the blacks and found among them no king more powerful than the King of Ghana. His states extended westwards to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Ghana (Kumbi-Salah) the capital of this strong, populated cities of the world...
More wonders came from these African lands as attested too by another Arab geographer Ibn Haukal who commented in amazement on the lucrative trade that flourished in the region. His comments made in 951 CE mentions a cheque produced for the sum of 42,900 golden dinars written for a merchant in the state of Audoghast from a partner in Sidjilmassa in the north! Tales abound of one particular gold nugget weighing 30 pounds! This was truly a land of astonishing wonders and lavished wealth. A far cry from the misconception of the African languishing in barbarity and ignorance!
Ibn Khaldun again makes mention of the lifestyle of the ancient Ghanaians while quoting from a book written in 1067 by Abu Ubaid Al-Bakri. He describes the Muslim quarter which had sprung up to facilitate the trans-Saharan trade with north Africa, containing 12 mosques, buildings of stone and acacia wood, schools and centres of education. It was described further as 'the resort of the learned, of the rich and pious of all nations'.
A truly cosmopolitan city where the finest silk and brocade were worn by the populace.
In 990 CE Audoghast to the north was captured and included into the sprawling Ghanaian Empire. It was a fine addition and boasted a dense population including many from as far away as Spain. Its streets were lined with elegant houses, public buildings and mosques. The surroundings were rich in pastoral lands including sheep and cattle, making meat plentiful. Wheat was found in the market places in abundance imported from the north, honey from the south and a variety of foodstuffs from other regions. Robes of blue and red from Morocco was a popular fashion at the time. All which exchanged hands with payments of gold dust, cowrie shells or salt.
The ruler at the time emperor Tenkamenins court was described in the following terms by Al-Bakri;
When he gives and audience to his people he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth and gold; behind him stand 10 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 governor of the city is seated on the ground in front of the King, and all around him are his ministers in the same position. The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed, who never leave the kings seat, they wear collars of gold and silver.'
However in 1079 the land was invaded from the north by Almoravids pouring out of the newly founded Moroccan city of Marrakesh. A mass exodus insued by the people of Ghana who fled southwards to escape the conflict. This may go some way in explaining why ancient and modern day Ghana are not in the same place today.
By 1087 the Almoravids lost control of the empire to the Soninkes, but the empire disintegrated into several smaller states. Leadership was again assumed by native Ghanaian leaders but the days of glory were gone and the empire soon broke up.
Wagadou Empire ("Land of Herds". existed c. 750-1200) The Kingdom of Ghana is generally given the dates 9th to the 13th century CE by historians. It marks the beginning of a series of empires in West Africa that were involved in extensive commercial trade. The introduction of the camel, which preceded Muslims and Islam by several centuries, brought about a gradual revolution in trade, and for the first time, the extensive gold, ivory, and salt resources of the region could be sent north and east to population centers in North Africa, the West Asia (Middle East) and Europe in exchange for manufactured goods. This all proves trade in this region was ancient. You should note by looking at the map above that the area of the Kingdom of Ghana during this time period is farther north than the present day country of Ghana, which Kwame Nkrumah names after Ancient Ghana.
Some have called the Kingdom of Ghana the "land of gold, " an excellent description since it was abounding in gold. The gold trade was largely responsible for the development of Ghana into a powerful, centralized kingdom. The peoples of West Africa had independently developed their own gold mining techniques and began trading with people of other regions of Africa and later Europe as well. At the time of the Kingdom of Ghana, gold was traded for salt that came down from the Sahara desert.
In addition to the gold trade, historians have pointed to a second important factor in the development of these West African Kingdoms. This was the use of iron. The use of iron to make tools and weapons helped some people to expand their control over neighboring people. These changes called for new forms of social organization, contributing to the development of centralized, powerful empires. Historians also say that the use of the horse and camel, along with iron, were important factors in how rulers were able to incorporate small farmers and herders into their empires.
Rulers of Awkar
- King Kaya Maja : circa 350 AD
- 21 Kings, names unknown: circa 350 AD- 622 AD
- 21 Kings, names unknown: circa 622 AD- 750 AD
Soninke Rulers "Ghanas" of Wagadou Empire
- Majan Dyabe Cisse: circa 750s
- More GhanasRuler, names unknown: circa 750s- 1040
- Bassi: 1040- 1062
- Tunka Manin: 1062- 1076
- General Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar: 1076- 1087
Ghanas of Wagadou Kingdom
- Kambine Diaresso: 1087- 1090s
- Suleiman: 1090s- 1100s
- Bannu Bubu: 1100s- 1120s
- Majan Wagadou: 1120s- 1130s
- Musa: 1140s- 1160s
Rulers during Kaniaga Occupation
- Diara Kante: 1180-1202
- Soumaba Cisse as vassal of Soumaoro: 1203-1235
Ghanas of Wagadou Tributary
- Soumaba Cisse as ally of Sundjata Keita: 1235-1240
The Ghanaian kings controlled the gold that was mined in their kingdom and implemented a system of taxation for their people. Around 1054, the Almoravid rulers came south to conquer the Kingdom of Ghana and convert the people to Islam. The authority of the king eventually diminished, which opened the way for the Kingdom of Mali to begin to gain power. The trade that had begun, however, continued to prosper.
Two important sources that have told historians about the history of the Kingdom of Ghana are the writings of a Spanish Muslim named Al-Bakri and archaeological finds. Archaeologists have worked at excavating a site that many believe to be one of the king's cities of the Kingdom of Ghana, Kumbi Saleh.
The Sahel region of the Sudan, that is the region immediately south of the Sahara desert in central and western Africa, saw four of the greatest African empires. The largest and longest lasting was Ghana, followed by Mali and its successor, Songhay. Near central Africa, however, arose another great empire called Kanem around 1200.
Kanem was originally a confederation of African groups, but by 1100, a group of called the Kanuri settle in Kanem and in the thirteenth century the Kanuri began to conquer the surrounding areas. They were led by one of the great figures of African history, Mai Dunama Dibbalemi (1221-1259), who was the first of the Kanuri to convert to Islam. Dibbalemi declared jihad, or "holy war," against surrounding chieftaincies and so precipitated one of the most dynamic periods of conquest in Africa. At the height of their empire, the Kanuri controlled territory from Libya to Lake Chad to Hausaland. These were strategic areas: all the commercial traffic through north Africa had to pass through Kanuri territory. As a result of the military and commercial growth of Kanem, the Kanuri slowly changed from a nomadic to a sedentary people. In the late 1300's, civil strife within Kanuri territory began to seriously weaken the empire so that by the early 1400's, Kanuri power shifted from Kanem to Bornu, a Kanuri kingdom south and west of Lake Chad. When Songhay fell, this new Kanuri empire of Bornu grew very rapidly. The Kanuri grew powerful enough to unite the kingdom of Bornu with Kanem during the reign of Idris Alawma (1575-1610). Idris Alawma was a fervent Muslim and set about building a Muslim state all the way west into Hausaland in northern Nigeria. This state would last for another two hundred years, but in 1846, it finally succumbed to the growing power of the Hausa states.
The Kingdom of Mali
The Mali Empire was the 2nd largest empire in Africa at 1.1 million KM, 2nd to Songhay. Take another look at the map above showing Africa's kingdoms and empires. Notice the relationship between Ghana and Mali. The Kingdom of Mali includes all of Ghana plus a lot more territory! During its time, Mali was the second largest empire in the world only after the Mongolian empire in Asia. The dates that historians have designated for the Kingdom of Mali are from the 13th to 15th centuries CE.
The Kingdom of Mali came to control the gold trade that the Kingdom of Ghana had controlled before it, but it also expanded its trading in many ways. The Kingdom of Mali controlled the salt trade in the north and many caravan trade routes. Additionally, it traded extensively with Egypt and the copper mine areas to the east.
The founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Mali was Sundiata Keita. We know about him through the writings of a 14th century North African historian named Ibn Khaldun. Sundiata expanded the kingdom to include the Kingdom of Ghana and West African gold fields.
The most celebrated king of Mali was Mansa Musa. He greatly extended Mali's territory and power during his reign. He made a name for himself in distant regions throughout the Muslim world through his pilgrimage to Mecca, which is in present-day Saudi Arabia. Sixty thousand people and eighty camels carrying 300 lbs. of gold each accompanied him to Mecca.
Several great centers of Islamic learning were also established during the Kingdom of Mali. Among them were the legendary Timbuktu, Djenne, and Gao. Scholars came from all over the Muslim world to study at these places, which have a long and rich history of learning in religion, mathematics, music, law, and literature. Although many people in Mali maintained their indigenous religions during this time, Islam was becoming well established throughout the kingdom.
The fourteenth-century traveler Ibn Battuta visited ancient Mali a few decades after Musa's death and was much impressed by the peace and lawfulness he found strictly enforced there. The Mali empire extended over an area larger than western Europe and consisted of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces. Following Mansa Musa's death, Mali went into a long decline, shrinking to the size of its original territory by 1645.
From the ashes of the Ghanaian Empire emerged a new empire of truly legendary proportions: The Empire of Mali!
Sweeping out from the small state of Kangaba and led by Sundjata Keita, the Malians, also known as Mandinkas, captured the Ghanaian capital of Kumbi-Salah and its incredible wealth and trade routes. Islam had come to the kingdom of Mali in 1050 AD under their first Muslim monarch, king Baramandanah. History has it that one of his successors Musa Keita visited the holy places in Mecca four times such as his love for th efaith of Islam!
The groups now unified under the victorious Sundjata, who was now poised to be sovereign over a kingdom that would become the famed Mali Empire.
Mamadou Kouyate recounts how Sundjata defeated the Sossos and sacked Kumbi Saleh;
'Having drawn his sword, Sundjata led the charge, shouting his war cry. The Sossos were surprised by his sudden attack. The lightening that flashs across the sky is slower, the thnderbolts less frightening and flood waters less surprising than Sundjata. In a trice Sundjata was in the middle of the Sossos like a lion in the sheepfold. The Sossos, trampled under the hooves of his fiery charger, cried out. When he turned to his right, the Soumaoro fell in their tens, and when he turned to his left his sword made heads fall as when some one shakes a tree of ripe fruit.'
Sundjata Keita, although a mighty warrior was also a nation builder of vision. Establishing his capital at Niani he bid his soldiers to farm the land, literally turning swords into plough shares; soldiers in to farmers harvesting the land and raising poultry and cattle.
Under the leadership of Sundjata and his successors, the Malians forged an empire three times the already impressive size of Ancient Ghana, and stretched west to the Atlantic Ocean, south into the deep forests, east beyond the Niger River, and north to the salt and copper mines of the Sahara. In fact Mali encompassed a size akin to western Europe combined and included Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Mauritania. A truly vast area indeed.
Ibn Battuta describes the Malians as such:
The blacks are seldom unjust and have a greater abhorrence to injustice than any other people. Their Sultan shows no mercy to anyone who is guilty of the act. There is complete security in their country. Neither traveller nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.
After the passing of Sundjata in 1255, history records and bears witness to the incredible sense of discovery and adventure that these Africans held in their hearts.
The Egyptian geographer Shihab ad-Din al-Umari published the Masalik ad Adsar fi Mamalik al Amsar in 1342. In this astonishing volume the author describes the daring sea voyages of Mansa Abu Bakr II who equipped 200 ships with men, food, water and gold to last for several years and cast them off into the great unknown regions of the Atlantic Ocean. Their instructions? To sail west until all supplies where exhausted or until they reached the extremities of the ocean!
When only a single ship returned, the captain relayed the discovery of a mid-Atlantic current which took his fellow sea fares further west but from which he refuse to go into. Abu Bakr was resolved to traverse the ocean but this time equipped 2,000 ships as he had done with the previous crew and sailed with his men into the sea of darkness and fog.
They never came back.
This was the year 1311, Christopher Columbus was not to make his famous voyage to the Caribbean for another 181 years! And indeed it has been discovered that Malian place names, customs, forms of Islamic dress and language have been found in Brazil, Peru and the United States. And contrary to the experience of the European explorers who landed upon the shores of the new world, the Muslim Mangdinkas where revered for their knowledge and piety and freely intermingled with the indigenous tribes along the length and breath of the Native American world.
Abu Bakr II had conferred the vastness of his power and legacy to Mansa Musa who was the grandson of Sundiata’s half brother and who's name which conjures up tales of grandeur and elegance and unsurpassed generosity and wealth. In 1324, like every Muslim who endeavours to perform the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and participate in the Hajj, a monarch of Emperor Mansa Musa's immense standing and prestige would do so in truly spectacular fashion!
Mounted before a caravan of 72,000 fellow pilgrims, comprising of soliders and servants and 900 camels loaded with 24,000 pounds of gold, much of which was given away to the poor (more), this wondrous entourage must have been a truly awe-inspiring sight and is only likened to the caravans of the Queen of Sheba sent to Prophet Solomon in ancient times.
Between his home land and the fabled city of Mecca, Emperor Mansa Musa's sojourn radically altered the economy of every state he passed through, such was the impact of his vast gold stores. Egypts own economy was devastated for 12 years after because of the breath taking amount of gold Mansa Musa brought into that country!
Under Mansa Musa, diplomatic ties with Tunis and Egypt were established, and Muslim scholars and artisans where brought into the empire, while the legendary name of Mali appeared on maps in Europe.
Ever a patron of the arts and sciences, Mansa Musa set about building institutions of learning and embarked upon building numerous universities, schools and mosques in Timbuktoo and Gao.They became important trading centers for all of West Africa as well as fabled centers of wealth, culture, and learning. It was in these cities that vast libraries were built and madrasas (Islamic universities) were endowed. They became meeting-places of the finest poets, scholars, and artists of Africa and the Middle East. Timbuktu, in particular, had become legendary in the European imagination, representing all the wealth of Africa. In the capital Niana the Mansa erected the famous Hall of Audience a grand structure which boasted some of the finest examples of architectural techniques of the time including cut stone, adornments of arabesques, windows framed in gold and silver, wooden floors framed in silver foil and surmounted by a dome.
By way of establishing diplomatic ties with other African nations Emperor Mansa Musa sent hand picked gifts of friendship to the sultan of Morocco Abu Al-Hassan who in like manner send lavish presents but Emperor Mansa Musa died before they could reach his court. His successor Mansa Suleiman nonetheless received the gifts and established a tradition of similar exchanges for years to come.
By the fifteenth century, and like Ghana before it, the empire of Mali fell victim to internal feuding, droughts and invasion. With visionaries like Mansa Musa gone rival states rose to defy Mali and one in particular ushered in a new golden age.
The Kingdom of Songhay
The Songhay empire was the largest empire in Africa at a peak of 1.4 million km. Now take a look back again at the map of Africa's empires and kingdoms. Click here to return to the map again. You will see that the Kingdom of Songhay encompassed part of the Kingdom of Mali, as well as land beyond to the east and north. The dates for the Kingdom of Songhay partly overlap those of Mali, although the information that follows will reveal at what point Songhay gained control over certain portions of the old Kingdom of Mali. The dates for the Kingdom of Songhay are between 1350 and 1600 CE.
A List of the Rulers of SonghayThe Za Dynasty
The first of the rulers to govern Songhay was Za-Alayaman. He was succeeded by the following successive rulers: Za-Zaki; Za-Takay; Za-Akay; Za-Koy; Za-Ali Fay; Za-Biyai Kumay; Za-Biyai; Za-Karay; Za-Yama Karaywa; Za-Yama; Yama-Danka Kiba`u; Za-Kukuray and Za-Kinkin. These fourteen rulers all died in a state of jahiliyya and not one of them believed in Allah and His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
Among the first of the rulers of Songhay to accept Islam was Za-Kusay, may Allah be merciful to him. In his own language he was called Muslim-dam - which means 'he accepted Islam of his own free will without coercion'. That was in the year 400 from the year of the hijra of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. He was succeeded consecutively by the following rulers: Za-Kusay Darbiya; Za-Hin Kuzwankay Dam; Za-Biyai Koy Kim; Za-Nintasanay; Za-Biyai Kayna Kimba; Za-Kayna Shanyubu; Za-Tibu; Za-Yama Dadu; Za-Fadazu; Za-Ali Kura; Za-Biru Falak (may Allah be merciful to him); Za-Yasibay; Za-Duru; Za-Zanka Bari; Za- Bisa Bari and Za-Bada.
The Sonni Dynasty
After the Za dynasty came the first of the sonnis, Ali Kolon, who, with the help of Allah, broke the chains of the sovereignty of the people of Mali from the necks of the people of Songhay. After him the rule was given to his brother Silman Nar. Both Silman Nar and Ali Kolon were the sons of Za-Yasibay. The rulers after them in consecutive order were: Sonni Ibrahim Kabay; Sonni Uthman Kanafa; Sonni Bar-Kayna Ankabi; Sonni Musa; Sonni Bokar Zanka; Sonni Bokar Dala-Buyunbu; Sonni Maru-Kuray; Sonni Muhammad Da`u; Sonni Muhammad Kukiya; Sonni Muhammad Far; Sonni Karbifo; Sonni Maru-Fay Kuli-Jimu; Sonni Maru Arkana; Sonni Arandan; Sonni Sulayman Daama; Sonni Ali; Sonni Baru whose name was Bokar Da`u; and after him was Askiya al-Hajj Muhammad.
The Origin of the Kingdom of Songhay
As for the first ruler of Songhay, Za-Alayaman, his name takes its origin from the Arabic phrase: 'ja'a min 'l-Yemen' ('he came from Yemen'). It has been related that he left Yemen, along with his brother, traveling in the earth of Allah ta`ala until they reached the boundaries of the land of Kukiya (Gao), a very ancient site on the coast of the Niger river in the country of Songhay. This occured during the time of Pharoah. It is even said that he was among the sorcerers who had contended with Musa, the One who spoke directly with Allah, upon him be peace.
Mali was in ruins
A former tributary state of the empire since 1335, Songhai now took centre stage and a fire brand shot forth from its hand - lighting the heavens!
By 1469 Timbuktoo and Mali's capital Niani was levelled and the conquerors was named Sonni Ali. From his capital at Gao, Sonni Ali tightened his grip on the former Malian territories.
When Sonni Ali passed away, he was succeeded by his son Sonni Baru whom, like his father, declined to pronounce himself a believer in Islam. This gave Muhammad Toure, a former general for Sonni Ali, legitimate grounds to rebel. In 1493, Muhammad Toure created a professional army of slave soldiers and after defeating Sonni Baru, doned the mantle of Askia or king. This new Askia was a passionate and cultured defender of the Islamic faith and proved a highly skilled ruler, extending the empire's territories westward to Senegal, eastward to Air and north to the Taghaza mines of the Sahara.
Askia Muhammad, may his memory be forever on our lips, was a ruler of rare fortitude and was cut from the same cloth that bore Mansa Musa and, like him, embarked upon a magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca in the year 1495. While not as elaborate as Mansa Musa's, Askia Muhammad's pilgrimage was nonetheless wondrously impressive. Travelling with 500 hundred horsemen, 1,000 foot soldiers and 30,000 pieces of gold, Askia Muhammad returned with the title 'Caliph of the Western Sudan'. Mohammad's ties with the wider Islamic world was greater than those of previous monarchs before him. He surrounded himself with scholars and the elite of pious teachers and jurists, who guided him on all aspects of governing the empire according to Islamic rites. His love for religion naturally included a deep love for learning and as an indication of the importance that Askia Muhammad and his people placed on knowledge and all its ancillary sciences, the famous traveller Leo Africanus, in his volume 'A History and Description of Africa' noted:
'In Timbuktoo there are numerous judges, doctors and clerics all receiving good salaries from the king. He pays great respect to men of learning. There is a big demand for books in manuscript, imported from North Africa. More profit is made from the book trade than from any other line of business'.
When one considers that Songhai was famed for its vast economy of gold, the previous statement is truly extraordinary! In fact The University of Timbuktu was centred around three Mosques or Masjids: The Masjid of Jingaray Ber, the Masjid of Sankore and the Masjid of Sidi Yahya.
At the University of Timbuktu attended by 25,000 people, the students not only sought sacred knowledge there but also sought to purified their souls through the tenants of Islam. These students were just, honest, God fearing, trustworthy and of honourable character. Graduate students were the personification of the teachings of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet of Islam who himself emphasised the importance of knowledge and piety.
The character of the individual nurtured by this educational system can be illustrated by one highly respected and learned scholar by the name of Professor Ahmed Abu Bakr who was spoken of in these glowing terms:
He taught his pupils to love science, to follow its teachings, to devote their time to it and to associate with scholars. he lavishly lent his most precious books, rare copies and the volumes he most valued, and never asked for them again, no matter what was the subject they treated. Sometimes a student would present himself at his door and ask for a book and he would give it without even knowing who the young man was .'
In 1538 Askia Muhammad died and was buried in a step pyramid in Gao but his vision survived in this successors. In particular was Askia Dawoud who came to power in 1548-82. A warriors of some note Dawoud was himself a scholar and lover of the faith. Much like his predecessors, Dawoud encouraged the building of mosques and the extension of the world famous Sankore Mosque, construction of libraries and centres of learning.
This golden age continued, for in the 16th century, students in Timbutcoo with a population of 100,000 could enjoy spacious houses made from clay and wood with thatched roofs. Mosques made from baked clay were quite elaborate and stylish. Factories and shops abound, weavers of cotton and linen flourished in great numbers. The palace of the Askia saw the comings and goings of some of the most noble of courtesans as described again by Leo Africanus:
...habits of dress became sumptuous and it would seem that different functionaries had their different uniforms and insignia of office, to the wearing of which great value was attached. Their dress and appointments of women became also extravagantly luxurious. They were served in gold. In full dress their persons were covered with jewels and the wives of the rich when they went out were attended by well-dressed servants'
The capital Gao was a reflection of its sister cities. Described was also noted by Leo Africanus as well poilced and inhabited by wealthy merchants who traded in gold and other goods. Food stuff such as melon, bread and meat where plentiful as were wells of fresh water.
Jenne was a eight gated city, well protected by swamps it could only be approached by narrow canals and streams. Its most striking feature was the Grand Mosque. It facilitaed thousands of students and teachers versed a wide range of dicsiplines and expertise including medicine and surgery.
In 1591 disaster loomed on the northern horizons when an invasion from Morocco, prompted and aided by the queen of England, launched an attack with cannonball and fire upon the ancient city. The ruler at the time Askia Ishak II could do nothing as the Moroccans destroyed Songhai and confiscated many books which represented hundreds of years of erudition. It is highly unlikely that many volumes where destroyed, but are thought to adorn the libraries of rare collections the world over.
Songhai was rightfully described as a Golden Age. Unequalled in its erudition, it respresneted the very pinnacle of African achievment and excellence. An excellence which flowed from the hand of God!
But this is not the end of the achievements of the diverse and gifted African people. Across the plains and valleys, over the deserts and oasis are of our memory are civilisations who have cleft their marks in the sand and upon our consciousness.
In the days of mans brief moments on earth Gods mighty mallet pounds again and again upon the anvil of our hearts. And for the briefest of moments, and while the universe waits - the darkness is dispelled!
The exact origins of the Kingdom of Songhay are not clear to historians, although there are records of the King Kossoi accepting Islam around 1009 CE. This began an integration of commerce and religion to gain and maintain power that would continue throughout the history of the Kingdom of Songhay. Islam became a unifying force for the people and an important factor for maintaining state power.
The first of two great rulers in the Kingdom of Songhay was Sonni Ali. He came to power in 1464 CE and made the Songhay perhaps the most powerful state in western/central Africa at the time. He seized Timbuktu and Djenne, which had been parts of the Kingdom of Mali. These, as well as the capital city of Gao, continued to be important centers of learning and commerce. Sonni Ali was not a devout Muslim himself, but was sympathetic to indigenous religious practices. Most of all, he was concerned about his own ambitions to build a great empire.
His successor was Mohammed Askia, who came to power in 1493 CE. He expanded the kingdom even further and set up an even more advanced and strongly centralized government. He developed a new system of laws, expanded the military, and encouraged scholarship and learning. Unlike Sonni Ali, he was a devout Muslim, who used the combination of Islam and commerce to build his kingdom. He brought peace and stability to the kingdom during his reign.
The Kingdom of Songhay came to an end when the Moroccans invaded and conquered them. By 1600 CE, the days of the great kingdoms of West Africa were over.
The Songhai Rebellion and Mali's Decline
Mali reached its peak in fame and fortune in the 1300s. Then weak and incompetent kings inherited power. Late in the 1300s the old problem of dynastic succession brought quarrels that weakened the Mali kingship and gave others opportunity.
The others in this instance were the Songhai people, who lived along the middle of the Niger River and monopolized fishing and canoe transport there. Trade at Gao had brought Islam to the Songhai. Some Songhai royalty had converted to Islam, as had an high percentage of Songhai commoners. Mali control over the Songhai capital, Gao , had always been tentative, and the spirit of independence had not died among Songhai kings. A Songhai king led his people in rebellion. The rebellion disrupted Mali's trade on the Niger River. Mali's empire suffered as the Songhai sacked and occupied Timbuktu in 1433-34. In 1464 a Songhai king, Sonni 'Ali took power, and again Timbuktu was attacked, Sonni 'Ali capturing the city after a great loss of life. Five years later, Sonni 'Ali conquered the town of Jenne which had been thought impregnable. In his twenty-eight years of military campaigning, the victorious Songhai king won the title of King of Kings. He dominated trade routes and the great grain producing region of the Niger river delta. Sonni 'Ali's competitor, the Mali empire, was deteriorating, and the Mali empire was to die in the 1600s.
The Coming of Islam to the Maghrib
Now we are going to go back in time again to the beginnings of and just prior to the Kingdom of Ghana, but this time we will be looking at a region called the Maghrib.
The region known as the Maghrib lies in North Africa, in what are now the countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Note on the map below where the Maghrib lies in relation to the three West African kingdoms we have discussed. (Click here if you need to go back and look at the map of Africa's Kingdoms and Empires again.) Think about what relationship might have existed between these two regions as you read through the text below.
The Maghrib underwent significant changes beginning in the 7th century CE that led to a shift in its dominant religion to Islam. Before this time, the population consisted of a mix of Christians, Jews, and people practicing indigenous religions. Yet this began to change as Arabs gained more and more power in the region. The people living in the Maghrib at the time were called Berbers. Today their descendents still live in this region of Africa, and the majority of them follow Islam. During the period between the 7th century and 10th century CE (overlapping with the early days of the Kingdom of Ghana), Islam became accepted throughout this region. It remains the dominant religion there up to this day. How did this significant change occur?
Historians have explained that the Arabs brought Islam to the Maghrib as they moved into the area. The Arabs were a powerful political and military force in the region. At first, there was pressure for Berbers to join the Arab military and adopt Islam for reasons of political/economic advantage. However by the 8th century, Berbers were ready to adopt Islam as well as Arabic culture. They converted to Islam on a massive scale, but also continued to resent Arab domination in this region.
The Berbers developed their own unique expression of Islam in a doctrine called Kharidjism. This doctrine emphasized equality amongst Muslims and criticized the ruling authority of the Arabs. It became the Berber's ideology of struggle against Arab domination. Their resistance was aimed not at Muslim Arabs, but specifically targeted towards the ruling class. Beginning in the late 8th century CE, the Idrisid dynasty strengthened the presence of Islam in the region through measures to convert the remainder of the non-Islamic population to Islam. By the 10th century, virtually the whole region known as the Maghrib had become Islamic.
During this time of the Arab conquest of the Maghrib in the 7th and 8th centuries, there was an influx of Muslim merchants who became involved in the trans-Saharan gold trade with the Great Kingdoms of West Africa that were just forming around this time. Africans who came across from Arabia and Africans Muslim who traded across the desert spread Islam across West Africa. The Fulani people are noted for this activity.
Mutapa Empire: Great Zimbabwe
The word Zimbabwe literally means "stone dwelling" in the Shona language. Thus, Great Zimbabwe is appropriately named because it is indeed a great stone dwelling! The pictures below show parts of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe as they can be seen today by people who visit the country of Zimbabwe.
Large classrooms are located by the Great Encolosure for training of young people for adulthood (seperared by sex). By examining the ruins and dating the materials found within them, historians have been able to piece together the lives of people who built and dwelled in Great Zimbabwe.
Great Zimbabwe existed between approximately the 12th and 15th centuries CE, and it is the largest of about 150 ruins found in the land around the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. This area is filled with granite that was used as building material. Examine the map below to find the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. The yellow point between the two marks the location of Great Zimbabwe. Its kingdom, however, was much larger, stretching into much of present day Zimbabwe and central Mozambique. The greater area of the kingdom is also indicated on the map.
People living at Great Zimbabwe also practiced agriculture and cattle herding, although historians believe that this became a problem after awhile.
The Mwenes or Monomatapas of the first Mutapa state:
- Nyatsimba Mutota (c. 1430–c. 1450)
- Matope Nyanhehwe Nebedza (c. 1450–c. 1480)
- Mavura Maobwe (1480)
- Mukombero Nyahuma (1480–c. 1490)
- Changamire (1490–1494)
- Kakuyo Komunyaka (1494–c. 1530)
- Neshangwe Munembire (c. 1530–c. 1550)
- Chivere Nyasoro (c. 1550–1560)
- Chisamharu Negomo Mupuzangutu (1560–1589)
- Gatsi Rusere (1589–1623)
- Nyambo Kapararidze (1623–1629)
- Chimbganda matombo (1634-1698)
The Mwenes or Monomatapas of the second Mutapa state:
- Cangara II (1803 - 1804)
- Mutiwapangome (1804 - 1806)
- Mutiwaora (1806)
- Cipfumba (1806 - 1807)
- Nyasoro (1807 - 1828)
- Cimininyambo or Kandeya II (1828 - 1830)
- Dzeka (1830 - 1849)
- Kataruza (1849 - 1868)
- Kandeya III (1868-1870)
- Dzuda (1870-1887)
- Cioko Dambamupute (1887-1902)
Great Zimbabwe was an early example of a state in this region of southern Africa with much political, economic, and military power. With its formation, social and political organization became more hierarchical. This involved a move from village level organization to a larger, broader social and political organization resulting in the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe. What might be some advantages and disadvantages of being part of a large, powerful kingdom, rather than a village that is governed locally? Think about this question as you continue reading the following sections on people living in the interior of East and Central Africa around the time of the Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe.
Backcountry of the Congo Forest
Constructing history in the Congo Forest between the 12th to 15th centuries CE is a challenge. Historians rely on archaeology, linguistics, oral histories, and later writing to learn about this time period because this is a region without written records. Look at the map below to see where the Congo Forest is located.
The Kingdom of Aksum
The Axsum or Aksum empire was the 3rd largest African empire at 1.25 million sq km. In the sixth century, the kingdom of Aksum (Axum) was doing what many elsewhere had been doing: pursuing trade and empire. Despite the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the 400s and the decline in world trade, Aksum's trade increased during that century. Its exports of ivory, glass crystal, brass and copper items, and perhaps slaves, among other things, had brought prosperity to the kingdom. Some people had become wealthy and cosmopolitan. Aksum's port city on the Red Sea, Adulis , bustled with activity. Its agriculture and cattle breeding flourished, and Aksum extended its rule to Nubia , across the Red Sea to Yemen , and it had extended its rule to the northern Ethiopian Highlands and along the coast to Cape Guardafui .
From Aksum's beginnings in the third century, Christianity there had spread. But at the peak of Christianity's success, Aksum began its decline. In the late 600s, Aksum's trade was diminished by the clash between Constantinople and the Sassanid Empire. The Sassanid Empire clashed with Constantinople over trade on the Red Sea and expanded into Yemen, driving Aksum out of Arabia. Then Islam united Arabia and began expanding. In the 700s, Muslims occupied the Dahlak Islands just off the coast of Adulis, which had been ruled by Aksum. The Muslims moved into the port city of Adulis, and Aksum's trade by sea ended.
Aksum was now cut off from much of the world. Greek- the language of trade - declined there. Minted coins became rare. And it has been surmised that the productivity of soil in the area was being diminished by over-exploitation and the cutting down of trees. Taking advantage of Aksum's weakness, the Bedja people, who had been living just north of Aksum, moved in. The people of Aksum, in turn, migrated into the Ethiopian Highlands, where they overran small farmers and settled at Amhara , among other nearby places. And with this migration a new Ethiopian civilization began.
In West Africa, trade was giving rise to towns. There, on the fringes of the Sahara, arose a kingdom and empire that its rulers called Wagadu. The people of this kingdom were the Soninke - African people who spoke the language of Mande. Their king was called Ghana, and Ghana became the name by which this kingdom and empire became known - ancient Ghana rather than the modern state also called Ghana.
The kings of ancient Ghana were authoritarian. They inherited rule through their mother's side of the family - matrilineal rather than patrilineal as with kings in Europe at the time - and they claimed descent from an original ancestor whom they believed had first settled the land. Ghana's king was the leader of a religious cult that was served by devoted priests, and the king's subjects were obliged to view him as divine and as too exalted to communicate directly with them.
Ghana's kings had enhanced their power and enriched themselves by exploiting the trade passing through their territory. From the perspective of merchants they were not unlike highway bandits, forcing from tradesmen a tax on the gold they carried. But the tax was shrewder than robbery. Continuing robbery at will would have ended the arrival of gold on their territory.
As Ghana's kings grew richer they conquered, forcing obedience from the kings of other tribes, from whom they exacted tribute. They extended their rule to the gold producing regions to their south, and they imposed a tax on gold production. Ghana's major competitor was the Berber dominated city of Awdaghost to the northwest - a city with an ample supply of water, surrounded by herds of cattle and where millet, wheat, grapes, dates and figs were grown. The Berbers who dominated that city had wanted to make it the major point of passage for caravan trading across the western Sahara. But in 990 Ghana conquered the city, putting Ghana at the peak of its power.
During Ghana's days of glory, Muslim tradesmen were coming south in caravans from places like Sijilmasa , Tunis and Tripoli . From Sijilmasa the caravans had been going through Taghaza to Awdaghost. From Tunis and Tripoli they had been going to Hausaland and the Lake Chad region. They had been bringing salt southward, and they also carried cloth, copper, steel, cowry shells, glass beads, dates and figs. And they brought slaves for sale.
The Muslims were literate while the Soninke and their kings were not. The Soninke left no record of the doings of their kings. It was through Muslim writers that modern historians would gather what information they could about Ghana.
The Muslims were offended to find people worshiping their king as a divinity rather than worshipping Allah. The Muslims complained of people believing their kings to be the source of life, sickness, health and death. The Muslim writer al-Bakre described a Ghana king as having an army of 200,000 men, 40,000 of whom were archers. And he described the presence in Ghana of small horses.
Among the Soninke, the town of Kumbi had become a commercial center alongside a town of round mud-brick huts. Muslim tradesmen living there built stone houses and a number of mosques. Some Muslims there served as ministers at the king's palace, and the town of Kumbi became an intellectual center for western Africa.
Muslim writers described one king of Ghana as renowned for his great wealth and the splendor of his court. The king held audience wearing fine fabrics and gold ornaments and bedecked his animals and retainers in gold. People in the north of Africa spoke of the king of Ghana as the richest monarch in the world.
But the power of the kings of Ghana was destined to end. Muslims in western Africa united behind the Almoravids - a Muslim dynasty that ruled in Morocco and Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries. A religious movement among the Muslims known as the Sanhaja inspired the Almoravids and others to a jihad (holy war), and Muslim Berbers in the Sahara joined an effort toward conversions and war against Ghana. The leader of the Sanhaja movement and army in the Sahara area, Abu Bakr, captured Awdaghost in 1054. And in 1076, after many battles, he captured the city of Kumbi.
Almoravid domination of Ghana lasted only a few years, but the Almoravids held onto control of the desert trade that had been dominated by Ghana. Without control of the gold trade, the power of Ghana's kings declined further. They had, meanwhile, converted to Islam - while holding onto the religious rituals and myths that justified their rule to their subjects. Ghana's kings allowed Berber herdsmen to move into Soninke homelands, and these herdsmen began overgrazing Ghana's lands. Ghana's agricultural land became worn and less able to support as many people as before. Subject kings and tribes broke away from Ghana's rule. The king of the Sosso people, in neighboring Kaniaga , turned the tables on Ghana, and in 1203 the Sosso overran Ghana's capital city, Kumbi.
The Mandingo Empire
After their victory over Ghana, the Sosso expanded against the Mandingo (or Mande) - a people who spoke Mande and lived on fertile farmland around Wangara . The Sosso king, Sumaguru Kante, put to death all of the sons of the Mandingo ruler but one, Sundjata, who appeared to be an insignificant cripple. But Sundjata rallied the Mandingo. A guerrilla army built by Sundjata overwhelmed the Sosso and in 1235 killed their king, Sumaguru Kante. Sundjata annexed Ghana in 1240, and he took control of the gold trade routes. Merchants moved out of Kumbi to another commercial city farther north: Walata . And in small groups the Soninke people began emigrating from what had been their homeland.
The empire that the Sosso built, called Mali, gained control over the salt trade from Taghaza and the copper trade of the Sahara. The gold trade was a source of wealth for Mali, and so too was trade in food: sorghum, millet and rice. And regarding trade, Mali dominated the town of Timbuktu, nine miles north of the Niger River , which had risen a century or two before as a point of trade for desert caravans.
After Sundjata's death in 1255 more conquests were made by his successors - Mansa Uli and then Sakura. Sakura had been a freed slave serving in the royal household and had seized power after the ruling family had become weakened by quarreling among themselves. It is surmised that Sakura was responsible for Mali's expansion to Tekrur in the west and to Gao in the east.
By the 1300s, Mali's kings had converted to Islam, which gave them advantages of good will in diplomacy and in commerce. But, again, the pagan rituals and artifacts that were a part of the ideology and justification of rule were maintained. And the king's loyal subjects continued their traditional prostrations and covering themselves with dust to display their humility.
By the 1300s, Muslim Mandingo merchants were trading as far east as the city-states in Hausaland and beyond to Lake Chad. Islam was spreading with the trade of its merchants, and it appears that in the 1300s or 1400s the kings of Hausaland converted to Islam. But when a Mali king tried to pressure people in the gold mining region around Wangara to convert, a disruption in the production of gold was threatened, and the pressure to convert was withdrawn.
One well known Mali emperor who was Muslim was Mansa Musa, who ruled from 1312-1337. On record is Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca , his entourage described as including 500 slaves with gold staffs and 100 camels each with 300 pounds of gold. Mansa Mura is described as spending lavishly in the bazaars of Cairo and his spending is said to have increased the supply of gold to an extent that its price depreciated on the Cairo exchange. And, as usual, scholars were not immune from being influenced by wealth, Mansa Musa bringing a collection of them back with him from Mecca. Mali was literate, but only insofar as it employed Muslim scribes at the court of its kings. As in Europe, the common people of Mali were not yet expected to read and write.
Benin Exports Slaves
Benin was a city that dated back to the eleventh century - and no relation to the West African nation of Benin of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Benin was a large city for its time - a walled city several kilometers wide in a forested region inland from where the Niger River emptied into the Atlantic. In the mid-1400s the ruler of Benin, Ewuare, built up his military and began expanding. Captives taken in battle he traded to the Portuguese. Benin's empire reached about 190 miles (300 kilometers) in width by the early 1500s. Then it stopped expanding, and with this it had no more captives to sell as slaves, while selling slaves to the Portuguese was being taken up by others.
South Central Africa
Some scholars theorize that Bantu speaking people had moved south from around the Benue River in western Africa into south-central Africa. By the 900s, the pastoral and Hamitic speaking Tutsi were migrating southward, into east-central Africa, to Rwanda , near Ukerewe , in centuries to come to be known as Lake Victoria. There, it is said, the Tutsi introduced cattle raising, iron-working, new crops, kingship and caste divisions. The people whom the Tutsi overran were Bantu speakers - the Hutu - and the Tutsi made vassals of some of the Hutu, giving them cattle in exchange for services and loyalty.
Before the 1100s agriculture was practiced in much of south-central Africa, except in the interior of southern Angola , close to the Kalahari Desert . In south-central Africa, bananas were grown. This was tropical woodland and savana, where yams and sugar cane were grown. Beans, groundnuts, sorghum and other millets were cultivated in areas of savanna. And people augmented their food production by hunting, fishing, gathering grubs and by raising chickens, pigs and, in a few places, cattle. There was also pottery making, wickerwork and salt production. At Munza were iron mines. People in this region of Africa preferred using salt and metal, including copper, as currency for trading. By the 1300s, communities in Katanga were uniting into a kingdom of farmers, fishermen and crafts people, and they were trading in dry fish and products made of metal.
In some of the more remote parts of south-central Africa were villages that were still egalitarian, but in the more densely populated areas monarchs had arisen. These monarchs associated their rule with spirits, and their rule was supported by rituals and priests not totally removed from sorcery, divination, healing and fertility rites. And those supporting monarchical rule believed in the sacredness of lineage and royal blood of their monarchs. A monarch had underlings who advised him and went with him in his visits to the villages where he claimed rule. He had the keepers of emblems, a military chief and warriors to support his rule. He had slaves. And from his subjects the monarch received taxes with which to maintain his operation and to buy what he needed to maintain what he considered an appropriate lifestyle.
By the 1400s small empires thrived in south-central Africa. One was centered at Luba . Another was centered at Lunda - where, it appears, people learned metal working from Luba. A third empire was centered in the kingdom of the Kongo , which dominated areas such as Loango , Kakong , Ngoi and Kisama .
Those who remained in Nubia after conquests by the Soba and by the Aksumites lived for long periods in peace and cooperation with Egypt, including returning to Egypt runaway slaves. They traded with Egypt, and some genetic diffusion with the Egyptians occurred. Between the ninth and twelfth centuries, Nubia became more Arabic and more Muslim. And Africans from Nubia filled the ranks of Egypt's military.
Egypt went through rule by the Fatimids, followed by the turmoil of the Christian crusades and rule by Saladin and his Ayubbid dynasty. In 1172 Christian Nubia joined Europe's Crusaders by attacking the Ayubbids, and an Ayubbid army successfully counterattacked. In 1250 the Mamelukes replaced the Ayubbids, and the more aggressive Mamelukes warred frequently, their armies diminishing Nubian populations and taking many slaves from Nubia. Nubia split into two kingdoms, Makouria and Alwa . In the 1300s Makouria collapsed. Then in the 1400s, pastoralists from Egypt overran Alwa, and this was followed by civil war there. The Muslim invasions were accompanied by anti-Christian violence, and by 1500 little Christianity was left in what had been Nubia.
Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia
Since the 900s, people in and around the Ethiopian highlands had been benefiting from trade with port cities such as Adulis on the Red Sea, Zeila and Berbera on the Gulf of Aden, and Mogadishu , Merca and Brava on the shore of the Indian Ocean. These were towns populated by Muslims, and inland were Muslim and Christian communities, often neighboring each other. The Muslims had a strong sense of community and generally participated more in trade than the Christians - trade being largely in Muslim hands. The Christians were under various chiefdoms, many were farmers, and a few of them were prosperous and had slaves.
In the area was also a Jewish community, the Falashas, who spoke Ge'ez and knew no Hebrew. They were unfamiliar with the Talmuds that had been produced in West Asia, but they claimed to be descended from the ten tribes banished from Israel.
Around the year 1270, at Amhara , in the northern highlands of Ethiopia, a new Christian dynasty, the Solomonids, was founded by Yikunno-Amlak, a conqueror who was described as a king of kings. His dynasty was believed to be a continuation of the Christian kingdom that had been in Aksum centuries before. Yikunno-Amlak was to be described as descended from Solomon's son, Manelik and the Queen of Sheba. His Christian subjects believed that they were God's chosen people, that they were maintaining purity in Christian belief, and that they were members of a second Israel.
The Solomonids addressed the problem of monarchical succession by putting Yikunno-Amlak's male descendants in a mountain retreat guarded by several hundred warriors. There Yikunno-Amlak's descendants remained in isolation, studied their faith, wrote poetry and composed sacred music as they awaited selection as heir to the throne.
It was under Yikunno-Amlak's grandson, Amda Seyon (1314-44), that the Solomonids gained military dominance in Ethiopia - Solomonid rule stretching from Adulis in the north to Bali in the south. The success of Christians against Muslims in Ethiopia did not sit well with the Muslims of Egypt. In Ethiopia, Amda-Seyon became concerned about retributions against his fellow Christians in Egypt. He demanded freedom of worship and other civil rights for Christians in Egypt, and he was prepared to fight Egypt and to ally himself with Christian Europe to end Muslim supremacy in West Asia, but no such war took place. The Mamelukes of Egypt remained interested primarily in events in the eastern Mediterranean. Christians in Egypt were becoming more outnumbered by Muslims, and this would continue into the 1400s, with the Muslim majority increasingly blaming Christians and other minorities for their troubles.
In the 1400s the power of the Solomonids in Ethiopia declined as various Muslim communities rebelled against it. Under the king Beide-Maryan (1468-78), the Solomonids suffered their first serious military defeat. And after 1478 the Solomonids were weakened by a conflict over succession - their attempt to solve the problem of succession apparently having failed. War between two Solomonid princes continued for several years. Muslims took advantage of Solomonid weakness, declared a holy war, and the Solomonid Empire collapsed. But a Solomonid king remained, a local king rather than a king of kings, the Solomonids would rise again, the last of them to be Haile Selassie in the 20th century.
In the 700s and 800s, Arab traders looking for opportunity were moving southward into coastal towns such as Mogadishu, Merca and Brava. They participated in the trade that traversed the Indian Ocean. As in Nubia, intermarriages with local Africans occurred. Arab tradesmen made themselves dominant in the region, and a few Arabs migrated farther south along the coast, the island of Pemba, for example, becoming part Muslim by the 900s.
Along the coast below Mogadishu, Merca and Brava, Africa remained predominately African. There were hunters, fishermen, growers of sorghum, millet, rice, cucumbers, coconuts, sugar and bananas, and some were raising cattle. Some hunter-gatherers integrated with the cattle herders and agriculturists around them - societies ruled by kings who believed that they were divine but vulnerable to assassination if they were oppressive.
Inland, about 180 miles from the eastern coast, on a plateau sparse in trees, was Zimbabwe, where Bantu speakers were living sometime between the 5th and 10th centuries - the Bantu speaking people having replaced the Sa (Bushmen) whom they had driven into the desert. The Bantu speakers had come in two waves, the last wave being a pastoral and agricultural people who built the stone structures that were to be known in the 20th century as the ruins of Zimbabwe, of an architecture unknown to any people elsewhere in the world - the oldest of which dated from the 700s.
Gold that was mined near Zimbabwe was taken to trading towns along the coast. So too were leopard skins, rhinoceros horn, ambergris, slaves and ivory - the ivory of the African elephant more in demand than the harder ivory of the Indian elephant. Joining this trade was iron taken from deposits around the towns of Mombasa and Malindi. Traders on the eastern coast of Africa, many of them Africans, profited from a rise in trade with Asia, and from India the Africans imported silks, cottons and glassware.
From the 1100s, Arabs began arriving in greater number in this coastal area. In the 1200s Mombasa became staunchly Muslim, and a Muslim dynasty was established at Kilwa. By the mid-1200s, Kilwa controlled the trade from Sofala to its south, Sofala being a point of departure for gold from inland.
Meanwhile, economic activity in Zimbabwe was predominantly cattle raising, while the wealth of its king grew from trade in gold. With his wealth the king was able to maintain a powerful army and to extend his authority across a variety of principalities - a hundred miles to the west and to the Indian Ocean in the east. During the 1300s and into the 1400s Zimbabwe was the richest state on Africa's eastern coast, but it was also declining: Zimbabwe was losing its timber. Its lands were overgrazed and farmlands were eroding. Zimbabwe declined as a power, and it was abandoned around 1450. Successor states arose: Torwa to its west, Changamire just to its north, and Mutapa on the Zambezi River. Mutapa's economy was also based on cattle and wealth from the gold trade, and Mutapa expanded locally by military conquest.
Toward the end of the 1400s, Kilwa's preeminence on the east coast was fading as dynastic struggles sapped its strength. Kilwa was losing the trade in gold from Sofala to Mutaba. And Mutaba's gold trading attracted the Portuguese, who had begun sailing along Africa's eastern coast. Trade between Africans and the Europeans was on the rise, in slaves as well as gold.
SOKOTO | Sakkwato
Sokoto Caliphate (Empire, Dynasty, Kingdom) and Usman dan Fodio
By the late eighteenth century, many Muslim scholars and teachers had become disenchanted with the insecurity that characterized the Hausa states and Borno. Some clerics (mallams) continued to reside at the courts of the Hausa states and Borno, but others, who joined the Qadiriyah brotherhood, began to think about a revolution that would overthrow existing authorities. Prominent among these radical mallams was Usman dan Fodio, who with his brother and son, attracted a following among the clerical class. Many of his supporters were Fulani, and because of his ethnicity he was able to appeal to all Fulani, particularly the clan leaders and wealthy cattle owners whose clients and dependents provided most of the troops in the jihad that began in Gobir in 1804. Not all mallams were Fulani, however. The cleric whose actions actually started the jihad, Abd as Salam, was Hausa; Jibril, one of Usman dan Fodio's teachers and the first cleric to issue a call for jihad two decades earlier, was Tuareg. Nonetheless, by the time the Hausa states were overthrown in 1808, the prominent leaders were all Fulani.
Simultaneous uprisings confirmed the existence of a vast underground of Muslim revolutionaries throughout the Hausa states and Borno. By 1808 the Hausa states had been conquered, although the ruling dynasties retreated to the frontiers and built walled cities that remained independent. The more important of these independent cities included Abuja, where the ousted Zaria Dynasty fled; Argungu in the north, the new home of the Kebbi rulers; and Maradi in present-day Niger, the retreat of the Katsina Dynasty. Although the Borno mai was overthrown and Birni Gazargamu destroyed, Borno did not succumb. The reason, primarily, was that another cleric, Al Kanemi, fashioned a strong resistance that eventually forced those Fulani in Borno to retreat west and south. In the end, Al Kanemi overthrew the centuries-old Sayfawa Dynasty of Borno and established his own lineage as the new ruling house.
The new state that arose during Usman dan Fodio's jihad came to be known as the Sokoto Caliphate, named after his capital at Sokoto, founded in 1809. The caliphate was a loose confederation of emirates that recognized the suzerainty of the commander of the faithful, the sultan. When Usman dan Fodio died in 1817, he was succeeded by his son, Muhammad Bello. A dispute between Bello and his uncle, Abdullahi, resulted in a nominal division of the caliphate into eastern and western divisions, although the supreme authority of Bello as caliph was upheld. The division was institutionalized through the creation of a twin capital at Gwandu, which was responsible for the western emirates as far as modern Burkina Faso--formerly Upper Volta--and initially as far west as Massina in modern Mali. As events turned out, the eastern emirates were more numerous and larger than the western ones, which reinforced the primacy of the caliph at Sokoto.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were thirty emirates and the capital district of Sokoto, which itself was a large and populous territory although not technically an emirate. All the important Hausa emirates, including Kano, the wealthiest and most populous, were directly under Sokoto. Adamawa, which was established by Fulani forced to evacuate Borno, was geographically the biggest, stretching far to the south and east of its capital at Yola into modern Cameroon. Ilorin, which became part of the caliphate in the 1830s, was initially the headquarters of the Oyo cavalry that had provided the backbone of the king's power. An attempted coup d'état by the general of the cavalry in 1817 backfired when the cavalry itself revolted and pledged its allegiance to the Sokoto Caliphate. The cavalry was largely composed of Muslim slaves from farther north, and they saw in the jihad a justification for rebellion. In the 1820s, Oyo had been torn asunder, and the defeated king and the warlords of the Oyo Mesi retreated south to form new cities, including Ibadan, where they carried on their resistance to the caliphate and fought among themselves as well.
Usman dan Fodio's jihad created the largest empire in Africa since the fall of Songhai in 1591. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when the Sokoto Caliphate was at its greatest extent, it stretched 1,500 kilometers from Dori in modern Burkina Faso to southern Adamawa in Cameroon and included Nupe lands, Ilorin in northern Yorubaland, and much of the Benue River valley. In addition, Usman dan Fodio's jihad provided the inspiration for a series of related holy wars in other parts of the savanna and Sahel far beyond Nigeria's borders that led to the foundation of Islamic states in Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, and Sudan. An analogy has been drawn between Usman dan Fodio's jihad and the French Revolution in terms of its widespread impact. Just as the French Revolution affected the course of European history in the nineteenth century, the Sokoto jihad affected the course of history throughout the savanna from Senegal to the Red Sea.
Generally, historians are divided on the origins of Rwanda ’s three ethnic groups, Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa. Rwanda was highly organized and had a centralized system of administration. The kingdom was presided over by Umwami (King) from, mainly the Nyiginya clan of the Tutsi sub-group.King Musinga’s Royal Court The Umwami nearly had absolute powers but was assisted by three main chiefs: a military chief, who was like the modern day army commander/or Joint Chief of General Staff. This chief was responsible for the army, ensuring territorial integrity and expansion. The second chief was cattle chief who over saw all matters pertaining to cattle keeping, grazing and settling related disputes. The third chief was the land chief who was responsible for agricultural land, produce and related affairs. The chiefs were mainly Tutsi, but most often, the chief of land was Hutu. Behind the scenes, the queen mother also played a significant role in the administration of the kingdom.
The relationship between the king and the rest of the population was, as elsewhere, unequal; sustained by the highly organized system of “ubuhake”; a clientilist kind of relationship between the landed gentry and the less landed and the ordinary subjects. Unlike what some scholars have written, Ubuhake was mainly an economic system which enabled a symbiosis kind of relationship between the wealth and privileged and the less privileged. It was a system in which ordinary Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa participated and mutually benefited.
Ubuhake was voluntarily subscribed to and was entered into for many reasons; including protection and anticipation and getting favours from the most affluent and powerful. With the exception of wars of conquest and expansion, pre-colonial Rwandan was largely peaceful. For over a period of 400 years, peaceful co-existence marked the Ubuhake relationship; although for about 20 generations, one Tutsi clan ‘the Nyiginya’ dominated the political scene.
Ancient Rwanda ’s main economic activities were cattle keeping and farming. It’s on the basis of these economic activities that determined one’s status or family’s status in society. Because cows were considered very important in the pre-colonial economy, Rwandans with more cows were considered more affluent than farmers. Actually, and unlike colonial anthropological theorizing on the origins of the Rwandan people, Rwandans are agreed that the term Tutsi was used in pre-colonial Rwanda to mean a cattle keeper-and therefore affluent and Hutu to mean a farmer and therefore less affluent.
The other economic activity was hunting and gathering. This was mainly done by the less privileged members of the Banyarwanda community known as Abatwa.
Abatwa were marginalized and often discriminated against by both the Hutus and Tutsis. Hutu and Tutsi were less sharply distinct, and individuals could and did move from one category to the other on the basis of accumulated wealth.
A range of institutions mediated social relations, notably the clan system, which spanned the entire Rwandan society.
The institution of Ubuhake is credited for harmonizing and ensuring a strong interdependency between and among Rwanda ’s pre-colonial society-the personalized relationship between two individuals of unequal status. The patron was mostly Tutsi, but clients could be a Hutu of inferior social status or Tutsi. One person could be a client as well as a patron, even Tutsi patrons of Hutu could be a client yet of another Tutsi; only Umwami is the one who could not be a client. One could be a patron or a client depending on how many cows you have.
In all, there were nineteen clans shared among all the members of the three ethnic groups. Some argue that up to about the middle of the 19th century, clan identities mattered more than Tutsi - Hutu and Twa categorization.
However, the description of Rwandan by ethnic groups- partly based on indigenous people on one hand, inferior and superior race anthropological theorization on the other, is believed to be a colonial concoction which gained currency in the later part of the 20th century.
The eastern coast of Africa changed profoundly around the close of the first millennium AD. First, Bantu-speaking from the interior migrated and settled along the coast from Kenya to South Africa. Second, merchants and traders from the Muslim world and India realized the strategic importance of the east coast of Africa for commercial traffic and began to settle there. From 900 AD onwards, the east coast of Africa saw an influx of Shirazi Arabs from the Persian Gulf and even small settlements of Indians. The Arabs called this region al-Zanj, and the coastal areas slowly came under the control of Muslim merchants from Arabia and Persia. By the 1300's, the major east African ports from Mombasa in the north to Sofala in the south had become thoroughly Islamic cities and cultural centers.
The language that grew out of the mix of Arabs and Bantu is one of the most common and widespread of the lingua franca (a lingua franca is is a language systematically used to communicate between persons not sharing a mother tongue, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both persons' mother tongues): Swahili or Kiswahili (from the Arabic word sawahil which means "coast"). Swahili is primarily a Bantu language with some Arabic elements; it was traditionally written in the Arabic alphabet. Like the language, the Swahili culture was a mixture of the two cultures, Bantu and Arabic.
The Swahili civilizations slowly expanded southwards until they reached Kilwa in Southern Tanzania. Later, Swahili civilization carved out a small territory even further south around Sofala in Mozambique. Sofala thrived from about the year 700 AD. The Arabs had frequented the coast since 915, followed by traders from Persia. They conquered Sofala in the 1100s and strengthened its trading capacity by having, among other things, river-going dhows ply the Sofala and Sabe to ferry the gold extracted in the hinterland (mainly Zimbabwe) to the coast. In the 14th and 15th centuries Sofira was controlled by the Sultan of Kilwa, whose capital was in present-day Tanzania.hile the northern cities remained localized and had little influence on African culture inland from the coast, the Sofalans actively went inland and spread Islam and Islamic culture deep in African territory.
The major Swahili city-states were Mogadishu, Barawa, Mombasa (Kenya), Gedi, Pate, Malindi, Zanzibar, Kilwa, and Sofala in the far south. These city-states were Muslim and cosmopolitan and they were all politically independent of one another; nothing like a Swahili empire or hegemony was formed around any of these city-states. In fact, they were more like competitive companies or corporations each vying for the lion's share of African trade. The chief export was ivory, sandalwood, ebony, and gold. These cities were also culturally cosmopolitan: they were formed from a cultural mix of Bantu, Islamic, and Indian influences, but commerce brought Chinese artifacts and culture as well as Indian culture.
While the Arabs and Persians were significant players in the growth of Swahili civilization, the cities were run by a nobility that was African in origin (with possible admixture of Persian or Arab blood). Below the nobility were the commoners and the resident foreigners who made up a large part of the citizenry.
These city-states began to decline in the sixteenth century; the advent of Portuguese trade disrupted the old trade routes and made the Swahili commercial centers obsolete. The Portuguese wanted native Africans to have no share in African trade and busily set about conquering the Islamic city-states along the eastern coast. In the late seventeenth century, Oman (in the south of Arabia) then conquered all the Portuguese cities along the coast and the eastern African coast was controlled by the Omani sultanate for another two hundred years.
AFRICAN KINGDOMS - A history of noblity and splendor
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